Man starts hugely successful phone contract firm from an office in Coventry museum

An IT consultant who took the plunge to launch his own business in Coventry is celebrating 12 years of success. René Wheeler, who has 30 years’ experience in the IT and Telecoms sector, set-up SolaaS (Solutions As A Service) from an office at the Coventry Transport Museum in the city centre to provide customers with flexible monthly contracts instead of fixed three-to-five-year deals for telephones, retail security and connectivity services.

The businesshas grown to achieve a turnover that has surpassed expectations. Within 12 months, the business has secured over 30 clients throughout the UK including school and college academies, a leisure and tourism organisation, and commercial and industrial businesses as well as becoming partners with global, award-winning cloud telecoms company Wildix.

René’s wife, Michaela, who is also Operations Manager, decided to throw a surprise birthday party to mark SolaaS’ achievements which has also included the business being voted Start-up Business of the Year for the West Midlands at The FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards. René said: “The first day I sat in the office I thought to myself ‘so where do my customers come from? How am I going to pay the bills?’ But everything has fallen into place.

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“I’ve just been super lucky with recruitment. Every position we’ve recruited we’ve just got the best people. We wouldn’t have achieved what we have had it not been for the people we have. It’s been fundamental.

“I’ve had challenges over the year, but I’ve got such a loyal base of people around me that they’ve made it really quite plain-sailing.” SolaaS now employs six people including two apprentices to develop the business’s skills for the future and more recruitment is on the horizon.

Having realised the business’ first-year goals ‘much sooner than expected’, René has had to revise his company’s plans for growth. “We’ve laid the foundations for many more years in business,” he said. “We’re twice the size of what I expected so goal-setting for next year, we’ve got to think much bigger.

“We’re building a community of customers and that’s how we want to grow the business. Everybody employed in the organisation is invested and I’d like to think our customers are invested in what we’re trying to do as well.” Since launching the business from scratch René has received mentoring and guidance from Coventry and Warwickshire Growth Hub’s Jim Vithanage.

“Jim has proved to be a fantastic mentor with his sound advice and guidance every step of the way,” René added. He has encouraged me to attend networking events and I’ve joined CW Champions which I’ve found really helpful. I always come away feeling inspired after hearing the speakers – and Jim has encouraged me to set aside time to work on the business rather than in the business.”

Jim Vithanage, Account Manager at the Coventry and Warwickshire Growth Hub, said the success of SolaaS emphasised the importance of start-ups seeking expert support. “Grant funding is not always necessary because knowledge and mentoring are equally important, if not more so,” he said. “The Growth Hub provides this through our experienced account managers.

“René has been so open to developing, expanding and stepping out of his comfort zone and he wants a business that fits his standards. He also attended Made Smarter West Midlands’ Amazon workshop last year where he has gone on to be mentored by themselves separately as well so he is continually learning.

“Michaela and the team decided to organise a surprise party to mark SolaaS’s achievements over the last 12 months because René is really humble, works very hard and they wanted to show how much they appreciate him.”