• Date

    23 Jun 2022
  • Category

Azets Global SME Leaders Growth Conference 2022: Recap

Growth, economic potential and business challenges and opportunities were in the spotlight at Azets’ inaugural Global SME Leaders Growth Conference 2022.

The virtual event, themed ‘Time to fuel entrepreneurial growth’, featured a packed agenda tailored to SME business leaders pursuing growth strategies at time of economic turbulence.

Hosted by Azets Group CEO Chris Horne and MD for Azets in Finland Ulla Nikkanen, with a heavyweight line-up of guest keynote speakers, the conference invited hundreds of attendees from across Europe to explore strategies that will unlock opportunities for growth.

Leading subject matter experts and business leaders shared their insights, experience and advice on their growth journey to date, whilst interactive polls provided a glimpse into current challenges and opportunities perceived by European SME business leaders.


First Poll

To kick things off and set the scene for the rest of the event, we asked the audience ‘What do you feel are your biggest challenges in the next 12 months?

  • Supply chains - 27%
  • ESG - 13%
  • Acquiring talent - 51%
  • The economy and rising costs - 60%
  • Digitalisation - 10%

The top two poll answers 'The economy and rising costs,’ along with ‘acquiring talent’ were also the two biggest day- to-day worries for SME business leaders in our Spring SME Barometer and this shows that these issues are still pertinent in today’s current climate.


A Glimpse of the future – Jeremy White, Sn Innovation Editor, WIRED Magazine

Our first guest speaker was Jeremy White, Senior Innovation Editor at Wired Magazine, who looked to the future by highlighting some of the technological innovations that are changing the way the world and businesses operate.

Jeremy described how the internet is evolving at a phenomenal pace so constant it carries a substantial number of opportunities for business.

He also identified voice UI as the next big technological innovation, with no need for coding ability. In summary, technology remains a huge opportunity - and all of this change is happening right now.


The huge unrealised economic potential of female entrepreneurs, Jill Pay, Chairman, The Gender Index

Next up we welcomed Jill Page, Chairman of The Gender Index, who discussed the untapped opportunity for investors to invest in female led businesses.

Jill revealed that The Gender Index holds real time data on 4.4m active UK companies that can be filtered a number of ways to give an accurate picture of female led UK companies, to identify areas for improvement and drive positive change

In summary, there is a growing UK female entrepreneurship ecosystem that when unlocked will unleash a multitude of growth opportunities.


Second Poll

Our second poll asked the audience ‘What do you feel are your biggest growth opportunities in next 12 months?’         

  • Diversifying into new markets - 38%
  • Digitalisation - 45%
  • International trade - 11%
  • Innovation/Product development - 45%
  • Acquiring talent - 36%


The Path to Growth - Hear the growth journey of two leading entrepreneurs

Our keynote session themed ‘The Path to Growth’ gave our audience the opportunity to hear about the growth journey of two leading entrepreneurs: Giles English or Bremont Watches and Jukka Virkkunen, Partner & Co-Founder of Digital Workforce.

Giles told the story of how for five years after setting up the business he hadn’t sold a single watch but knew the competition were turning over more than half a billion. Through hard work and commitment, Giles wanted to take a slice of that market - but he understood the product had to be perfect.

Giles also touched upon the ‘three times rule’ which has been key for Bremont throughout its journey: it will take three times longer; it will be three times harder; it will be three times more expensive.

Yukka then told his growth story of how his start-up from Finland grew to a global level just in six years through having a strong vision and level of ambition.

Through deciding to go public, Digital Workforce received over 22m Euros to finance its growth and this was spent on investment in organic growth in the UK and the US and investing in its next generation platform service.


Fuelling Growth: Panel discussion with Q&A

Giles and Yukka were joined by all of our speakers for a panel discussion and Q&A titled ‘Fuelling Growth’.

This session highlighted the hardest barriers for SME business leaders and discussed issues around innovation and digitisation.

Guest panellist Duncan Swift, Restructuring & Insolvency Partner at Azets, explained that the biggest cause of failure for businesses is overtrading resulting in fatal cashflow problems. He gave businesses his top three tips on how you cope in the current climate:

  1. Do the basics right
  2. Remember cash is king
  3. Stay on top of your model and take advice early.


SME leaders: challenges and opportunities

The final session of the conference was hosted by Azets’ own in-house experts, who explored the results from the Spring 2022 Azets SME Barometer, including the top priorities and issues affecting SME businesses in the next 12 months.

Topics covered included:

  • Employee wellbeing - Jeanine Ohlsson & Hannah-Jane Dobbie

Attendees listened to the way in which SME business leaders can create a better future workforce through attractive employee benefits. The session highlighted that 2 out of 3 SME’s find recruiting the right talent with the right skills a challenge. A key focus in particular was the change in priorities for employees in the UK and the Nordics in adopting more smart/agile ways of working. Through this change employees are able to retain the wellbeing benefits of flexible working along with a better work-life balance.


  • Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) - Ulla Nikkanen & Elizabeth Young

Ulla and Elizabeth shared the ways SME Leaders can boost their ESG credentials and overcome the obstacles they face to help because more sustainable. The session highlighted that the role of sustainability and ESG is increasing and now having good credentials in this space is quickly becoming a competitive advantage for SME’s, but not all SME’s are treating it as a priority. 

  • Cybersecurity - Petter Løken & Gary Devlin

Attendees heard new and innovative approaches on how to respond to the constantly evolving threat of cybercrime. This session highlighted the issue that changes in society following the pandemic has led to an increase in remote working which consequentially has led to a surge in cyber attacks. Also, the acceleration to digitalisation presents many opportunities for SME’s but in addition, increases the risks of a cyber attack.


If you would like to watch the whole Conference or particular sessions of interest, you can do so here.

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Chris Horne

Group CEO Glasgow Glasgow City
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