John Sharpe- Unlocking Growth

John Sharpe- Unlocking Growth

Content and photos by Joff Alexander-Frye

Our amazing city is made up of businesses of all shapes and sizes. Sole traders, partnerships, small, medium, large, multi-nationals, private, public, startups, independents, family businesses… You get the idea. For these businesses, existing against the economic backdrop that they do can be a challenging experience, particularly if they are in need of capital, fundraising or investment.

Of course, you have the traditional lenders; the banks and such, but where can you turn if they don’t seem to be a viable option? Well, I happen to know someone who might be able to help and I’m going to introduce him to you. You can thank me later.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet John Sharpe, Director, Regional Business Development, South West at ThinCats, an online lending platform that allows investors to make loans directly to businesses. They are dubbed the ‘pioneers of alternative funding’ and describe themselves as being ‘liberated from Ivory Tower thinking’. Inspiring words indeed and an approach that caught my attention, as a former A-Level Business Studies student and someone who, typically, tends to value people over profit.

So, it was with relish that I met with John to discuss the benefits of alternative lending and how organisations like ThinCats can play a vital role in the exciting growth story of Exeter and the surrounding area. Indeed, with historical lending of over £300m since 2011, to almost 1000 businesses, they clearly know what they are doing.

Originally founded in Tamworth, Leicestershire, ThinCats now has a national reach and John is responsible for the South West region. Having moved to Barnstaple from Luton aged five, John has grown up in the area and knows it incredibly well as a result. Educated at Ashleigh C of E Primary School and then North Devon College, John joined Barclays Bank at the age of eighteen and worked his way up through the company in various Business Banking roles working with SMEs in Devon, Somerset, Dorset and then eight years in Bristol. He spent a total of twenty-two years at Barclays before leaving in 2005 to join NatWest as a Relationship Manager in Business Banking. He stayed in that role for five years before moving into the Commercial Banking team for a further six years.

By this point, it was June 2016 and John took a career break to assess what he wanted to do before approaching retirement age. He knew it was time for a change but didn’t want to make any rash decisions. In November of 2017, his role at ThinCats popped up and seemed perfect. Clearly, with a great network in the region and lots of relevant experience, it was a no-brainer for John and he is clearly a man with a new lease of life, enjoying his role and happy working for the company that he does.

You may have already made a similar observation to the one that I did (about the company name) which is that ThinCats was intentionally chosen as their company name to try and portray the opposite mindset and narrative of being ‘Fat Cats’. Their opinion is that the ambitions of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) have been severely constrained by the banks and this needed to change.


John Sharpe


Indeed, John described the culture and approach of ThinCats as being completely different from that of traditional financial institutions. He described it as a

“blank page approach to lending where anything is possible, people have a can-do-attitude and are very supportive, positive and collaborative. There is greater cohesion, teamwork and a stronger desire to work with SMEs than in any organisation I have worked for before.”

This isn’t a negative one-man crusade against the banking system though. John was clearly thankful and somewhat nostalgic about his time working in banking, although it was clear that he had ‘done his time’ and, in some ways, his move away from the industry was both timely and much needed. I guess, sometimes, we just get to a point where something has run its course and it is time for a change. No hard feelings. No bridges burned. Just time for a new experience.

It was also clear to me that John offers a very potent professional combination; over thirty years of experience in banking (including several recessions), harnessed with a proactive approach. In my time with John it was clear that he has a fresh vim and vigour; the bit between his teeth. Whatever cliché you may choose to use. To quote a famous Liam Neeson film, John has ‘a very particular set of skills.’

John’s role involves helping, supporting and working with businesses, particularly SME’s, who are looking to raise funds, particularly for growth reasons. This could include mergers, acquisitions, management buyouts or management buy ins, amongst many other things. ThinCats pride themselves on doing the deals that the banks can’t do, rather than the ones that they won’t. That is a key difference, as the former requires skill and knowledge, whereas the latter requires nothing but stupidity. Indeed, they work collaboratively with the banks so that they can assist the banks in offering services that, without partnering with ThinCats, they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Their ‘sweet-spot’ is dealing with limited or limited liability partnerships and, initially, all that John usually needs is two-years of annual accounts, up-to-date management accounts, aged debtors and creditors and a short synopsis of their industry, their position in their market and a bit about their requirements. It really is that simple at first and, from there, John assesses the quality of the proposition and, if so, manages a process whereby he tries to connect potential investors with the right companies. After this point, John usually gets indicative terms on a potential deal within 48 hours. The time between indicative terms and investment being made is usually around six weeks so, you can see, that it can be a fairly speedy process for such a potentially meaningful investment. Speed isn’t a sign of corner cutting though. ThinCats are serious about their due-diligence and are committed to being transparent and clear (in an industry that has had possibly the most criticism for dishonesty and untrustworthiness of any, in recent years). After all, in an industry almost completely centred around one four-letter-word; risk; to do business with your integrity intact is a real challenge.

ThinCats have a very experienced team dealing with the credit facilities, compliance framework, HR function and all other institutional elements of the business. This makes for a better customer experience, having the backing, infrastructure and such strong capabilities at the tips of their fingers.

And ThinCats have clearly identified the South West as a key growth area in the country, Exeter in particular. I was excited to hear that, after being fully FCA approved in 2017, ThinCats have made available about £50m of funding for the South West, to be deployed imminently. John has made his intentions clear; to play a meaningful part in the rapid expansion story of Exeter and the surrounding areas. Very exciting stuff indeed. Just think…how could tapping into some of that investment affect your business?

Evidently, John is a well-networked chap as the majority of his introductions come from accountants, independent financial advisers, commercial finance brokers, lawyers and business consultants. These are all people that he works with frequently but, equally, is always wanting to meet more of. It turns out you can never be too well-networked. So why not get in touch at and see if he can make your business growth dreams a reality.

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