The head of Sponge is in the running for a national business award, following a year that’s seen the company expand its workforce, open two new offices, increase its turnover by 50% and win awards for its innovative work.
Louise Pasterfield, founder and managing director at Sponge, has been shortlisted in the Private Businesswoman of the Year category in the 2018 UK Private Business Awards, sponsored by PwC.
The category recognises forward-thinking businesswomen who have played an integral role in building and growing a company, helped it focus on customers or created opportunities for others. The award also recognises exceptional business performance in the past 12 months.
Sponge, headquartered in Plymouth, designs, develops and delivers highly creative workplace learning for organisations seeking to improve employee performance and business results using learning technologies. The company’s innovative technology solutions include virtual reality, digital learning games, microlearning and interactive video.
The company has increased its global portfolio significantly in the past 18 months and now has over 100 clients, among them many multi-nationals including Tesco, Toyota, AXA, Tetra Pak and AstraZeneca.
When Louise founded the firm in 2004, it was a spin-off from her previous creative business and was staffed by just two people. It’s now one of the largest independently-owned learning providers in Europe, with 110 employees – and the number is still growing. From a turnover of £700,000 in 2011, it has grown to £5.3 million in 2017.
“Last year was a memorable one for us,” said Louise. “We hit the £5 million milestone with a 50% increase in turnover. Another 50% growth is forecast for 2018. We have opened new offices in Nottingham and Dublin, which is an opportunity for us to expand in Europe. And our talented team have won industry awards for exceptional learning solutions.”
“The UK Private Business Awards are a fantastic opportunity to take stock and celebrate the talent and success right across the private business sector." Brian Henderson Partner PwC
Louise’s vision is for Sponge to be a global leader in digital learning, with a strategic plan in place to grow the business 5-fold in the next five years, to a turnover of £25 million.
In 2011, she brought in business consultant Michael Walsh to help develop a high growth strategy. And she has invested in high quality recruitment, with a seven-step recruitment process to find ‘best fit’ candidates. The firm also embraces flexible, remote working and places an emphasis on in-house talent development within its ‘Sponge University’.
Around a third of Sponge employees are graduates of Plymouth University, keeping talent in the city.
Innovation is a big factor in the firm’s growth. In 2017, the business set up an innovation team to develop new products – and it’s already achieving results. Among the most recent successes are a virtual reality training course on dog safety for Royal Mail and a GDPR training game which is being used by businesses as diverse as train companies to food manufacturers.
Louise Pasterfield is one of the only women to own and run a leading digital learning company, and she regularly speaks at events and conferences about opportunities for women in business and technology. Her inspiring story has been turned into a popular business book, Thinking Big Is Not Enough, aimed at helping other business owners overcome the barriers to business growth.
The UK Private Business Awards celebrate the best in the private sector. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on 13 September.
Louise said: “It’s always nice to be shortlisted for an award, particularly in a category that celebrates successful women in businesses. I think the business sector needs female role models.”
Brian Henderson, Partner, PwC, praised the “passion and innovation” of all the finalists in the 10 categories and said: “The UK Private Business Awards are a fantastic opportunity to take stock and celebrate the talent and success right across the private business sector. The ambition of entrepreneurs and their teams makes this a crucial part of our economy, particularly in an uncertain economic environment.”