A self-described surfer of coffee shops, John Cole ran his fledgling IT firm from a laptop, hopping on to wi-fi networks to support customers.
The digital nomad soon found that his Hampshire-based business, established three years ago and called CTECH Business Solutions, required a permanent base due to much larger-than-anticipated growth.
IT migration work has come in thick and fast as companies switched from physical storage servers to the cloud-based Microsoft 365 software system, enabling workforces to work remotely.
Orders have also been flying in for fibre circuits, cloud-based telephone systems, cyber security, website development and general IT support.
On the back of the influx, founder operations director John left the coffee shops behind and moved into Fareham Innovation Centre, near Fareham, starting out with a shared office just over two years ago.
CTECH now supports nearly 70 firms, including eight based at the serviced business centre next to Solent Airport.
Moving into a larger office at Fareham Innovation Centre at the start of July, the firm is on an expansion drive, with the team doubling in size from three.
John said: “I had to start somewhere and using coffee shops as impromptu offices was a good proving ground which made sense at the time.
“However, with a growing customer base, it was important to start looking like a proper company with a professional outlook, which is why, after careful research, I chose the innovation centre.”
Andy Dennahy joined CTECH in January as John’s business partner and Managing Director. Hannah Rumson joined soon after as Office Manager and Marketing.
He said: “We have since added a steady stream of new customers whilst going back over and improving many of our processes to do a better job of customer onboarding, implementing new projects, managing our support tickets and increasing the number of outbound calls, sales proposals and quotes.
“Our new larger office here at Fareham Innovation Centre will enable us to accommodate up to 10 members of staff.
“We work closely with Fareham College, bringing in T-Level [an approved technical qualification equivalent to three A Levels] students on work experience and through that we have added a first-line IT support help desk technician on an apprenticeship scheme.
“Using the government’s Kickstart Scheme, and working with Gosport Job Centre, we are also adding a junior business development sales trainee and a second-line IT support technician.”
Stephen Brownlie, Centre Director at Fareham Innovation Centre, said: “CTECH is a brilliant example of a local start-up which is steadily increasing customers and generating jobs through inward investment.
“According to industry figures, 10% of all UK vacancies are for tech jobs, demonstrating the strength and resilience of this sector, especially with the seismic switch to remote working because of the pandemic.”
Fareham Innovation Centre, which has 55 offices, 20 workshops and a suite of conference facilities, is operated by Oxford Innovation on behalf of the building owner, Fareham Borough Council.
The centre is home to 60 small-to-medium sized enterprises, many involved in marine, aviation, aerospace engineering and advanced manufacturing.
John said: “As an established Microsoft Silver Partner, we see an increasing opportunity as the market picks up to help move a lot more companies over to cloud services, utilising everything that Fareham Innovation Centre offers to help our growth.”
He added: “Fareham Innovation Centre has been a great place for a small company like CTECH.
“The reception staff and centre management understand the challenges that small businesses face and have always tried to be flexible to help us.
“The office accommodation is all new and spick and span, the kitchen facilities and toilets are clean and tidy, meeting rooms can be booked easily, and it has plenty of parking.
“As a forward-looking IT company CTECH’s mission is to redefine people’s attitudes and expectations about their IT, and the innovation centre is a great place to start our journey and support our growth.
“Our customers who are mainly small to medium sized businesses do not just want a break-fix IT relationship, they want to work with an IT company who can help train their staff to make the most of the new technology available to boost their productivity and collaboration. That is ultimately what we strive for – the opportunity to help others expand.”