JACOB Knowles has no doubts about the debt of gratitude he owes the Hive as a leader of a small business in Darwen.

Joining the network was one of the first steps Mr Knowles, who is 23, and colleagues took after founding Empine Group of Sudell Road just two years ago.

Mr Knowles, who lives in Darwen, is business director of the group, which provides bespoke print solutions to businesses and organisations. It already has clients across the UK.

He said: "We became involved fairly early on in Empine. The business was founded in 2015 and one of the earliest things we did was join the Hive network.

"We joined through the business support officer, which at the time was Matthew Sidgreaves, and built a close relationship with the representative, which has continued with Mark Nelson.

"Since then we have sponsored the Hive Business Awards, been supported by the borough council’s A2I grant and been actively involved in the Hive business school and the events they put on to encourage business and education collaboration."

Mr Knowles has a clear vision of what the Hive means to the business. He said: "The Hive to us and our business represent the solidarity and collaboration between businesses in Blackburn and Darwen.

"It provides a foundation in the borough for growth and gives business a voice, not only to influence but to support the borough as a collective rather than as individual businesses."

As for the strengths of the network, Mr Knowles feels its level of recognition throughout the board is key.

He said: "I would say a particular strength is its recognition throughout businesses in the borough especially.

"Not only that, it is a strong network that we feel has many of the key businesses involved in allowing smaller businesses to learn and work with larger businesses to encourage growth.

"So far the networking events that we have attended have been invaluable in bringing together the borough’s businesses."

Turning to the future, Mr Knowles, who works with 25-year-old print director Anthony Taylor, of Blackburn, said: "One of the major developments that we as a company support is the Hive Business School led by Ian Brown. Time and time again at events we hear discussion points turn to the ‘skills gap’.

"We see Blackburn College in particular engaging with business and trying to fulfil the demands of business in terms of skills but a point that Ian made in particular was that this development has to start earlier in schools.

"As the Hive business school grows I think we will see younger people being inspired at an earlier age and becoming more focused on the skills businesses need. As a result I feel that this will ensure future prosperity for the borough."