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Staffordshire equine business gallops to success with Growth Hub
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Staffordshire equine business gallops to success with Growth Hub

A Staffordshire company has been able to boost its online global business and establish new retail premises, thanks to a Small Business Grant from the Growth Hub – part of the range business services provided via the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Business partners Lesley Thomas and Victoria Highfield set up Online for Equine as an e-Commerce business in November 2011. Offering equine supplies to cater for every budget and taste, including some of the world’s most sought-after equestrian brands, the Online for Equine team were soon outgrowing their premises.

Lesley Thomas, joint managing director, explained: “As the online business grew, we needed bigger premises, a better website and more staff to cope with the demand. We were starting to sell our products all over the world, and needed more space for stock and distribution. Feedback from customers also indicated that a retail presence would be beneficial for the business, so we began looking for a new site that would allow us to expand our offering online and as a retail premises.”

After finding a suitable location at Home Farm, Milford, near Stafford, the Online for Equine team began costing the move, and tried to see if there was any funding available to them. Lesley added: “I spent a great deal of time online, looking at funding opportunities, but I struggled to find much support available for business to consumer companies like ours.”

After researching online, Lesley got in touch with Staffordshire Business Innovation Centre (BIC), who told her about the Small Business Grant they could apply for, which would cover 33 per cent of the cost of expanding the business. After working with the BIC on the application, Online for Equine secured a grant for just over £2,700 to help with the costs of the move, and to employ two new members of staff.

David Frost, Chairman of the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership said: “Victoria and Lesley have turned their passion and enthusiasm into a thriving global business, and have demonstrated a real commitment to the local area – opening new retail premises and employing new members of staff. They are now one of only seven locations in the UK with a resident City & Guilds qualified hat fitter and body protector fitter in store. Their ambitious plans and investments have been supported by the Growth Hub, and we are delighted that their business has taken off on a global scale.”

Jackie Millward, Deputy CEO at Staffordshire BIC, commented: “Online for Equine was looking to expand the working area to accommodate growth of the business. They wished to move to larger accommodation to ensure continued growth. The Small Business Grant helped with the increase in costs, equipment and office equipment. We are very pleased with the new and improved area.”

And help didn’t stop once the move was complete; Online for Equine has continued to benefit from advice and support, and both directors have been on business training courses.

Victoria Highfield, joint Managing Director at Online for Equine and a finalist at the Midlands Business Awards Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2015, commented: “With help from the BIC, the company has expanded and now has a team of dedicated equestrian enthusiasts helping our customers to choose their purchases with consideration for equine welfare.”

Lesley added: “Since the move we’ve been able to really grow the business. As well as the online side of things, our retail premises is doing well, and we’ve recently opened a tearoom for customers to enjoy when they visit us.”

Jackie Millward added: “The Small Business Grant has been an excellent scheme for SMEs to help with the associated costs of employing a new member of staff. The scheme has helped to fill a gap in funding requirements and has proved that smaller grants are needed to help start-up businesses and SMEs.”

The Growth Hub programme has been funded by the Government’s Regional Growth Fund, through Lancaster University, which lead to the creation of 15 new growth hubs across the UK. It has been designed to enable local companies to realise their growth potential by offering grant funding for expansion, capital equipment purchases, support for training, and research and development.


Lancaster University plays two distinct and innovative roles in the Wave 2 Growth Hub programme – as programme managers and as expert support to programme development. A first for universities in the UK, this programme demonstrates the dynamic roles that universities, and especially their business schools, can play in the UK’s Growth Agenda. Lancaster University, which was named as a top-ten university for SME engagement in the recent Witty Review and has received a Gold Small Business Charter Award, successfully bid to run this Regional Growth Fund programme. This is due to its Management School’s long-standing reputation for innovative support to business, and also because of the university’s experience and expertise in successfully managing European Funding programmes across the UK.

The Staffordshire Business Innovation Centre celebrated 20 years in 2015 of supporting local businesses to grow through innovation. The company is a not-for-profit organisation funded through sponsorship and UK and European Regeneration Funds.

In the last 20 years it has awarded over £3.8m to help companies identify, research, develop and market new products and processes. The BIC offers business advice on new ideas, runs events and workshops to give people the skills to understand innovation, has access to finance for innovation and rents out small Incubation Units to help people set up in business with their innovations.