Events for entrepreneurs

At Saffery Champness, we regularly hold events throughout the UK where entrepreneurs can share experiences and learn from other like-minded entrepreneurs. From dinners to networking events with high-profile speakers; our guests enjoy lively debate and discussion on the current economic climate for entrepreneurs in the UK and beyond. Details and feedback from our previous events are featured below.

To find out more about any upcoming events please contact our events manager, or your local Saffery Champness partner.


23 May 2017
Peterborough Food & Agribusiness Entrepreneurs Forum

Focus on your top markets and don’t spread yourself too thinly is the advice from Giles Brooks, the entrepreneur behind the success of Innocent Drinks and Vita Coco who was speaking at a recent Saffery Champness Food & Agribusiness Entrepreneurs Forum in Stamford on 23 May 2017.

"Giles talked about the experienced team he has developed around him. He urged others not to accept “average people” and believes that when managing people it is important to deal with any concerns straight away."

vita coco

Giles spoke candidly at the entrepreneur event about the experience he gained from his five year tenure at Innocent, during which time turnover increased from £17 million to £520 million.

Giles told the 24 attendees that his view was, to be successful as an entrepreneur you need to concentrate on your core product and not be distracted. His advice is to focus on ‘tier 1’ markets – “do not spread yourself too thinly”.

Discussing what he was doing with coconut water and his Vita Coco brand, Giles saw education of the consumer as key; constantly emphasising the benefits of the “simple” and “natural” product. He referred to being “disruptive”, and gave the example of his “reach for the beach” campaign in which he put sandy beaches in the French Alps during the ski season and placed a 35ft high coconut in London, Paris and Amsterdam.

He also emphasised the importance of influencers. Although sport was important to his coconut water product, it was the sports coach not the athlete that was important as they were the influencers.  He urged other entrepreneurs to seek to get others to speak about the brand as a much more effective marketing tool.

Giles also talked about the experienced team he has developed around him. He urged others not to accept “average people” and believes that when managing people it is important to deal with any concerns straight away.

Giles now spends time with other entrepreneurs supporting their businesses and sharing his wealth of experiences. Our thanks go to Giles for very kindly giving up his time to address fellow entrepreneurs at our event and to debate some of the key issues facing the food and agribusiness sector with them afterwards.

Our Food & Agribusiness and Entrepreneur groups regularly hold networking events with high-profile speakers. Our guests enjoy lively debate and discussion on the current economic climate for entrepreneurs in the UK and beyond.

For further information or if you would like to join the forums and attend future discussions, please contact Alistair Hunt.

10 Nov 2016
Peterborough Entrepreneurs' Dinner

Our latest entrepreneurial Food & Agribusiness Forum saw Mark Newton from Freshtime UK Ltd discuss what was next for the fresh produce sector. Twenty four senior executives and business owners from various entrepreneurial businesses attended the evening.

"Delegates commented on the loss of immigrant labour at management level with staff seeing the currency movement as long term. Staff had already moved home and delegates were now experiencing problems in filling management and technical positions."

peterborough agribusiness entrepreneurs forum 2016

Our latest entrepreneurial Food & Agribusiness Forum saw Mark Newton from Freshtime UK Ltd discuss what was next for the fresh produce sector. Twenty four senior executives and business owners from various entrepreneurial businesses attended the evening.

Mark started his career making chocolates for Marks & Spencer, moving to a bakery group and then spent 13 years at Florette before joining Freshtime 3 years ago. His experience in the sector was clear to all those present.

Mark believes that the fresh produce sector is fundamentally poor at selling to market. He used the example of carrots – they are not making money as they throw away half of the product when it is cut and processed into batons. Extensive research found there was broad agreement in customers wanting to reduce waste when they understood the related issues. As a result, Freshtime prepared wedges that significantly reduced waste – but the product flopped and they returned to the original batons. He believes that the fresh produce sector needs to start with consumers and work backwards.

Later discussions also brought out another key point surrounding the loss of immigrant labour – which has already started. Delegates commented on the loss of management level staff who see the currency movement as long term. Staff had already moved home and they were now experiencing problems in filling management and technical positions.

The UK has the greatest population growth when compared to the US and France and also has the highest number of people per square kilometre. Our agricultural land availability has fallen from just over 80% to nearer 70% of total land. Subsidies account for 55% of farmer’s income but have been guaranteed by the Treasury until 2020. Mark set the scene that farming needed to change its business model, and fast. The debate with the delegates appeared to conclude that the sector had under invested in automation, largely as a result of the availability of a low cost labour pool. Brexit is likely to lead to significant investment and a long term reduction in the number of people employed in this sector.

