1980  The enterprise movement started as a result of unemployment being high in the north of England. Pilkington Glass set up business counselling services and many small businesses were formed. This successful initiative was adopted by the government of the time and in the next few years 300 enterprise agencies were formed in the country. 

1982  The Colchester Business Enterprise Agency (later to be known as Colbea) was incorporated on 2nd December as a non-profit making company. The original sponsors were Lord Alport, Peter Taylor of Royal London, Jim Wellard from the Chamber of Commerce and Colin Bell of Essex County Newspapers.  The latter were one of 10 companies to pledge £1,000 in the first year. Colchester Borough Council supported the setting up of the Agency which originally opened in the high street and then moved to two very small offices in the Gate House near the Castle. The first Director and Secretary was Peter Taylor seconded from Royal London. 

1983  Six-members were on the Executive Council. Lord Alport stood down and was appointed President. 350 clients were counselled during the year resulting in 80 businesses starting up.  The future of the Agency was very much dependant on the financial support received which was a recurring theme for many years to follow. 

1984  Tom Ford was seconded from Royal London to follow Peter Taylor.  Dr John Hoggan was also seconded for 14 months from Trumans Ltd where he was a director. 

1985  BT gave grants towards the employment of two early retirees to be used as consultants. Three new directors appointed including David Priest of Woods. 

1986  John Spurr (NatWest) took over the Chair from Colin Bell. In October John Hitchman joined the Agency as Director on secondment from Fords with Tom Ford remaining on the board.  Government grant received through the Local Enterprise Agencies Grant Scheme (LEAGS). 10 secondary schools took part in a business project and Essex CC showed interest in spreading the project throughout the County.  Seminar held in Maldon entitled “Employing People”. 

1987  Harry Keer (BT) appointed Chairman and in February John Russell (NatWest) joined the board. The Agency participated in the Essex Show and the Colchester Enterprise Exhibition. Meetings were held with Business in the Community (BIC). 

1988  Lord Alport resigned as President and was succeeded by Michael Pickard, Chairman of Royal London. In March David Priest was appointed Chairman.  Denis Statham from the Colchester Borough Council was co-opted to the Executive Council. Discussions took place regarding the likely impact of the planned Research Park at the University of Essex and the Severalls Business Park development.  Visits were made to Tendring and Chelmsford Business Enterprise Agencies to discuss workshop unit management in view of proposal to move to new premises. 

1989  In January saw the Agency move to the old factory in Magdalen Street which had been converted into 23 units by Colchester Borough Council and leased by them to the Agency. The units were sub-let on a monthly licence. Nick Hickman was seconded from Fords to manage these and obtain much needed income. By June 19 of the 23 units had been taken.  In June Adrian Mills, on secondment from Barclays, took over as Director and Secretary. Discussions took place on the need to expand business counselling in Maldon.  The LEAGS grant had been reduced and coupled with one-off costs of moving resulted in a deficit at the end of the year.  The Director and three advisers became members of the Small Business Counsellors. 

1990  In February John Russell was appointed Chairman.  The seventh AGM was again held at Royal London with over 100 in attendance at the reception afterwards. The main speaker was David Main Regional Director of the Training Agency who earlier had officially opened the units in Magdalen Street.  Essex Training and Enterprise Council (Essex TEC) was formed and discussions held with the Association of Essex Enterprise Agencies of which Colbea was one of ten members. Adrian Mills joined the North East Essex Advisory Board for the Essex TEC.  The Agency embarked on a trial period of 6 “Awareness Days” in conjunction with the Government's Enterprise Allowance Scheme and Education/Industry links in the area. 

1991  In February Adrian Mills left and was replaced by Graeme Garden, originally on a short term paid contract. Graeme had been a counsellor with Colbea for 8-years.  Numerous efforts to obtain another secondee had failed. Three of five counsellors were working on an unpaid basis due to financial constraints.  An Enterprise in Essex presentation was held in November attended by the Prince of Wales. Messrs Russell and Garden went along with three successful client businesses of the Agency. Discussions took place with the Garrison and Chelmsford Prison.  The Agency were awarded the Certificate of Accreditation to the Business in the Community. 

