Chris Reed on BBC's Dragons' Den (image courtesy of Mediaworks).
Jane Imrie

ParkingPerx founder and Dragons’ Den contestant Chris Reed on scaleup success, staying local and securing six-figure investment

North East entrepreneur Chris Reed has had quite the year.

He and his firm ProxiSmart were propelled into the spotlight on BBC’s Dragons’ Den with free parking app ParkingPerx, through which he secured six-figure funding from Dragon Jenny Campbell and the North East Venture Fund (NEVF).

As part of Bdaily’s Scaleup Focus Week Chris took the time to chat with me about facing the Dragons, what makes for successful scaling and why the North East is ‘THE place’ for him and his business.

Would you class ProxiSmart as a scaleup? If so, why? If not, what would need to happen to elevate you to that level?

“We’re not quite there but we are close! We are currently working on the deployment of our solutions into a number of ‘early adopter’ locations.

“This is with a view to creating blueprint for taking the ParkingPerx solution into any town or city in the UK and beyond!

“So once we complete this initial phase we will be ready to scale up and our plan is to go from 6 staff to 24 staff within 2 years.

“What effect do you think innovations like ParkingPerx will have on high streets and local economies?

“The issues affecting the High Street are multiple and complex. I am not that naive to believe that our solution will be the only thing that’s needed but in six out of ten locations, businesses cite car parking as their biggest barrier to trade.

“There’s no doubt that there are many pain points for Consumers associated with parking. In our research, we found that in one market town, 27 per cent of town centre visits were being cut short because of parking issues.

“We calculated that by just adding an additional 5 minutes of dwell time to those visits would result in an additional monthly spend of £29k in that location. A town centre visit, which is often a positive experience, is book ended by a parking experience which is often a negative experience.

“This, at worst, discourages consumers from using their local High Street, and at best can reduce the number of times they visit. By removing the pain points and cost associated with parking, I believe that we will increase footfall, spending and location loyalty.”

How has being a North East native influenced you as an entrepreneur and what benefits do you feel the region offers to growing businesses?

“The North East is THE best place to live and work. I have lived and worked in the South and there is simply no comparison.

“The quality of life, the cost of living, the natural beauty on our doorstep of places like Northumberland, the party life of a city like Newcastle, we have 5 fantastic universities churning out talent, we have ease of travel - both internationally and getting around the region, and of course the friendliness and warmth of the hard working people.

“These are all reasons why I wanted to build a business in the North East. When I engage with people from outside the region, I’m a big advocate of what the North East can offer.

“I believe we can make this region a fantastic hub for tech and software businesses in particular - like a silicon valley - but we need to shout it louder.”

How do you think that scaleups can maintain growth as well as innovate?

“It all boils down to mixing new talent with experience.

“We have a lot of successful businesses in the North East and as I have mentioned, 5 really good universities along with some great colleges like Gateshead and Newcastle, producing very talented young people.

“We learn from the experience of businesses that have been successful and the individuals that have ‘been there, done that’ and ensure that there’s an ecosystem for encouraging them to help guide upcoming and growing businesses.

“There are not enough Angels or NEDs in the region - we need more. We also need to strengthen the ties between businesses and the university / education sector to ensure we are matching the skills needs of business for the next 5 to 10 years.

Dragons’ Den was effectively your ’Black Swan’ moment (a pivotal point in your business’ trajectory). Are there any other key points that changed and accelerated the growth of your business?

“There have been a few and each have been key for different reasons and whilst not perhaps on the scale of something like the Den, they have been just as important to the business in terms of my roadmap.

“Winning the Northern Stars ‘“Top ten tech startups in the North” competition basically lifted my profile to a point where things like Dragons’ Den could happen.

“Winning competition funding from Innovate UK to support completing a pilot of the solution in Sunderland was also key.”

What sectors do you feel are particularly effective at scaling up, and which business leaders do you admire?

“We have a fantastic tech scene in the North East, which is close to my heart and a number of companies that are proving to be leaders in scaling up.

“I believe that green solutions will be the next big area for scaling opportunities. Its high on the agenda politically and the funding is there for those companies that can exploit opportunities in environmentally beneficial solutions.

“In terms of business leaders, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few hours with Sir Richard Branson who is incredibly down to earth and is someone I enjoyed engaging with.

“Plus, I have to add Jenny Campbell who is a formidable lady and is someone I am learning from every day.

“Something they both have in common is that they always state that the best way to grow is to surround yourself with talented people - something I believe that I have achieved with the board of directors I have now been able to put together (watch out for more announcements on this soon!).”

What do you have planned for 2020?

“2020 will see ParkingPerx go live in some key towns and cities and this will act as a platform for further growth domestically.

“We are also looking to launch TravelPerx - where Consumer spending in the High Street is rewarded with reduced or eliminated Public Transport costs. TravelPerx will uplift the local economy whilst incentivising greener travel choices.

“We have had international interest in both solutions and are planning to take our business abroad too - so exciting times!”

Before your Dragons’ Den appearance, you said you were ’ready to give up’. What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who may be feeling the same way

“Ultimately I would say compare how you would feel if you successfully achieve your dreams with the ‘what if’ questions you would constantly ask yourself if you don’t give it your best shot.

“If it was easy, everyone would do it. Be brave. Failure is feedback.”

What are your thoughts on scaling businesses? Join the conversation on Twitter with @Bdaily and #ScaleupFocusWeek.

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