The sky’s the limit: meet the company founders with drive to Strive

With a little expert advice, thousands of small firms could hit new heights. Just ask the entrepreneurs who have upgraded their digital skills through Mastercard’s Strive UK programme
Plaid to meet you: Newcastle-based Allana McGowan grew her business through the initiative’s pop-up high street

As the UK entered its first Covid lockdown, Allana McGowan, a Newcastle-based designer, took the bold step of launching LannyXStudio, a business repurposing vintage fabrics as fashion items and homeware.

Working alone from home, she struggled with an issue familiar to many new small business owners: lack of exposure.

Things changed for McGowan when she began selling on Thrive Street: the pop-up high street that ran throughout last month at the Gateshead Metrocentre as part of Mastercard’s Strive UK, a new initiative to support micro and small businesses.

McGowan suddenly found herself face to face with new customers – some of the estimated 1.7 million people who were expected to visit the small business stands during November. She appeared on local BBC news and even featured on Mary Portas’s Instagram feed after she sold the TV fashion expert an upcycled shirt.

“I got to talk heart to heart with Mary about my business,” says McGowan. “Thrive Street was such a good opportunity. Her purchase of one of my shirts was the icing on the cake.”

But lack of exposure is far from the only issue currently facing the UK’s small businesses. There is also the broad and intimidating challenge of digitisation. While the pandemic has accelerated digital take-up by small enterprises, a recent report from Mastercard, Strive to Thrive, found that one in three small business leaders don’t know how to access the digital and IT skills they need for growth. And when it comes to integrating digital tools, 39 per cent of small businesses report feeling overwhelmed by the amount of choice out there.

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