1992  Will Pavry (Paxman Diesels) took over the Chair. Young Enterprise Centre set up in Heybridge and Colbea provided on site counselling facilities.  Further contract obtained from Essex TEC to run Business Start courses but with reduced income.  In March one of a number of Open Learning Resource Centres opened in the Business Centre. Meetings held with the Chamber of Commerce regarding a “one-stop shop” in Colchester as envisaged by the DTI and the association of British Chambers of Commerce. 

1993  Accounting year changed to 31 March from December. Essex TEC had yet to agree a budget for the year thus in April awarded a 3month contract to enable the Agency to continue start up courses.  In June a joint display was held in the Culver Centre Precinct by 4 successful Colchester based businesses who had been assisted by the Princes Youth Business Trust and Colbea to promote its services, in particular the Open Learning Resource Centre.  In August “Awareness” sessions were held at the Colchester Garrison for personnel seeking Self-employment on redundancy. 

1994  1994 John Russell took over the Chair in October.  Ongoing discussions took place regarding Colbea's involvement with Business Link when it was set up in Colchester. Despite considerable pressure from the Essex TEC it was made abundantly clear that the Agency were not prepared to relocate to the Chamber of Commerce building. 

1995  Operating loss for 10 months to end of January was due to a decline in sponsorship and Essex TEC support.   By September only two counsellors were operating on a very limited basis with support on 2 days from representatives of Lloyds and NatWest.  The Essex agencies formed a limited company BDAS through which monies from the Essex TEC would be routed. 

1996  Full membership of National Federation of Enterprise Agencies obtained.  Self-employed accounted for 12.7% of Colchester`s total employment which compared with the general average for Essex districts of 18.5% 

1997   Business support was taking place one day a week in the Chamber of Commerce building. Sessions were also held within the Garrison through a contract with the Essex TEC. It was stated at the AGM in May that 80% of businesses supported by Colbea survived for more than 2 years. 

1998  Business Link in Colchester officially recognised in February. It was reported at the AGM in June that there were record levels of clients and seminars were being delivered, supported in partnership with Barclays. 

1999  In February, after 8 years as Executive Director and Secretary Graeme Garden stood down. John Russell assumed the role on a voluntary basis with Steven Knowles (Woods) acting as Chairman.  In September, Bob Baggalley was appointed Executive Director. Michael Pickard retired as President and was succeeded by the Mayor of Colchester. 

2000   At the AGM in June it was reported that there were now only 28 enterprise agencies in the Eastern Region. A regional key performance table showed that Colbea had performed well.  The team of self-employed business advisers all gained accreditation to the Institute of Business Advisers.  Businesses employing more than 10 people accounted for 90% of the 65,000 businesses in Essex with around 10% in Colchester. There were only 12% of people in Colchester in micro businesses compared with 20% in Chelmsford and 16% in Essex as a whole. 

2001   In January, work started on a new Enterprise Centre in Magdalen Street costing £1.3m. It formed part of a 4 year East Colchester Partnership Regeneration Scheme provided through the Government`s Single Regeneration Budget via the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) who contributed £1/2 million. Additional funding came from Colchester BC, Higgins Homes and Colbea.  The old site was sold for a substantial development profit by the Colchester BC to Higgins Homes.  More start up support sessions took place than in any other agency in Essex. Christopher Thomas (Christopher Thomas & Co Accountants) was appointed Chairman Bob Baggalley became Chairman of the Association of East of England Enterprise Agencies.  A 7 month contract was secured with Business Link for Essex to provide micro business training in partnership with the Professional Training Centre of the Colchester Institute and the Chamber of Commerce. 

2002  On 15th February the new Centre (Central) was officially opened by Tim Melville Ross, Chairman of Investors in People. Named John Russell house in recognition of his services to the Agency. The building covered 16995 sq ft and provided 34 business units. Colbea awarded Investors in People.  Excellence for Micros workshops set up to encourage new businesses to adopt quality standards early in their growth cycle.  Business planning for vocational course students held at the Colchester Institute. 

2003   The Colchester Early Retirees Club for those over 50 was set up in April with 130 members. An independent report commissioned for the Essex Economic Partnership stated that “the Colchester Business Centre was extremely well managed and one of the best centres in Essex from which to develop a best practice model”.  New Business Link ”Consortiums” for services to small businesses introduced in partnership with the Colchester Institute and the Essex Chambers of Commerce. By November there were 5 Advisers providing free independent impartial advice to small businesses.  It was vowed to work more closely with the Haven Gateway Partnership. 

