Business Achievers allows Ulster Bank reboot business support
New business support network builds on success of Small Business Can, but repositioned for today’s economy
“We have a network of around 20,000 business owners using the Small Business Can platform and the aim with Business Achievers is to bring more people to it,” says Eddie Cullen, managing director of Ulster Bank's Commercial Banking Division. Photograph: Getty Images
Small Business Can, the peer-to-peer platform for business owners has been rebooted. Not only has it a new name, Business Achievers, but it has a raft of new applications designed to make it of even greater benefit to all business users. It is also much more in keeping with today’s economic climate, according to the business people behind it.
Entrepreneurs Fin Murray and Ron Immink set up Small Business Can, supported by Ulster Bank, a decade ago.
“It was 2007 and the economy was beginning to wane. What we could see was that business people were looking to rally around and support one another. The concept was to provide all of us in business with a place to get help and give help,” says Murray, a serial entrepreneur whose latest venture, Rinocloud, has just raised €1.2 million in seed funding.
What made the site so compelling was that, having come through so many “boom” years, many business owners found themselves lacking the skills required to cope with the recession.
“Many younger business people were setting up digital businesses and thinking, ‘if I build it they will come’. In fact, that was not so. What was required was old-fashioned knowledge: how to keep costs down, how to understand sales. The four Ms ‑ money, marketing, management and motivation apply to all businesses, and in Small Business Can people had a platform to discuss them.”
At its peak the site had 85,000 visitors a month. “We never targeted anyone. We were a place where any business owner could go, from a lobster fisherman to a software company.”
Use of the site peaked in 2014, coinciding with the wider economic improvement. Consequently Murray and Immink decided, again with the support of Ulster Bank, to revamp and relaunch the platform as one that is better attuned to the current business climate.
Positioning it under the umbrella of Ulster Bank’s well established Business Achiever awards scheme made sense, he says.
“Ulster Bank’s Business Achiever Awards dovetails with what we wanted to do in so far as it covers every category of business, from small start-up to big international company. That gels with our belief that business challenges are the same for all, and that we can therefore all learn from each other.”
For Murray, the new Business Achievers platform is a way to “shake things up”.
“We wanted to harmonise and blend with the Business Achievers awards legacy but retain the Small Business Can authenticity, and we wanted to sprinkle it all with the latest technology ‑ building this new business support platform from the ground up, using the very best of web technology and applications.”
It’s still a place where every business can go and help or learn from each other, but it now also includes tools such as messaging and networking, event management and business planning, all on one platform.
“It offers a smorgasboard of technology, all completely mobile enabled.”
The result is a business resource of even greater relevance and value to all business owners. The reinvigorated business climate also means that the platform will be increasingly valuable in other ways too, such as for those seeking investors or looking for partnering arrangements.
Murray can point to a number of examples of businesses that found investment, assistance and even management teams on Small Business Can.
As an active angel investor, he knows the value such platforms can offer ambitious business owners. “It’s a great way for any business in search of investors to secure an audience.”
For Ulster Bank, the Business Achievers platform is one of a number of ways in which it is supporting business owners. Others include its support for Dog Patch Labs, the innovative fintech shared working space in Dublin, where the bank recently hosted a hackathon. Ulster Bank has also run seminars for business owners on such matters as managing currency risk, in association with the Irish Exporters Association.
“We currently have a network of around 20,000 business owners using the Small Business Can platform and the aim with Business Achievers is to bring more people to it and provide more to see on it,” says Eddie Cullen, managing director of Ulster Bank's Commercial Banking Division.
“Through our parent RBS we have a lot of powerful content to leverage. Ulster Bank will be in the background however, what Small Business Can proved is just how powerful peer-to-peer help can be in particular for SMEs, both in terms of sharing stories and sharing solutions. We’ll provide unique and relevant content for all businesses, and other supports, but the real value of it is in the peer-to-peer learning element.”
Cullen’s work brings him face-to-face with businesses of all sizes. “When you are a big company, you have money to sort every issue that arises. When you’re a small, owner-managed business you just don’t. You are constantly dealing with internal and external issues yourself. Well, here’s a place to get practical help and support from other business owners, whether it’s finding out how to explore new markets or access state supports,” he says.
“Small Business Can was of its time in so far as it was businesses helping each other cope with recession. The issues now facing business are issues of growth, which can be no less challenging. Business Achievers is the place to go to get the support for those challenges.”
For more see www.business-achievers.com