IN this week's SME Focus we hear from one of the Scottish serial entrepreneurs who are managing to create fast-growing firms against a tough economic backdrop.

Name: Brian Williamson.

Age: 55.

What is your business called?


Where is it based?


What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We recover funds from HMRC’s Research & Development tax credit programme for all sizes of companies from £1.4m to £1.4bn. At a time when debt and equity are hard to come by it is a great way to shore up the cash of a business.

To whom does it sell?

Any manufacturing company which changes the shape of something from raw material or component parts to some form of finished or semi-finished goods. This includes “soft” manufacturing such as software.

What is its turnover?

£2.2m annualising £5m currently and expected to be £10m in 2012.

How many employees? 31.

When was it formed? 2007.

Why did you take the plunge?

In 2009 I met Don Galloway and Richard Edwards at a lunch and their story intrigued me.

Further meetings followed with the third shareholder, Stuart Wyse, and before long we had agreed there was great mileage in combining forces and a deal was worked out where I could invest in the business since, in my view, it was one of the best business ideas I had seen in my experience of running companies now for almost 30 years.

The business concept was founded on a Canadian model that was sound and tested; UK businesses were thirsting for cash and there was no shortage of clients; each of the team had a different skill set and complemented each other with the highest work ethic.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Like Jim McColl (of Clyde Blowers fame), I was a trainee with Weir Pumps. After working my way up the management structure I left aged 26 to run my first company, a structural steel manufacturer and ship repairer.

I continued to run companies for others, generating wealth for other shareholders, for the next 12 years until 1994. At this point I felt it was time to use my experience in running corporates to generate wealth privately.

I built a £5m business in the automotive industry in the West Midlands, then started up my own oil and gas business servicing the drilling industry.

This grew from nothing to £3.5m in three years and made substantial profits at a time when oil was as low as $14 per barrel. It was sold to the management team and I moved and completed a Bimbo (Buy In Management Buy Out) with the Bethany Group, which rebranded as The Learning Organisation,

This mainly English-based learning and enterprise group was eventually sold. I then took on various assignments in my efforts to find a company that had exponential growth potential.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Jumpstart has been totally self-funded. I am not sure in today’s climate whether we would have managed to secure debt.

What was your biggest break?

Getting our first large client with over £1bn in sales. It helped us secure others who took comfort in the fact we could work with such large clients.

What was your worst moment?

In 1996, my oil and gas firm won a near £1m contract with a huge drilling company to completely rewire a rig in West Africa. It was a guide price because the eventual contract was to be based on a time and material basis. I remember thinking the one-page contract I drew up was a pretty valuable piece of text.

To finance the deal, I had to leave all the prior year’s profits in the business as well as invest £40,000 of savings and put my house up as security. I wanted to introduce invoice discounting, but I was advised by the bank that, as our client was a “brass plate” company in Panama City, it could not give me a facility unless I took out £80,000 of insurance – most of my gross margin on the project. I had to find another way to finance it.

I met the bank manager and the only other thing I could put up as security was my mother’s house, which fortunately I owned. It didn’t seem right, but I could see no other way. My compromise decision was to do it, but not tell my parents.

After all, it was a time and material contract where we were paid for every hour of every person we had on site – the closest you could get to a sure thing.

As the project value grew to £1.8m, everything changed. The client control and management moved from Aberdeen to Paris and I now had to deal with a Parisian whom I did not know and had never met.

He insisted the contract was fixed price, and was not paying anything until it was finished.

I was £750,000 out of pocket at the time and my house, my cars and my parents’ house were on the line.

To make matters worse we had had a dispute on site and 27 men had to be replaced at our cost. The client’s view was that the one-page contract, in which I had put so much faith, was legally worthless.

I thought it was the end of me but that night a fellow entrepreneur called me and, for the first time I unleashed the full story.

His pep talk worked. I had come from a working class background, the son of a foundry man and a waitress who worked tirelessly to survive and bring up a family, and I had to sort this out.

After a frenzied week of meetings in Aberdeen and Paris, which I kept from the bank, I worked furiously to influence the company to at least pay me something. Then the news broke that a payment of £455,000 was going to be made, which reduced my debt and saved my mum and dad’s house.

It took three months to straighten things out and eventually the project finished and the final contract meeting took place in Paris. There were 20 people round the table arguing their own points and I was trying to keep the peace because the most important thing was the final agreement on what would be paid. The contract had ended as a £2.2m contract and we got agreement and received 98% of that as a payment.

All my lobbying had worked.

I was home and dry and vowed on the plane home that I would never bet the ranch again – and certainly not the ranch my mum and dad lived in.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The team approach, and the fast growth. When you are doubling in size every six months, it is just the best buzz ever.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We want to be the generic term for R&D tax credit applications. Just like people still do “the Hoovering” we want clients to ask themselves and each other if they have “Jumpstarted” their claim.

What are your top priorities?

l Maintain the scalability of the operation, something on which my fellow director Richard Edwards has done an excellent job.

l Increase our technical resource each quarter until we reach 50 technical analysts.

l Increase the capacity of our business analysts out in the field screening clients.

l Continue with the brand development work.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would most help?

The integration of our policy makers with our wealth creators is a must if we are to see true growth in the UK economy.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

Never bet the ranch.

How do you relax?

Walking our two dogs, playing golf and cycling.