2004  In June Christopher Thomas resigned and Roger Holmes (Philips Speech Processing} took over as Chairman.  Colbea saw almost 100% occupancy at its Business Centre.  An entrepreneurship programme introduced and an Entrenet Networking Club formed. Royal London who had been extremely generous and ongoing sponsors since inception of the Agency departed from Colchester. 

2005   Bob Baggelley stood down as Chair of the Eastern Association of Enterprise Agencies. A 3 year strategic plan was drawn up, the skills matrix of the Board reviewed and an Executive Committee set up.  The advisers and trainers provided 2856 services to people of North Essex which represented 21% of the Essex total and made Colbea the most successful agency.  The Agency helped to develop a new bespoke intensive one to one support service for businesses primarily in their first year of trading in conjunction with Business Link Essex, a service that was adopted and reeled out across the Essex. 

2006  Philip George (Birkett Long) elected Chairman. 4 new Non-Executive Directors appointed to provide their time voluntary. 5 new sponsors achieved.  Just under 3000 client advisory sessions held and 235 businesses assisted to get started or continue trading/expand. Continued expansion of involvement with local schools, Colchester Institute and University of Essex. 

2007  DTI EEDA had taken over responsibility for Business Links. EEDA moved to a regional model for Business Link.  Some of Business Link funding was provided direct to eligible clients for the purchase of business advice and training via eVouchers. Business Link signposted clients to a choice of at least 3 service providers, one of who may or may not be an Enterprise Agency.  In response, Colbea joined with the other agencies in Essex to form Business Help Essex (BHE). Their motto “Countywide services delivered locally”  Bid placed with Colchester Borough Council to manage the planned new North Colchester Business Incubation Centre. 

2008  Colbea won a contract to provide the self-employment option to Seetec clients in North and Mid Essex.  Due to the “credit crunch” there was an exceptional churn of 36% of tenants at the Business Centre.  Stronger links were being forged with the Essex Chambers of Commerce and the Professional Training Centre at the Colchester Institute.  The bid to manage the proposed new Business Centre on the Colchester Business Park was successful.  The Agency passed the second 3 yearly review against the Investors in People national standards. 

2009  Dr Malcolm Braithwaite (Resonato) elected Chairman.  The number of sponsors increased to 35.   A new mission statement was agreed – “To encourage the growth of business enterprise in Essex”. 

2010  In January construction of the new centre (North Colchester Business Centre) began.  1641 services provided to people of North Essex mostly free of charge - 56% funded by sponsors and Colchester BC, 25% by Business Link, 14% by Seetec for Job Centre Plus clients, 4% by Essex CC and 2% from training workshop facilities.  The Central Centre was enjoying 95% occupancy levels.  Two new Community Interest Companies set up to manage the Business Incubation Centres. Colbea identified as a partner in Tendring District Council's new regeneration strategy draft paper for 2010-2016 with a commitment to build a new Incubation Centre. New branding to be brought in. 

2011  The new Centre opened in January. The total cost of £2.4m was funded by EEDA (£2m) and the Colchester BC (£400,000). The builders were Rose Builders. The 14,117 sq ft of building provided 27 offices (let on “easy in easy out” terms), training, meeting and common rooms plus a reception area.  Since opening in December 2001 the Central Centre had achieved an average occupancy level of above 90% and provided space for a total of 105 tenants past or present. Of these just 15% had ceased trading compared with a failure rate among small businesses across the Region of 40%. 

2012  Seamus Clifford (Ellisons) became Chairman. In August John Russell retired from the Board. In accepting the role of President he followed 14 former Mayors. The current and future Mayors to be a Patron of the Agency.  The incubation services provided by Colbea had been acclaimed by many as a best practice example in the East of England.  About 100 Agencies were still operating across the country compared with 300 at the peak. 

2013  Between the two centres there were 52 businesses with 159 employees.  After a substantial loss in the previous year only a modest one recorded. The improvement stemmed from the Business Advisers and Trainers working without charge which coupled with other savings resulted in direct costs for business services being reduced by 40%.  863 client services delivered in the year 2012/13 which included 1-2-1 Step into Business, Easy Start business advice, "one off” skills workshops for established businesses and the Business Innovation Group which met monthly. 

