The voice of the business sector in Mid Devon


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Past Meetings

Past Meetings

  • Wednesday 19th September 2018

Our first speaker Sam Riley from Turquoise Thinking, a full service market research agency based in Barnstaple, showed us how to turn customer insights into profit by taking the correct approach to market research.  Sam gave us several examples of the way in which timely and well-structured market research had led to an increase in profitability and in one case averted a potentially disastrous move into opening another shop when the research showed that all their growth was online.

Sam’s summary of common mistakes had a familiar ring to many present.  These were as follows:

Failing to do any market research. How flawed questions led to flawed results.  Cutting costs by asking a few friends.  Interpreting statistics incorrectly and lastly, analysing results too optimistically.

After a short break when half of the room swapped tables for some more networking our second speaker was introduced.

Patrick Enright had worked in HR for HSBC before deciding to focus his energies on Investors in People (IIP).  He introduced us to Version 6 of the standard which had been developed in conjunction with the University of Bath.  Whereas the old version 5 had focussed on Plan, Do, Review, the new Version 6 is about Inspiration, Leadership and Support.  Also it now has 3 levels of achievement. Namely Silver, Gold and Platinum with ongoing support working towards renewal every 3 years so that companies can if they wish acheive the next award level.

Patrick explained the process of discovery, on line assessment, employee interviews and observations that lead to the accreditation report.

Mindful of the fact that our area is largely populated by small businesses he let slip that a small business version of the standard is due to be launched soon.

  • Thursday 24th May 2018

Held on the eve of the start of half term with the number of attendees less than usual.

After pre meeting networking over the Tiverton Hotel’s excellent buffet, attendees introduced their business on a table by table basis for the first 15 minutes

Our first speaker was Carolyn Hooker, Innovation Specialist from PSC Business West on ‘Innovation and your Business’.  Carolyn introduced us to the ‘Innovate 2 Succeed’ programme.  This consists of up to 7 days of innovation coaching.  The idea being to help ensure that your ‘bright idea’ has a good chance of being an economic success.  This by using templates to list and measure inputs required in terms of time, staff, facilities and finance thus taking a cautious and carefully planned approach to innovation

Also looking at the market to ensure that the idea is wanted by the market and will actually sell.  All sounds a little obvious but so often businesses are so caught up with their brilliant new product or service that they omit the essential spadework required to ensure success.

Our second speaker was Robin Daniels, newly appointed CEO of Devon and Cornwall Business Council with a background of promoting business interests in Norfolk, Robin explained the vital work that the business funded organisation does in influencing Local, Regional and National economic strategy and their vision for the future at a time of economic and political change.  He explained the necessity of working closely with the neighbouring counties of Somerset and Dorset in order to ensure that the South West has a stronger voice and that Whitehall understands that there is a strong and vibrant economy to the West of Bristol.

  • Wednesday 14th March 2018

40 attendees

After 30 minutes of free-flowing unstructured networking, tea, coffee and a generous buffet selection, members and guests took their seats and introduced their businesses to their table.

Our opening speaker, Carola Becker of Life is Good explained the fundamental principles behind eating well and staying healthy.  Her analogy of putting the wrong fuel into your Ferrari highlighted the way in which we often inadvertently do this with our own bodies. She urged us to stay hydrated, feed our brains, reduce sugar intake, get fresh air and exercise.  Also to reduce stress by eating calming foods. Walk, cycle, swim, garden and always park at the far end of the car park.

William Lines of Clyst Information Systems then proceeded to cast light on the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that goes live on 25th May.  William explained how great technological changes over the last 20 years have effectively eroded the trust that individuals have in the ability of businesses to keep their personal data secure.  So the old 1995 Data Protection Act has had to be replaced.  The aim of GDPR is to offer accountability and transparency.  It is a sizeable subject.  Every business should have an up to date Data Protection Policy.  Correct data handling includes:  Keeping records of what data processing you do. Knowing what personal data you hold.  Where & Why. Checking, updating & publishing. How you support individual’s rights. How you handle data on Children. Your digital security. How you identify & respond to data security breaches.  Recommended that you join the Cyber Essentials Scheme.  Training your Staff.  There were many questions from the floor to which William’s reply was invariably ‘Yes, you need to take action in order to comply with GDPR’

Channelle Busby, Procurement Manager at Mid Devon District Council, let us know how her department is handling data. She suggested that businesses visited the local government Procurement Portal at  She also mentioned that the annual supplier engagement event ‘Going Local 2018’ will be held in Honiton on 24 May 2018.

Download the presentations

  • Thursday 18 May

Guy Watson of Riverford Organic Farms spoke about starting the Riverford box scheme.

Brendan Bellis of Hydro Mills Group gave an update on their brilliant plans for “How historic Mid Devon mills will be converted for power generation” – fantastic!

