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Greater Manchester hits the re-start button

Businesses flocked to last month’s PROGRESS21 event, as the Growth Company put networking back on the agenda. Janine Smith, Director of GC Business Growth Hub shares her highlights and the key opportunity for business.


The wide-open spaces of Manchester Central proved the perfect venue to stage the first major face-to-face business event in the city for over 18 months.  

More than 4,000 people registered to attend PROGRESS21taking advantage of the chance to discover more about business support and opportunities across the region, hear about Greater Manchester’s global ambitions, or delve into career plans and the possibility of self-employment. 

Walking around the cavernous hall, it was clear that people were relishing the opportunity to meet again, whether picking up on relationships that had been on hold for a couple of years or making new contacts. 

Handing out business cards for the first time in two years

For Tim Osler, Head of UK Marketing at German tech and IT consultancy GFT, it was very much the latter. The company had only arrived in Manchester a few weeks earlier, with plans to recruit up to 100 people to its new city centre office. “Manchester’s digital reputation was certainly part of the attraction, he said, on his way to speak with the team at , Manchester’s inward investment promotion agency. 

Tim was at the event to make connections with a new business community and find out more about the opportunities for the company in its new home. He even managed to get the ear of Andy Burnham. “I’ve been handing out business cards for the first time in two years. It’s great to meet people face-to-face and make these personal connections, he said 

Tim’s thoughts were echoed by many delegates, including Caeryn Collins, who runs Impressions, a school unform business and social enterprise“There are some things you just can’t get from being on a screenIt’s absolutely lovely being in a room full of people.” 

Collaborative procurement and net zero presenting new opportunities for small business

The business area was split into six separate zonesFinance, Net Zero, People & Skills, SalesDigital Transformation, and Keynote, each with its own roster of speakers and panellists. 

One of the best-attended events in the sales zone was a practical session about changes to procurement ruleswhich showed that there were now many more opportunities for small businesses to work together on joint tenders for public sector contractsAs delegates chatted afterwards, you could sense that new collaborations were already starting to take shape. 

There was a wave of positivity from the Net Zero sessionstoo. Coming out of the pandemic, it has been hard to grasp whether the region’s businesses are fully buying into the idea of Green Growth

But the buzz coming from the sessions, and the sense of anticipation as delegates quizzed panellists about opportunities around retrofit and electric vehicles, showed how GM has indeed embraced it. 

New ideas to help business growth

Back on the exhibition floor, Brett Burbey, who runs a small manufacturing business in Hyndburn, explained: “We’re looking for ideas and ways that can help us grow the business. 

“We’ve got a new business plan, and new plans for the next three years, and we thought this was a good event to get some assistance, help and support.” 

Brett was also looking for information about how hcould collaborate with some of the region’s Universities, and he hopefully found his way to the  stand to talk with Rachel Kenyon, part of the business engagement and knowledge team. 

The University was attending to specifically link up with businesses and non-academic organisations, she explained, and find ways they could use this joint expertise, and real-life challenges, to maximise the impact of their research. 

She was also buoyed by the fact that, after an endless stream of lockdown emails, she had finally met personally with one potential business collaborator and set a firm date for a future meeting. 

“Strategically, today has brought it all together,” she said. 

For the Hub, the premise of PROGRESS21 was to show businesses across GM that we are behind themand providing them with the chance to reconnect and explore new opportunitiesAnd as the last delegate left, you sense it had been a job well done. 

GC Business Growth Hub is here for business and can help you secure appropriate finance and funding, empower your employees, protect your supply chains and effectively engage your clients. 

Enquire and grow
Janine Smith

Janine Smith, Head of Growth Services

People are looking for a reason to believe in you, a reason to put their trust in your business.

Our team of specialists and partners help local businesses understand what they want or need to grow. You can then concentrate your efforts where you have the best chance of success and confidently expand your business.

Janine is a former business management lecturer who is also an experienced operational and development director. She specialises in managing multi-million-pound contracts and programmes, both in the public and private sector.

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