The state of the nations health also was covered leading into a discussion on brands. Fresh produce is now normally sold as 'cheap' 3 for 2 offers. Packaging is poor and provides virtually no information on taste, how it was grown and what you can do with it. Until the sector grasps these points, getting people to eat more vegetables whilst paying higher prices will be very challenging.

Mark referred to some interesting research from the World Research Centre for Cancer showing that diet was the number one killer.  Research showed that the benefits of eating fresh produce and certain vegetables have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer but this information has not been used to market fresh produce. Why?

The room concluded that vegetables were dull! There was a need to work with the government to change eating habits and perceptions. In addition, producer groups and organisations need to work closely and join together their efforts. Greater use of social media was needed as TV advertising is too costly and not as effective.

We retired to a dinner of superb food at the George Stamford. Fortunately there were some fresh vegetables on offer and the food was definitely not dull!

If you would like to join the Forum and attend future discussions, please contact Alistair Hunt.

21 Jun 2016
Bournemouth Entrepreneurs' Dinner

In line with our other offices, the Bournemouth office held an event for local entrepreneurs to discuss the findings of our recent Entrepreneurs Survey.

"It was good to meet fellow entrepreneurs who face similar issues but within different industries. An excellent event with an incredibly interesting mix of entrepreneurs present.”

bournemouth entrepreneurs dinner

Our Bournemouth office hosted a private dinner for Bournemouth and Poole based entrepreneurs to discuss key findings from our annual Entrepreneurs Survey and what it might mean for local businesses. The dinner was ably chaired by entrepreneur Don McQueen, who is also Chairman of the Dorset Business Angels Network.

The intimate dinner ensured that lively debates and discussions took place as business opportunities, issues and challenges were explored. Topics discussed included, confidence in the economy, skill shortages and staff retention, as well as excessive levels of Government regulation and interference in the effective running of entrepreneurial businesses.

The availability of finance didn’t appear to be a problem for our guests but most guests agreed that the banks have been more interested in understanding the business offering before offering lending. Some concerns were however voiced about crowd funding platforms as these are unregulated investments and when things go wrong, can lead to a review by investors and Government.

Cheryl Hadland of The Hadland Care Group commented, "It was good to meet fellow entrepreneurs who face similar issues but within different industries. An excellent event with an incredibly interesting mix of entrepreneurs present.”

Saffery Champness Partner Roger Wareham advised, “It was a very successful evening with a range of opinions aired which supported, but also challenged the results of the survey.”

24 May 2016
Inverness Entrepreneurs Dinner

On 24 May 2016, the Inverness office held a dinner in the private dining room of the Kingsmills Hotel for a small group of entrepreneurs. The event was chaired by Gary I Campbell from the University of the Highlands and Islands, a Chartered Accountant who is well connected in the Highland business community. Gary was an excellent chair and ensured that everyone contributed and the discussion flowed freely throughout the evening.

“Crowd-funding cannot provide a golden bullet solution to all financial requirements."

inverness entrepreneurs event at kingsmills hotel

The discussion

The view around the table was that the general economic conditions in the Highlands have adversely impacted on business confidence. It was noted that this was in some instances sector specific, but that there were knock-on effects across the Highlands as a result of the downturn in the oil industry.

It was noted that business uncertainty, partly resulting from a string of elections and referenda, made it difficult to project for even 12 months in advance.

A number of the group commented that the general economic indicators, such as the UK’s trade deficit, were at their lowest point since 2007. However, one start-up entrepreneur stood apart from the rest of the group in his ascension that prospects were still good with a new generation that were subsidised by their parents that were continuing to spend their money.

More than 27% of survey respondents had secured bank loans in the last year.  Only 25% of respondents cite the availability of finance as one of their top 3 challenges for 2016.  Are banks open for business? 

One business owner was of the view that it was harder today to access bank funding than at any point in the past.  He stated that banks were now more risk averse and that there were levels of compliance which made it very difficult to get the banks to lend.

There were also opposing views, with some maintaining that banks have only ever supported businesses that can demonstrate the business case and that as long as documents and accounts were in order, banks were more than willing to lend.

“It has always been hard to raise a pound, but there are more options now because of the internet”.

Crowd funding was seen as one method of obtaining traction for start-up businesses, but it was noted that in most scalable businesses, crowd-funding would not provide a golden bullet solution to all finance requirements. 

What more does the government need to do for entrepreneurs?

An agricultural entrepreneur started off by noting that the Scottish Government had failed their sector which the subsidy omnishambles. However the view around the table was that subsidies in general do not sort out systemic problems with any industry.

Retail entrepreneurs cited the difficulties caused by the recent introduction of the national living wage, and the pressure this was putting on businesses to raise salaries across the different wage bandings. Other payroll related ‘taxes’ including auto-enrolment and the apprenticeship levy were seen as added costs to businesses.