Merry Whitaker spoke about securing a £50,000 Dragons Den investment in her baby keepsake business LoveKeepCreate which she launched from her kitchen table six years ago.

Mark Challacome and Graham Allen of PETROC College brought us up to speed on Apprenticeships, new reforms and how businesses can work with local secondary schools to secure a trained workforce.

Charles Baughan of Westaways Sausages provided a talk on the Challenges and opportunities in establishing and growing a Food and Drink Brand. Based in Newton Abbot, Westaways supplies caterers, butchers, delicatessens, foodservice companies, and over 500 retailers in the West Country and exports to the four corners of the world.

With the UK approaching Brexit we also had a talk from Linda Middleton-Jones on How to start exporting. Linda has over 25 years’ experience in international commerce across the manufacturing, nuclear and aviation sectors and she explored how companies can develop and sustain growth through accessing overseas markets.

Andrew Lathwell led the 2016 AGM and guest speaker Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, The Black Farmer, shared insights on developing his business.

  • Wednesday 21 Sept

Mary Quicke of Quicke’s Cheese provided the benefit of her experience, talking about establishing a successful brand and growing her business.

Wellhayes Vineyard – successful recipients of a REAL Devon grant – shared their business journey so far, and what they did with grant.

John Holden delivered an entertaining tale of John and a group of Royal Marines that were asked in the Summer of ’83 to provide support in hunting the Beast of Exmoor. The story of their 5-month adventure provides humorous and thought provoking experiences along with evidence as to what had killed full grown ewes on the moor.

South West Cyber Security Cluster (SWCSC) gave a presentation on Becoming Websafe: Dealing with Ransomware. Cyber attacks and malware are usually thought of as attacks against large corporations and even countries, however this is an issue facing all businesses, whatever the size.

In an exceptionally well attended, energetic and sometimes even boistrous evening:

Tim Smit from the Eden Project delivered an informative presentation outlining the Eden Westwood “Vision for Junction 27”.

Jeff Gregory of Lifesaver Technology demonstrated his innovative product that anyone can use to safely administer oxygen in case of emergency.

George Cowcher, Chief Executive, Devon Chamber of Commerce gave an overview of the history & plans for the county wide Chamber.

Niki Lathwell led the BFMD 2015 AGM and Kate Doodson from Cosmic was back for another session, this time with her ‘Stand out on Social Media’ presentation looking at creating compelling online content.

In a procurement themed evening, Corinne Matthews, Nuclear Coordinator for the LEP gave an update on what is happening at Hinckley Point C (HPC), what opportunities there are for our business community, and where businesses can register their interest in providing services to the development.

This was followed by Dave Ratcliffe from Devon & Cornwall Consulting sharing his many year’s experience working in procurement departments both the public and the private sectors. He clearly and simply explained how small and micro businesses can prepare and submit successful bids for tenders.

Dominie Dunbrook, Programme Manager for MiL and REAL Devon LEADER, from the Devon County Council Economy & Enterprise team explained the MiL/REAL Devon programmes and how member organisations might take advantage of this European funding stream.

Chris Hill, Partner of chartered accountancy firm Thomas Westcott answered the question “What Grants Are Available For My Business?”, providing an overview on the biggest locally available grant for businesses, which ends in January, and explaining how to apply for it.

  • Wednesday 15th July

Dave Barr, Best of Exeter shared his thoughts on how to make the most of your networking, so that you can turn the events in profitable business.

Dave Crispin, Crispin Associates (UK) Ltd shared a plethora of tips on how to convert prospects into customers.

Kate Doodson of Cosmic looked at a typical day of our working lives and looked at useful Apps to help get stuff done.

Rob Holmes, co-founder of the Gro Company talked about his business journey, shared the ‘Top 10′ lessons he’s learned along the way, and explained why he no longer believes in accidents or coincidences!

Stuart Carrington, a senior partner of chartered accountants Thomas Westcott, spoke about Auto Enrolment (AE). AE is the new obligation on virtually all employers to provide and contribute to a workplace pension scheme for their employees. Regardless of size or type of business, these new rules will affect you if you have employees and early planning is essential.

Stuart is heading up his firm’s AE approach across Devon and beyond. In his presentation to BFMD, he explained who must be enrolled, what is required of employers and when, and how to go about ensuring you are fulfilling your legal obligations. He also outlined some basic strategies that are already working well, and highlighted a number of potentially expensive pitfalls.

Andy Wilkins, Lead trainer at Virtual Jet Centre provided an entertaining account of how he has journeyed from businessman to farmer to pilot and back to businessman, describing a few lessons learnt along the way. He also explained how successful aviation management practices such as Crew Resource Management can benefit a business.

