In a time of uncertainty for businesses across Greater Manchester and beyond, some of the region’s SMEs have shown that a global pandemic is no reason to stop plans for international expansion.

Boosted by their participation in the Growth Company’s Global Scale-up Programme, businesses from Greater Manchester have seen the benefits of international expansion despite the restrictions that have been put in place due to COVID-19.

The SMEs who took part in the first cohort have seen an additional £24m in revenue, with 16 international visits attended before lockdown, as well as a host of activity in new markets, including product launches and office openings, while also giving back to their local communities. Around 100 companies will have completed the programme by 2021.

Launched in July 2019 and delivered by the Growth Company’s Business Growth Hub, the Global Scale-up Programme enables businesses across the city region to expand into international markets with the support of programme partners KPMG, DWF, Santander, Manchester Airport and working closely with the Department for International Trade.

Anna Carson-Parker, Global Scale-up Project Manager, said: “The Global Scale-up programme has had a genuine positive impact for businesses on the programme who were looking to expand their operations internationally. Despite the current climate the programme still has an important role to play, not only does it create opportunities and forge new connections, it also coaches business leaders on their expansion into global markets.

“Businesses that export are typically more resilient, so it is important that international ambitions remain high on the agenda. The success of the programme is down to the global ambition of the businesses on the programme and the support of our programme partners.”

Among the businesses thriving as a result of taking part in the programme are Just Strong, a Bolton-based producer of women’s fitness wear whose brand is built around an emphasis on female empowerment. They have increased their sales by £7.5m since joining Global Scale-up thanks to a continued expansion in the US market.

Just Strong has seen record sales since the start of the pandemic, helped by their work in  bringing women together on social media and empowering them to stay fit during lockdown. They are currently working with the Global Scale-up team to explore new markets in South Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Mark Robinson, Founder and CEO of Just Strong, said: “The Global Scale-up team has been instrumental in supporting us during the turbulent times we’ve all just faced. I can only commend their willingness to introduce, connect and support Just Strong as we prepare for our next stage of growth.

“They always willing to go an extra mile for us. With high growth in a relatively new business, it’s been very important for us to have the right help on hand.”

Meanwhile, fine bedding brand Trendsetter has used the experience and knowledge gained from the programme together with the unique circumstances of lockdown to focus on international growth, targeting new markets in North America and Europe.

Managing director Claire Watkin is a savvy entrepreneur and the fourth generation of her family to run the 100-year-old business from its Trafford Park base. A focus on sustainable materials and green production methods have boosted the company’s growth.

Claire said: “There have been many benefits of taking part in the Global Scale-up Programme – the networking with other businesses, sharing challenges and successes and learning from each other, looking at new techniques to drive forward our team such as the International Growth Sprint.

“The programme has really reaped much greater benefits over the last few months when as a consequence of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, we have been forced like many other businesses to reappraise how we do things.”

Claire, who has also had access to a business mentor through the Hub’s Be the Business Mentoring for Growth programme, added: “For every challenge that we have faced we have been given advice or contacts for those that can help us on our journey. As a result, we have been able to change the way we are operating and really start to gain much greater traction.  Our huge thanks to all those who have taken part or supported the programme and Trendsetter on the journey so far and for the future!”

The first of its kind outside London, the Global Scale-up Programme gives the city region’s businesses access to a global market entry network alongside tailored coaching, international growth sprints and regular bootcamps, which have gone online during lockdown.

Despite the economic impact of COVID-19, the programme is continuing to support SMEs in their plans for international expansion, and any business that is ambitious and showing 20% YOY growth can register their interest in future cohorts at www.businessgrowthhub.com/global-scale-up-programme