Local councils were put in the firing line and most of the group agreed that councils need more commercially aware individuals. The retail business owners noted that one area that required to be reformed was the setting of business rates. Given the costs associated with city centre stores many units are empty. The setting of business rates could be aligned with footfall – over the past 10 years business rates have remained fixed whilst over the same period footfall has dropped in the city centre by around 40% - 50%.

The two most important challenges for entrepreneurs are skill-based. How are you addressing these challenges?

This question sparked a lot of debate around the table. The first entrepreneur to give their opinion stated that “we have a lazy generation who have silly expectations”. They were of the view that “young people are very confident but have little to be confident about” – another member of the team observed that this statement could also be used as a definition of many entrepreneurs.

However this view was not shared by all members of the team. One experienced entrepreneur thought that younger people were now a lot better than in previous generations.  

The chair noted that the Highlands effectively have full employment, so it is unsurprising that many businesses find the recruitment process difficult in the North of Scotland, as there is more demand for labour than supply.


The evening ended with the question on the importance of Europe and whether the UK should vote to remain or leave the EU in the referendum. The view around the table was split.

There was a sense of frustration that the arguments for and against EU membership had not been clearly communicated by politicians, and instead there was a lot of scaremongering from both camps. The agricultural member of the group voiced his concern that there was no clear answer on whether or not the agri-sector would continue to be supported by the UK to the same extent if the UK votes to leave.  Another member of the group thought that the UK leaving would set a dangerous precedent for the rest of Europe.

Those in favour of leaving the EU would like to see freedom for UK businesses to trade with whichever countries they wanted, and not to be bound by EU trade agreements. They noted that staying out of the Eurozone proved to be the correct decision in retrospect and that leaving the EU would be good for business also.


26 Apr 2016
Peterborough Entrepreneurs' Dinner

Our Peterborough office recently held an event for local entrepreneurs to discuss the findings of our latest Entrepreneurs Survey.

"Getting your team to share your values and incentivising them at the right time, and in the right way, is critical."

george hotel of stamford


The room confirmed our findings that there had been a dip of confidence and appeared to concur that not only was business confidence lower, but trading was also difficult.

It was considered that the construction sector was still suffering from the previous recession as these businesses had not adequately recovered. They all agreed that it was naive for businesses to think that cutting prices to keep work is a sustainable model and their issue is how you make the margin recover.


The broad consensus was that banks were not good at lending to businesses when they need the funding. When the need recedes, then the availability of funding is good unless of course you are lucky enough to have land and assets upon which the banks can secure.

The area of crowd funding came up there was further discussion on how this might be of use to entrepreneurial businesses. There are also alternatives in the market place if you look hard. One business had secured funding at 11.5% interest with share warrants, but at least they had been able to secure finance.

What was interesting is that there was a common theme that banks were not helpful. The new business set ups had found it hard to get banks to lend without asset backing.

Government initiatives

The Forum considered the area of grants with some interesting feedback.  What was clear was that the entrepreneurs present found it difficult and time consuming to get these grants and believed that there must be a better way of ensuring that the right business has access to the grants that are available – at the right time.

The Forum wanted to see a “Central Shop for Grants” created where you would have experts available to support businesses and find suitable grants for them.

The availability of capital allowances was felt to be really important and there was irritation that allowance levels had been reduced at a time when investment is critical. It was felt that the UK was out of kilter with our European counterparts.


It appeared that there was again consensus that skilled labour and quality of management teams were really important. There was a lot of discussion about sales people in this period where businesses are trying to expand and grow their client base. It was considered critical that people are brought into the business and given time to understand what they are selling before they go out and sell. The room concluded that the best sales people are the business owners but they do not have the time to do all the selling – getting your team to share your values and incentivising them at the right time and in the right way was considered critical.

Availability of labour in rural areas was an issue for several businesses but staff loyalty was really valued by the businesses.


The room took a vote on IN or OUT and the room was split down the middle with strong views each way. It was agreed that no one truly knew what OUT meant and found this very disconcerting. A broad consensus was achieved that no one felt well informed enough to make a completely rational decision and that their vote was based a lot on their heart or head.

21 Apr 2016
Harrogate Entrepreneurs Dinner

Following last year’s successful Entrepreneurs’ Dinner in Harrogate we repeated the event this year, with a round table discussion looking at some of the issues highlighted in the recent Saffery Champness Entrepreneurs Survey.

“There’s been a fundamental change in the attitude of graduates coming through and perhaps businesses need to adapt to their way of thinking.”

harrogate event image


“If you’re not confident in 2016 you shouldn’t be in business.”

The results of the Entrepreneurs Survey reported a slight fall in confidence levels among those who took part.

Our Harrogate diners, however, were unanimous in their view that Britain was on the road to recovery in 2016. There was a strong sense of business confidence and a feeling that any business with talented, innovative people on board should be looking forward to growth. 

