Beefing up business to beat the recession
By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter, BBC News, Ardeley
Article from The BBC
Livestock and quad bikes sit side by side on the farm
Entrepreneur Tim Waygood has always made his living from the land, but often in quite unexpected ways.
Twenty years ago, the farmer's son looked at the 150-year-old family farm in the village of Ardeley, near Stevenage, and wondered if the land could be put to better use.
While still at university, he hosted a clay pigeon shooting event for four or five people. From there, he built up a global business organising team-building corporate events.
But with the downturn, demand for these away-days fell and Mr Waygood is once again using the land for more traditional purposes. This kind of lateral thinking, experts say, is why some businesses can flourish while others fail during a recession.
Tall, of sturdy build, and with well-worked hands, Mr Waygood was brought up on the farm which provided a living for his grandparents and parents before he studied agriculture at the University of Reading.
In the mid 1980s, as the trend shifted towards huge specialist farms, Mr Waygood felt the 175-acre farm was becoming unviable.
He decided to set up MotivAction. It organised everything from human table football to quad bike riding. Many events took place on the farm, others further afield. On MotivAction trips, staff could experience life as a New York police officer for a day.
But during a downturn, away days to build staff morale are low on the priority list for businesses.
"We've had almost the same number of inquiries this year as we had last year, but while people are still talking about it they are not spending," says Mr Waygood.
"Our managers have had a hell of a challenge to contend with over the last year, but miraculously we have managed to survive."
MotivAction still managed to make a small profit last year and is breaking even this year, he says. But staff numbers and turnover have been cut by half.
While the market for corporate events was shrinking, the opportunities for agriculture were growing.
By then Mr Waygood was back on the farm.
While Mr Waygood had concentrated his efforts on MotivAction, the land, planted with grass cloverley, had been set aside, allowing wildlife to flourish.
Tim Waygood gets to know the pigs on the farm
After watching Al Gore's green rallying documentary An Inconvenient Truth, he decided to concentrate on creating a sustainable farm and business.
"I thought I ought to use my entrepreneurial skills and knowledge of farming," he says. "It stops me from getting bored."
As part of what he describes as an "agrarian renaissance", he decided to concentrate on mixed farming, grass-fed livestock and used the farm as a community centre, organising activities for the local community.
Travelling around the farm, there are now animal watching hides, alongside rare pigs and prime cattle. Crops are rotated and irrigated from adjacent ponds.
"There is nothing more complex than the organic chemistry going on in that manure," he points out, driving past a heap.
Making money is still high on the agenda. He hosts people with learning difficulties so they get to experience life on a farm. He sells this expertise to other farms, eager to do the same thing.
It is this kind of lateral thinking and innovation that is needed in an economic downturn, according to Nick Badman who chairs the centre for entrepreneurship at Cass Business School.
"It is tempting to think that everything is doom and gloom. If you want to borrow money it is tricky, but what recessions do is to throw up lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs," he says.
He says that some large, well-established organisations are "coming apart". This leaves opportunities for new small businesses.
"In two or three years we will see a number of new entrepreneurial businesses," he says, pointing out that people with business experience were enrolling at the centre at Cass.
During a downturn, many established businesses move to a "defensive position" which stops them experimenting with new products and services, he argues.
This opens the door to others, he said.
However, figures from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) show that the appetite for registering new inventions has dipped slightly.
In the financial year 2008-9, there were 23,214 patent applications - down 6% on the previous year. So far this year, patent requests have dropped 10% on the same period a year ago.
The IPO has forecast that there will be a decrease to a total of 22,308 patent applications during this financial year.
It seems that even during a recession, opportunity knocks - but some business people might be slow to answer.