BQ Newsletter
As I see it

Making a break for it

Monday 7 May 2012 6:00

Although Santander’s programme for SMEs started last year, the charm offensive driving it continues at pace, reports Andrew Mernin.

While Santander’s Breakthrough programme was officially launched last November, the battle to get more businesses engaging with it is still in full effect.

Last month a herd of the Spanish bull’s brightest people shook up the dust and trundled into the North East region, ready to impress all who would listen.

Amid the throng was chief exec Ana Botin and a top line-up of poster boys – and girls – for global success in business.

That such effort is being made by a bank to prove its worth to small business leaders perhaps shows just how little faith entrepreneurs now have in the banking system.

A flashy show of force from Santander at Northumbria University complete with a cast of inspirational cheerleaders from the upper echelons of the business world isn’t enough alone to repair damaged reputations of course.

And during the event there were murmurings from one or two attendees over the networking session coffee about the elephant in the room – how much will this all cost those who wish to ‘engage’ (to use a buzzword of the day).

However, cut through the scepticism and anti-banking rhetoric and there exists a programme that genuinely offers hope to entrepreneurs looking to get expansion plans back on track.

In a nutshell Breakthrough holds the keys to a £200m funding pot for companies turning over between £500,000 and £10m each year. But – here’s the catch – only companies posting 10 per cent growth in turnover, profit or employment qualify. This will surely weed out any applicants struggling to survive on a failing business model and still coming to terms with the drying up of often easy-to-come-by European or public funding.

Since SMEs account for 59% of private sector employment and almost half of commercial turnover, Santander says, SMEs are vital in terms of job and wealth creation.

Furthermore, says the Spanish giant, “we will also ensure that any company selected for the programme will have access to some of the best advice and talent available, including businesspeople who have already established their own companies as market leaders on a national and global stage.

“We’re looking for the very best businesses in each region, regardless of their current banking partner. The growth capital loan facility is a vital component of the scheme as a whole. Essentially, we aim to help SMEs plug the funding gap.”

So, on top of funding, Breakthrough promises:

Kicking off with a trip into the mysterious world of Google, Breakthrough companies to pay an onsite visit to and learn from entrepreneurs and managers who are further along the growth cycle.

In partnership with UK Trade & Investment, Santander will take selected delegates on fact-finding trips overseas.

Two events will be held in each region to selected fast-growth companies (not just those on the Breakthrough programme), these sessions aim to help businesses address the issues that impair growth while simultaneously learning lessons from market-leading companies.

An ‘enternship’ programme which aims to attract the best talent needed to achieve ongoing business growth and success.

If Santander is genuine in its bid to become the SME bank of choice here in the UK, the programme seems to be making the right noises. But the proof will inevitably be in the eating and BQ is keen to hear from any businesses about their experiences on the programme.

Email with details. More information on Breakthrough is available at