Serial entrepreneur James Caan CBE has outlined his plans to invest in a number of North West businesses as he looks to expand his portfolio of recruitment firms.

The former Dragons' Den star has invested in his first North West-based business after revealing a joint venture between his company Recruitment Entrepreneur and Manchester-based technical engineering experts Urban Connect.

Focusing on architecture, structural and civil engineering, project and cost management, the firm combines technical engineering expertise with efficient recruitment practice.

“There’s no better time to invest in the North West. The city’s entrepreneurial spirit and availability of talent is renowned,” said Caan.

“As a city of engineers, it’s the perfect location for Urban Connect to launch.”

The son of a Northern Irish vicar, founding director Andrew Kerr has over seven years’ experience at two leading specialist construction and engineering recruitment firms.

“It was Andrew that attracted me to the business,” Caan explained to BusinessCloud.

“As a rule, I always judge the success of a potential business by the individual leading it, rather than the business idea itself.

“I’ve had many pitches from people who have some of the best ideas but they don’t know how to execute them correctly, whereas if you take the right person with an average idea that’s delivered well, that business can really fly.

“By this I’m not saying Urban Connect is average by any means: the feedback Andrew gets from clients clearly demonstrates otherwise. He’s using his skills and in-depth sector knowledge to take advantage of a market that’s in massive growth in an area that’s economically on the incline.

“The timing for this type of business is perfect. I anticipate that Urban Connect will expand nationally – it is planned to have more than 20 sales heads in the next three years operating out of three UK office locations.”   

The seed capital arm of Caan’s London-based private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw, Recruitment Entrepreneur has fast-tracked the careers of dozens of founding CEOs.

It boasts 17 recruitment firms in the UK, Ireland and Australia within its portfolio – and Caan plans to double that number.

“Our strategy is to invest in five to ten North-West business in the next three years. In the UK we are looking to exceed 35 businesses within the portfolio, which then equates to a headcount of 1,000 recruiters and 60 businesses globally,” he revealed.

“Our existing portfolio partners have experienced compounded growth in headcount of 124 per cent, in revenue of 152 per cent and EBIT of 278 per cent.

"Right now we are in the process of creating a joint venture with a new portfolio partner based in the West Midlands; as well as having Recruitment Entrepreneur’s Group CEO, Abid Hamid, out in Australia meeting other potential investment opportunities to assist in expanding our Sydney office, which subsequently provides further global expansion opportunities for our UK-based businesses.”

Caan, who has 3.1 million followers on LinkedIn yet once told BusinessCloud he thought the professional networking platform would ruin his business, grew executive headhunting firm Humana International to have a presence in 30 countries in the 1990s before selling it on.

The former BBC Dragon then set up Alexander Mann in a small cupboard with a phone and a book of contacts before going on to sell it for £260m in 2013.

He founded Recruitment Entrepreneur in 2014 and, in his role of chairman, he says he is very hands-on with the entrepreneurs he backs, enabling them to learn from his considerable experience in founding and scaling recruitment businesses.

He sees great potential for his portfolio businesses to open based in Manchester.

“We already have a London-based education recruitment business, Clarus Education, that’s been operating in Manchester for a while and is doing some fantastic work by helping schools take advantage of the apprenticeship levy,” he said.

“We are now in the process of assisting our property business, GKR and facilities specialists, Total Facilities Recruitment, to expand their teams to create a larger Manchester portfolio hub.

“This would mean we would be able to support finding talent for the design, build, sale and facilities of commercial and retail properties in the North West, giving us a unique insight into the region’s property market.

“I would also welcome conversations with recruiters operating in the FinTech and IT markets to discuss investment opportunities. As business evolves, we all need to be technologists or we will cease to be relevant.

“That creates huge potential within the staffing and recruitment space. We are looking to back people who want to build real capital value for themselves, rather than run boutique, lifestyle businesses.”