For nearly five decades, business investment company and workspace provider UKSE has been on a mission to foster innovation in former steel communities across Yorkshire and the Humber. With six locations across the UK, the Sheffield-based head office can be found at the thriving Innovation Centre and works to support a range of projects through offering investments, loans and office space. unLTD’s Joe Food sat down with area manager Steve Lyon and regional executive Pete Newton to delve deeper into the organisation’s core values, its unique approach and the importance of nurturing growth in our region.
UKSE’s roots go back to 1975 when the organisation was established to assist steel areas in transitioning to new types of work and skill sets. The main goal was to encourage more diverse businesses to set up shop in these regions. Over the years, the company has evolved, rebranding from UK Steel Enterprise to UKSE and expanding its focus to encompass a wide spectrum of business-to-business enterprise.
“Historically, we’ve worked with a lot of manufacturing companies,” says Steve, “but we now work with a wide range of clients, covering everything from tech to green projects. We see ourselves as a bit different to other investment companies out there as it’s what we call ‘patient capital’. We don’t put in penalty clauses or rigid timelines, and we leave when businesses want us to leave.”
“The goal is not to be restrictive but to be community-driven, helping businesses and individuals in former steel communities find opportunities they might not access elsewhere.”
Steve tells us that at the heart of UKSE’s operation are core values that guide their decisions and investments. Social impact takes centre stage; every potential deal is assessed based on how it benefits local people and the community. Environmental impact is gaining increasing importance too, prompting UKSE to focus on decarbonisation and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) practices in recent years.
This commitment to making a positive impact is evident in UKSE’s willingness to support businesses that display green credentials. Such businesses may benefit from more favourable investment terms, reflecting the organisation’s dedication to sustainability.
Pete expands on this point: “When it comes to investment, we’re always looking for the UKSE boxes to tick: job creation, positive social impact and positive environmental impact.”
The duo explain how the organisation, situated at Portobello in the heart of Sheffield’s city centre, regularly plays a pivotal role in supporting businesses looking to scale and prosper. “Growth is one of the most common reasons people come to us,” elaborates Steve. “When a business has got the product or service running, can see the sales, but need to move things to the next level – we can help with that.”
Additionally, UKSE provides more transactional support by enabling management buyouts (MBOs) and management buy-ins (MBIs), supporting management teams’ ownership of businesses and ensuring seamless succession planning. “We like to see our funding enabling succession,” says Pete. “We aim to champion the management team and helping them to realise ownership of a business.”
When asked how they differ culturally from other investment companies, both point towards a distinctive ethos defined by trust, support and a people-centric approach. The organisation prides itself on not being too target-driven, allowing its team to focus on making the right deals for the right reasons.
“When it comes to investment, it’s not just about the commercial angle: it’s about people and jobs. That’s quite rare for this industry,” adds Pete. “The goal is not to be restrictive but to be community-driven, helping businesses and individuals in former steel communities find opportunities they might not access elsewhere.”
When it comes to the application process, Steve sheds light on the straightforward steps involved. “We have an eligibility checker on the website, which will ask for a postcode, as we only work with businesses based across Yorkshire and the Humber region. It will also check whether the business concerned is in retail or hospitality, which is an sector we’re unable to help with. And the final question will ask whether the project is creating jobs. That’s the initial criteria to get to the next stage where we sit down and take a closer look.”
As well as this, they will request some accounts to establish a preliminary understanding of the business’s financial standing. However, it doesn’t stop at paperwork; employing more of a refreshingly “old school” approach, the team actively engage with applicants by meeting them in person, fostering relationships and waiting for the opportune moment when both sides are ready to proceed.
“When it comes to investment, it’s not just about the commercial angle: it’s about people and jobs. That’s quite rare for this industry.”
The commitment to nurturing innovation and creating opportunities is evident in its approach to both investments made and the workspaces offered. They rent out a range of dynamic offices for businesses to base themselves, providing a vibrant city centre location open 24/7. Shared common areas, high-speed broadband and flexible terms contribute to making the Innovation Centre an ideal place for companies to grow. You can head to their website for further details on current availability.
They’re an approachable bunch too, and Steve is particularly keen to stress that anyone getting in touch will receive – at the very least – a friendly, helpful service. “We’re happy talking to anyone. Even if early doors we can see it’s not quite right for us in terms of investing, we’ll always try and point people in the right direction. Everything we do is about getting the region moving up and how we can best serve the community.”
As UKSE continues to make a positive impact across Yorkshire and the Humber, it’s exciting to see how a legacy of steel is evolving into a legacy of opportunity.
To find out more about their work, funding opportunities and workspace availability, visit www.ukse.co.uk.