Kyle Raffo registered his business’s name two days after his 16th birthday. Six years later that web, print and multimedia design business – Expand Digital – employs 12 people, including two apprentices, at its base in Wilnecote, Tamworth, and is on track for a £1.2 million annual turnover.
Kyle, now aged 22, has paid tribute to the help he received from Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Hub as he grew his business.
After approaching the Growth Hub for advice, he was referred to the Let’s Do Mentoring Scheme run by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, one of the Growth Hub’s partners.
Kyle had a year-long series of mentoring sessions with businessman Richard Lloyd, from the team of experienced business mentors – and has now signed up for a second mentoring series as he diversifies his business portfolio by setting up a new gym enterprise, Fitness Junction, also based in Tamworth.
“I have found it incredibly helpful to have a mentor who really understands business to bounce ideas off,” Kyle said.
“A mentor can challenge you, get you to sort your ideas out and prompt you to think about things you might not have considered before.
“That process led to a lot of change and growth for the business and has helped my personal growth as well.
“Richard can look at the business from an outside perspective and offer impartial support and feedback that is only a phone call or an email away.”
Kyle began his entrepreneurial career while he was still at school, running a flourishing unofficial tuck shop – and in the process saving up enough money to buy his first car. But he was headed towards a conventional education path of A levels and university when he happened to stumble across a National Enterprise Academy event at his college, with the chance to pitch a healthy fast-food business idea and qualify for a year’s coaching from Dragon’s Den entrepreneur Peter Jones and his team.
Kyle was one of only 23 young people across the country to win a place, and said it got his plans off to a flying start. “This was hands-on, not like school-based learning, and it helped me understand the reality of what business is about,” he said.
His first big break with Expand Digital was in handling the social media for Britain’s Got Talent, and his firm has since diversified into printing, websites, corporate design and promotional items and clothing for a wide range of clients.
In addition to his business, Kyle is active in his local community as chairman of Tamworth Rotary’s charity fundraising committee and as a community first responder with the ambulance service. “I’m not financially motivated – for me, business isn’t about the money, it’s about building something that people can benefit from and contributing to the local community,” he said.
And his advice to other budding entrepreneurs? “I’m a great believer is striving for success,” he said. “There’s a culture around that failure is acceptable, but I think the important learning comes from your successes. You can learn a few things from failure but you learn much more from success.
“I’d also say that you should follow what you really want to do, and what inspires you, rather than just following what everyone else is doing, or wants you to do.”
Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership chairman David Frost CBE commented: “Expand Digital’s success is a great example of the drive and entrepreneurial spirit of our region, which is creating more and better jobs and helping our communities to thrive.
“We are delighted that our Growth Hub has been able to help and advise Kyle on his business journey and we wish him every success for the future. He is an excellent role model for anyone aiming to start out in business.”
The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub is part of the Government-supported growth hub network. Business Minister Anna Soubry said: “Small businesses are the beating heart of our economy and this government continues to build the right environment for them to thrive. We will keep cutting red tape and business taxes, improving access to finance and broadband, and taking forward the measures in the Enterprise Act to cement our position as the best place in Europe to do business.
“Growth Hubs have already helped thousands of businesses and, with the full network up and running, every registered business in England can access the expertise they need to succeed. The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub will help entrepreneurs boost their business and create more jobs for people in the local area.”
The Growth Hub was established by Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership to drive strong, sustainable business growth. It is funded by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills and delivered by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce and is a focal point for businesses that wish to grow, linking them to specialist information, advice and services.
Businesses can access free support and advice by contacting the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub on 0300 111 8002.