Management buyouts (MBOs) can have several motivating factors behind them. The motivation for the leadership team at Minerva, a Cardiff-based custom ear moulds maker, was clear: securing a bright future for the business.

Since the successful MBO was completed in 2017, Minerva has enjoyed growth and invested in its research and development to ensure it is at the vanguard of change in the sector.

Minerva has been supported through Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP). The AGP provides targeted support for ambitious, growing firms. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

Nicola Watkins, a part of the leadership team which put together the MBO, explains how it came together, what they have learned and how the company has changed its culture as it has overcome challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic.



Tell us about Minerva
We're a business with historical roots and are proud of those roots. We were founded about the same time that the NHS came into being, and ever since, we have partnered with the NHS to improve the lives of people with hearing challenges.

Although we have been around for decades, innovation is one of our core strengths. We develop and manufacture custom moulds for hearing aids used by the NHS and private hearing aid companies. We also have a custom hearing protection department which designs and makes custom earpieces for commercial sectors, sportspeople and the entertainment industry. We're an innovative business, and over the last few years, we've taken massive strides in adopting 3D printing and artificial intelligence.


This has been a period of significant change for us. As a management team, we acquired the company through an MBO in 2017. The following year we joined the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme, and since then, we have increased our workforce by 36%, with 16% of that growth happening since Covid-19. Our team is now 42 people strong. Business Wales AGP has been key to that growth. Innovation has meant opening up opportunities for younger people to join the business so we can look forward to the future and be confident in our succession planning.

We're on a modernisation journey, and we expect the integration of AI technology to increase our efficiency, reduce production costs, and further improve product quality. We're also well-positioned to take advantage of the growing demand for advanced hearing aids and industrial ear protection, which we expect to drive our growth in the coming years.


Thanks to these developments, we believe Minerva is well-positioned to continue to grow and succeed in the years to come.


What are your proudest moments in business so far?
When we went through the MBO, we could not have foreseen the challenges. For a company like ours, the pandemic, of course, posed an enormous hurdle. But it also pushed our efforts to innovate. We involved our staff in critical decisions, which has strengthened Minerva and given us the tools to cope with future challenges.

We've come out of the pandemic with a more engaged and flexible workforce. When we realised our biggest market would take the longest time to recover, we knew we had to cut costs to survive. So all employees were given a vote to influence the company's path – and they chose to reduce their hours by 25% temporarily rather than see colleagues made redundant. This showed their commitment to the business and has contributed to fostering a more agile, engaged culture.


We've also received recognition for our work and were named Manufacturer of the Year in Cardiff Business Awards 2020. This sort of thing is a great way to remind us that we're doing the right things.


What challenges have you faced in business
Firstly, the MBO was a challenge for us. We'd all worked together here for many years, and when the owner decided to sell, it was clear that we all had a shared vision and goal for this company. We didn't want to see the company disappear or colleagues lose their jobs. So we worked with the Development Bank of Wales to finance the MBO and invested our own money. We're all proud of how far Minerva has come since then.

Of course, after the MBO was completed, Covid-19 hit. As soon as that happened, the health market for our products shut down immediately. We used the furlough scheme before embarking on steps to plan for an extended market shutdown. As I mentioned, we moved quickly to restructure and fully engaged our employees in decision-making about available options. I think that has strengthened us as a company.


If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
We would have prepared more as a leadership team for the cultural and professional challenges of owning a business. Given a chance again, we would go into it, having learned more about what it would mean for us. 


How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
We've had a wealth of support from the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme since we completed the MBO. The programme has supported us in several areas. These include efficiency and productivity planning and measurement; marketing coaching and planning; website reviews and development; IT support for better financial reporting; and introducing and managing AI and 3D technology. Business Wales AGP also helped us secure an Economic Resilience Fund grant. This support has been an enormous help as we create a dynamic and innovative future for the business.


What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?

  • Look for a trusted source of advice, such as the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme, especially in preparing for an MBO.  
  • Don't think you know it all - even if you are hugely experienced.
  • Raise as much capital as you need but not too much to burden the business. 
  • Innovate more quickly and introduce automation for greater productivity. 
  • Invest in technology to ensure you are staying competitive.
  • Invest in strategic marketing to have a solid evidence base for growth.


To learn more about Minerva, visit here.

Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme


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The Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme is a pan-Wales programme part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.


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