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Aurel Nastase joined the Growth Hub as a Business Adviser in April 2017. In today’s blog, we discover how his experience of running two very different ventures led him to a central role in helping innovative Northamptonshire businesses.

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“I’m originally from Romania, but in 2007, I moved to the UK with my future wife, and we both became increasingly interested in the entrepreneurial spirit we found in this country,” explains Aurel. “We attended lots of workshops and this inspired me to start my own business buying and selling used cars.”

Aurel knew very little about the automotive industry, but that didn’t stop him putting everything into his new venture. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, but I soon realised that didn’t matter, because failure teaches you so much”.

Undeterred, Aurel called on his creative instinct to start a smoothie making business where people would pedal push bikes with integrated blenders to make their own drinks. This provided plenty of opportunities to engage with customers and resulted in his first encounter with the Growth Hub.

“I first discovered the Growth Hub when I attended an event at the British Library,” explains Aurel. “I was there with one of my smoothie bikes to help launch a new concept for the library, and met some representatives from the Growth Hub.”

Helping other businesses was something Aurel had always been interested in, and when he discovered the Growth Hub’s mission, he was immediately hooked.

“I learned so much during the running of my own businesses that I wanted to pass onto other entrepreneurs,” enthuses Aurel. “I learned that planning is vitally important; if you don’t get that right, you may as well not bother, because you’re simply throwing yourself into the unknown. I also learned a lot about the importance of partnerships. The smoothie business, for example, required me to have a health and hygiene certificate, which was provided by the local authority, who I got to know quite well and to the benefit of my business.”

Although he’s only been at the Growth Hub for a little over a year, Aurel has fast settled into a role that sees him assisting innovative businesses across Northamptonshire. Working with the Innovate Northamptonshire project, Aurel offers one-to-one advice for entrepreneurs, directs them to the most valuable workshops and provides support for grant applications.

“I think a lot of companies are innovative, but they don’t know they are, because the research and development they’re performing is simply a daily task, and they’re not really aware of how innovative it is,” he explains. “Innovation isn’t easily defined, but it typically relates to a new idea for a product that addresses a problem in the marketplace.  We like to look at ideas that not only solve problems, but which have benefits for the wider community. For instance, a product which eliminates the use of single use plastics would be seen as highly innovative.”

Aurel’s role is to identify projects that are innovative, help entrepreneurs understand the benefits of innovation and support them in bringing their products to market. Any small or medium sized enterprise can apply for a grant, attend the Growth Hub’s many workshops and register for specific innovation events.

As Aurel explains, innovation doesn’t have to feature new products or services.

“We often see products that take existing ideas and repurpose them, or which realise the benefits of an industry-specific product in another sector,” says Aurel. “This requires significant market research and development and the desire to adapt the product to work for its new purpose. Carbon fibre is a great example of this, because it was originally developed for the fishing industry; now, it can be found in car manufacturing and aerospace.”

Businesses that dream up innovative ideas often apply for funding before seeking independent advice, and while this can be a positive step, a one-to-one with a Growth Hub Business Adviser like Aurel can help realign the focus on the company’s current position.

Aurel is quick to point out that understanding how profits are currently being made, and identifying the company’s existing market position will help establish the best way forward.

“Typically, this could involve writing a new business plan to assist with funding applications,” he explains. “Sometimes, this reveals that even though the new product idea sounds great on paper, it’s unlikely to be profitable. Innovation is exciting, but because of that, it’s easy to get lost in the R&D and neglect the business aspects.

“It’s possible to innovate too late, which is why we often see businesses that have been working for years on an idea, but never get to the point of launching the actual product. Inevitably, that means there’s a scramble to do so when sales dip, and that’s never a good idea. At the Growth Hub, we try to get involved as early as possible to help businesses look ahead and assess the future market opportunities for any innovative ideas they’re working on.”

If you’d like to attend our innovation event held in partnership with Google Digital Garage on 27th June at the iCon Centre in Daventry, click here!

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