Peter Thornton whose Grandfather founded the much loved retail brand Thornton’s Confectionery gave a presentation on some of his secrets to building a successful business. Peter was a significant force in growing Thornton’s dramatically to the point of becoming a PLC and has a wealth of experience to share with Forum members. Peter is also working on a new project: Dermatuff

Richard Carpenter of Enterprise Assist gave a presentation on – how to reduce your running costs and keep your business profitable and efficient. Richard has helped many Mid Devon businesses through difficult times to go on to become local success stories.

James Marshall, owner of Excelsior Athletic Training; head coach of the Excelsior Athletic Development Centre, gave a presentation on what small businesses can learn from successful sports people.

Celia Delaney of SpeakingSuccess, a company that enables business owners, senior managers and their teams to promote their business through speaking, gave two presentations on business confidence.

Jo Smallbones who runs Look Your Best, an image consultancy helping others through 1:1 consultations, workshops and corporate training programmes presented the talk Dress for Success.

  • Thursday 17th July 2014 [Slides]

Dr Allen Alexander PhD MSc FHEA MAPM MInstKT, Senior Lecturer in Innovation & Director of Corporate Research & Engagement at the University of Exeter Business School presented a compelling presentation on how a little bit of creative thinking each day can stimulate your business and improve its success.

Peter Wakefield, Head of Organisational Development at Radian, also gave a talk about Employee Engagement. On how to help make your business more productive, profitable and innovative whilst keeping your customers satisfied and staff loyal.

Richard Hookway & Trevor Vanstone from Amarisk presented a talk on the current principles of Health & Safety legislation. Along with an introduction to employment legislation.

Richard Pym & Jeremy Atkins from NFU Mutual hosted a joint presentation on Understanding Your Business Insurance.

Chris Garcia, Chief Executive of the Heart of South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), was the keynote speaker supported with presentations by Kevin Finan of Mid Devon District Council and Rob Barnes of Petroc

Table debates were facilitated by James Marshall

Speaker presentations were given by Chris Smith of the Intellectual Property Office on how to make the most of a business’s intellectual property. As well as Paul Munnery of Stewart Nash Consultancy Ltd on Updating your business plan.

A speaker presentation by Chris Payne of Brand Doctors, on how market research improves your bottom line. As well as Steve Southcott of UK Trade & Investment South West giving a presentation on help, advice and support for new and existing exporters.

  • Wednesday 25th September 2013

A speaker presentation by Roly Weaver of MyLife Solutions, on taking control of your financial future.

  • Tuesday 16th July 2013

Speaker presentations were given about promoting your business through events by Sally Raynes of Wacky Nation.

And another presentation was given by Paul Nero from Radio Exe on promoting your business through radio.

An Advanced Negotiation Skills seminar was presented by Prof. Robert J Hartnett of the Edinburgh Business School.

Richard Hussey of RSH Copywriting, spoke on “Using the right words to get your message across”. He was followed by Patrick Phelvin from Mid Devon Gazette with his presentation “How to improve media relations”.

Steve Lodge from Oxygen Creative outlined the core elements of Search Engine Optimisation. Nick Rapson then picked up the baton with his talk about security essentials for your PCs.

The November meeting was cancelled due to the weather and therefore the annual report will be presented at the January meeting. However, the report does contain the Accounts for the past year and is available to view above.

Sam Fisher from Brighter Creative introduced Social Media for Business with his presentation ‘Busting the myth that it’s not for me’. He was ably followed by Niki Lathwell from Lathwell & Associates and her talk with essential Twitter Tips for business.

Alana Carroll from Gravitas Recruitment presented on “The Importance of Staff Retention”. Peter Best from AtBest Ltd provided insights as how to “Improve Performance through Understanding Peoples Different Behaviour”. Marilyn Minter-Newson talked on Health and Well Being

Members contributed individual experiences and debated their best business tips. The fruits of the evening are available here to download.

Michael Marsh, Partner and Head of Tax Services at Thomas Westcott gave the seventy businesses in attendance his top “Tips to Beat the Taxman”.

Robert Hartnett, Director, Edinburgh Business School, Scandinavian Centre. delivered an excellent “Essential Negotiating Skills” workshop.

Peter Shaw of Koncepta & James Millar of Metis Media gave presentations “Marketing on a Small Budget”. Floor then opened for “Supermarkets – Good or Bad?” debate.

Eighty businesses in attendance. Neil Parish MP gives a warm welcome & Huw Davies of Petroc presents on decision making.


How does it work?

Mid Devon businesses can help themselves and their local economy by doing more business with one another. To help this happen our events combine

  • An informal networking period over refreshments
  • A presentation on a topic useful to you and your business
  • An open discussion
  • An opportunity to let the Council and other local public bodies know how they can best help you to achieve your business goals