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Grant helps PR business, 1284 continue its success story

31 October 2022

Loughborough-based PR and communications strategy business 1284 used a business growth grant to increase productivity – translating time saved into the launch of a new service. The business was founded in 2020 from its base at the Loughborough University incubator LUinc. and grew turnover by more than 120% in its second year. Moving into Year 3, founder George Oliver applied through the Business Gateway Growth Hub for help towards set-up costs for new service line 1284START.

Before launching 1284, George had never run his own business. After 15 years as a journalist, he decided to form his own agency, aiming to specialise in corporate communications relating to the Innovation sector. At the time, George was completing an MSc in Strategic Leadership at Loughborough University’s Business School and he applied to launch 1284 from the university incubator on the LUSEP enterprise zone.

Two years on, 1284 was a Chartered PR Practitioner providing communications strategy to clients ranging from SMEs to local government and universities. From launch, George had been interested in working with innovative start-ups, providing PR consultancy both at reduced rates and pro bono to support the development of exciting new businesses emerging from Loughborough and Leicester. The Growth Grant presented an opportunity to formalise that activity as a niche premium PR service at affordable rates for emerging East Midlands entrepreneurs.

1284START launched in October 2022 – two months after the Growth Grant was awarded. The 35% match-funding was used towards the purchase of a laptop and AI software to improve the efficiency and monitoring of PR campaigns. George then created 1284START to pass his company’s efficiency savings on to client startups, meaning that selected new businesses could access quality services in Leicestershire at a reduced rate.

1284START is already being used by purposeful early-stage businesses in the region. Projects include copywriting for award-winning med-tech startup ACT Medical, which is developing a life-saving device to stem blood loss from knife wounds. 1284 is already in talks with two further startups about supporting them with press releases, media relations, and other comms. It means 1284START had reached around 10% of its Y1 revenue target before its official launch in late October.

George was introduced to the Business Gateway Growth Hub by attending free sessions on marketing and pricing while establishing his company in 2020. He said: “I had never run my own business before 1284 and needed to learn a lot quickly about process, accounting, sales and more. The incubator was helping with that and I also learned quite quickly that the Growth Hub provided sessions with experts who were offering a lot of specialist insight at no cost.

“When I saw on Twitter a couple of years later that the Growth Hub was inviting applications for Growth grants I began to think about how it could be a chance to formalise what I was trying to achieve with really purposeful startups. Three months later, I had funding and kit in place, a new website live and clients on the books.”

In December 2021, 1284 won a public tendering exercise to provide media releases for the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP). Efficiencies made possible by 1284START mean that the company can deliver such big contracts while continuing to grow within the existing headcount. However, the next stage for 1284 is to consider the staffing required for further expansion. George said: “I think we are at a point many growing businesses will experience in that 1284 is close to having made all realistic measures to increase productivity and now needs to think seriously about onboarding new people.”

1284 is shortlisted for the CIPR’s Midlands Independent Practitioner of the Year and the East Midlands Chamber’s Leicestershire Entrepreneur of the Year. “I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but the support I have received gave me the confidence to invest in the IT I needed to improve my service offer, increase efficiency and compete with larger agencies,” said George.

Business Gateway Adviser, Paul Bennett added: “1284 has been growing significantly over the last few years and George’s passion for supporting start-ups through affordable PR is commendable. He put an excellent case forward to the grant panel, not only to prove his project was viable but also how much it was really needed in the start-up community. It’s been a pleasure supporting George and seeing his ideas become a reality. He listened to my advice and feedback and has even taken away ideas to help his own clients with funding and award applications. I wish him well for the future.”

Image: 1284 founder George Oliver at the University of Leicester’s Innovation Hub. George is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at UoL