2014  Accreditation retained as an Investors in People organisation. Successful bid made in the third funding round of the Royal Bank of Scotland Inspiring Women in Enterprise initiative enabling 2 ”Small Steps Big Changes” courses to be held.  An average of 24 attended the monthly Business Innovation Group meetings. Two “Meet the Expert” events held with 2-plus small business owners meeting 10 different experts to receive advice and help both on starting up and trading afterwards. Funded secured via the National Enterprise Network from Lloyds Bank. 

2015  Colm Coyle (Rio IT) elected Chairman 73 business tenants of which 24 new start- ups. 189 working in the 2 centres The churn of tenants for the North Centre was 30% and Central 32%  In December out of 80 members nationwide Colbea recognised by the National Enterprise Network by receiving a “highly commended” award for the impact being made in the local business community. 

2016  At the AGM in October it was reported 1557 services were given of which 837 to residents of Colchester.  The stated mission - “to create and maintain an environment, reputation and image that attracts and meets the expectations of aspiring and established entrepreneurs” New contract issued by Maldon DC to provide services for the residents of the Dengie Peninsula.  Support given to young enterprise in the Colchester Institute, St Benedict`s and Clacton High Schools.  Business mentoring given to students at the University of Essex via their entrepreneur programme.  60 people attended the “Small Steps” courses out of which 40% started trading. 

2017  2017 Roy Gover (GCG Consulting) took over as Chairman upon the resignation of Colm Coyle. In September Bob Baggalley retired as CEO and was replaced by Ashleigh Seymour-Rutherford.  1289 support services funded from 24 local sponsors plus grants from Colchester Borough Council, Maldon District Council, BEST Growth Hub and Essex CC.  Prime source of new clients was through the website with 51%. The average occupancy levels of the units were 90% at Central and 93% North. Successful bid made to the Royal Bank of Scotland's Skills and Opportunities Fund for a new project “In the Market for Business” - one of 52 projects nationwide to win funding from the £2.5million committed in 2016. 

2018  In last 10 years Colbea helped over 4500 clients through its fully funded 1-2-1 business advice training. Central Centre being refitted.  New strategy in course of development to ensure the Agency evolves to meet the needs of businesses and remain at the heart of driving forward enterprise in the Region.  Work going on with Colchester BC and other workspace providers to map out the workspace provision and plan for business growth and future. 

2019  2019 After the huge success in running the female entrepreneur programme “In the Market for Success” further funding obtained from the RBS Skills & Opportunities Fund to train another 100 female entrepreneurs in wider Essex.  As a result of the Fenwick Retailer Competition in 2018, that Colbea worked in partnership to deliver, the Agency won the National Enterprise Network enterprise engagement award for this activity and work in the community.  500 businesses supported in reporting year of which 260 were 1-2-1 pre start advice appointments.  Due to the generous support of sponsors in giving time to deliver professional advice surgery 38 businesses benefited from free legal/accounting and Trade Mark advice. Services launched in Chelmsford and Rochford. 

2020  Sara Thakkar elected Chairman Mission and vision - “to deliver 1-2-1 quality and independent business support to ensure the adaptation and survival of the small business economy”.  For past 2 years evolution had been at the heart of Colbea's strategy with a move towards self-sustainability and growth.  In view of Covid business advice was adapted to functioning online and capacity increased to meet the demand. Between May and October advice appointments increased 300% in comparison to the same time in 2019.  Colbea partnered with Chelmsford City Council, Rochford District Council and Braintree District Council to formally service these areas.  The agency additionally worked with Essex County Council, BEST, Lets Do Business Group and Enterprise Support Alliance.  In all, 1,211 support services were provided in Essex. Through 4 Entreprenueral programmes and 9 paid for masterclasses 288 individuals were up skilled.  Funding won from the EU Community fund to train people over 40 years old “matureprenuers” in Essex. 

2021  In March Colchester BC provided two Coronavirus grants for Colbea to give online support and advice to SME's through its Core Funded Programme.  Forces were joined with the Town BID, Town Deal, Independents in Colchester and the wider Essex Intermediaries Group to share insights and on the ground information of what was occurring for businesses.  Across Essex 551 1-2-1 advice appointments were delivered, a 100% increase on previous year. The age profile was - 13% 18-29 years old, 45% 30 to 44 years and 39% 45 to 60 years 40 % were female and 60 % male.  The winners from the Market for Success Fenwick competition held in the previous November were trading in store.  Occupancy rates averaged 81.4% at Centre and 89.8% at North. At AGM in November John Russell retired as President  John Russell October 2022 

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