“There are always links in the chain you can’t control.”

No matter how good an entrepreneur feels about his business idea and product, there are always going to be external factors at play. One of our group said that he had decided to cut out the middleman and move away from distributors, dealing directly with his customers so that he could have greater control over margins. Others acknowledged that they would need to adapt and reposition their business in light of shifts in the market and may not make as much profit this year as previously.


“There’s been a fundamental change in the attitude of graduates coming through and perhaps businesses need to adapt to their way of thinking.”

There was a lively discussion about the challenge of finding the right skills to grow a strong and successful business. This led onto a debate about how to tackle changing career attitudes amongst graduates and younger workers.

One of the group explained that he has offices in Bedford and Harrogate and has made a decision to expand his Harrogate operation because of difficulties faced building a team in Bedford. He said the proximity to London meant potential candidates would rather work in central London and he found it hard to compete with the opportunities available in the capital. In Harrogate, however, he felt there was greater stability and loyalty amongst the workforce.

“Finding people who are a good fit with your organisation and who flourish within it has always been a challenge.”

The challenge of finding good people who fit into the company ethos is nothing new but, whereas in the past employees were grateful to have the opportunity to learn and develop within a business, they now appear to be coming out of school and university with a different attitude.

 “This is a generation that is programmed to have high expectations and if that’s the way the world is we have to work with that. The skills are there – the challenge is how do we change our business to attract that talent.”

There was a consensus around the table that young people see each job as a temporary stepping stone, somewhere to learn for a year or two before moving onto the next step. This is a challenge for employers who want to invest in the next generation and encourage them to develop within the business. One guest suggested that employers should think about how they can adapt their businesses to meet the expectations of Generation Y, rather than expecting them to mould to the organisation. Her views were echoed by another of our guests, who acknowledged that there was often a problem managing the expectations of graduates entering the legal profession. 

“The recruitment of graduates has been sanitised to the point where it has become faceless and there is no human touch anymore.”


Only 25% of respondents in our Entrepreneurs Survey cited availability of finance as one of their top three challenges in 2015 so we asked our group for their opinions on lending, the banks and non-traditional funding options.

Some business owners felt that sourcing finance was a problem and that banks didn’t understand business. These views were echoed by a marketing consultant who felt people who work in business banking should be required to have been in business themselves so that they have a better idea of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs. However, other  guests felt the banks were there to offer funding if the business case was strong enough and it was unreasonable for a bank to be expected to lend to an entrepreneur who couldn’t provide a strong business plan, accounts and other financial information.

The general consensus was that banks were there for low risk deals and for working capital and asset finance but that venture capital had to come from elsewhere.

Government initiatives

We asked our group whether government incentives for entrepreneurs were effective and what more could be done to support British business owners.

The EIS and SEIS schemes were praised for supporting entrepreneurial businesses but the government came in for criticism on the issue of business rates, which were felt to be crippling many small businesses.

One key concern was that many businesses are simply unaware of the initiatives that exist to support entrepreneurs and that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the opportunities and support packages available.


The EU referendum was looming, and there was a lively debate about Europe with views being aired on both sides. From the “leave” camp the point was made that EU directives often inhibited export. The “remain” camp raised the concern that it would be difficult to negotiate any kind of reassessment of the UK’s role in Europe from outside the EU.

Overall, the feeling was that the information available from both sides of the debate was inadequate and that people were not being presented with the facts and potential benefits of remaining in the EU or leaving. 

14 Apr 2016
London Entrepreneurs' Dinner

The London Forum was held on 14th April 2016 and was attended by fourteen entrepreneurs. The event was held in the Spy Room at the Durrants Hotel and was chaired by the former referee David Ellery, MBE.

“It was one of the most refreshingly thought-provoking, diverse, open and fun dinners I’ve ever attended!”

london entrepreneurs event at the Durrants Hotel

The intimate event ensured lively debates about the results of our latest Entrepreneurs Survey Results, and discussions on how these might indicate the outlook for entrepreneurial businesses.

Topics covered included: finance and the involvement of banks; government regulations; the state of the UK economy and our confidence levels; skill shortages and staff retention; rising commercial property prices; and a discussion focusing on offshore opportunities for both inbound and outbound entrepreneurs.

Attendees of the event, commented:


"Thank you so much for the invite to the entrepreneurs dinner. I really enjoyed meeting and listening to the amazing collection of people around the table. I didn't mind being the only female at all, it was really interesting to observe how men view the world!”


"What a great evening – really super venue, lovely meal and such a wide-ranging and lively debate of issues – I think we managed to put the world to rights!"


“It was one of the most refreshingly thought-provoking, diverse, open and fun dinners I’ve ever attended!”


"Thanks so much for a really interesting evening, very entertaining. Much appreciated."