Interviews

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Company: Cuckoo 

Entrepreneur: Co-founders Anna Mackenzie and Lucy Wright

What does the company do?

Cuckoo offers consumers a revolutionary take on traditional Bircher muesli with exciting and innovative varieties designed to appeal to Britain’s adventurous palates. 

Anna Mackenzie and Lucy Wright

How did you get your first funding?

As soon as the innovative on-the-go Bircher muesli idea was off the ground and we had created the Cuckoo recipes and were ready to turn it into a business we spoke to Anna’s family about supporting it. They were particularly keen to do so because the Cuckoo recipes actually originated in Anna’s family kitchen. Anna’s father is an entrepreneur and understands all of the aspects, steps and challenges that are involved in setting up a business and he has been there to check in with us so he was confident that we were making the right progress. He therefore decided it was a worthy investment and that support took us up to launching the product last year. 

What happened next?

Since then, Cuckoo has gone from strength to strength and we are now listed in a multitude of outlets including Waitrose, Booths and First Great Western Trains.

Company: PrivateFly

Entrepreneur: Adam Twidell, CEO and co-founder

What does the company do?

PrivateFly is the leading online booking service for private jet charter, connecting customers with a network of over 7,000 global accredited aircraft. It was founded in 2007 by husband-and-wife team Adam Twidell and Carol Cork.

Adam Twidell

How did you get your first funding?

Our initial seed funding came from selling the house. As a husband-and-wife team, Carol and I were able to do that to fund the early development of PrivateFly. With both leaving full time jobs at the same time (me as a private jet and ex-RAF pilot, Carol in luxury publishing), and having two young children, this felt like a big risk but also one that was a timely and exciting. Though I was not hugely popular with the mother-in-law at this early stage. This seed funding of £300,000 was primarily to develop the initial technology platform.

In 2010 we were delighted to be named Website of The Year by Flight International, which recognised the innovation PrivateFly had brought to the private aviation sector. The judges called us the 'iTunes of private jet charter' – which was a great shortcut to communicate our offering.

What happened next?

The business started with us living and breathing it 24 hours a day – private jets never sleep, so nor did we (much)! We raised £2 million in investment funding at the end of 2011, to fund continued investment in our technology (including development of our apps), and international. Our sales grew rapidly, more than doubling every year – a rate of growth we have managed to sustain. 

Company: Space Station  

Entrepreneur: Alistair Coldwell, managing director

What does the company do?

Space Station is a self-storage company based in the Greater London area, providing facilities to businesses and private customers.

How did you get your first funding?

As soon as I left Formula One, I signed on to become eligible for a £40 a week business grant. Starting up took me a year – I cleaned windows and did any little job to raise money.

I finally caught my break when a friend from F1 took me down to his rubbish tip – and it was a rubbish tip – in Colnbrook and gave me a quarter of an acre of land. I levelled it off, went to the East End and bought shipping containers.

I later came across a warehouse for sale in Brentford. The building was leased by Schweppes and they were desperate to let it go – so much so they contributed a six figure sum towards the cost of purchase. With a healthy sum of money loaned from family and a loan approved by Guardian Royal, I had the first self-storage warehouse in the UK.

What happened next?

I advertised the business in the local press and whenever I had a prospective customer I would buy a single second hand container. Within months I had 50 containers and then 70, and then 100. Then I opened another site and another site. It started out as a family business, but we now have 26 members of staff across five storage centres.

Company: Your Student Body

Entrepreneur: Peter Bakare, managing director

What does the company do?

A sports and education performance agency, which gives performance services for student athletes on and off the court including media training, discounts, fitness and career pathways. 

How did you get your first funding?

We had brought forward our idea to the Business Enterprise at Northumbria University, and a business plan was created. Having been mentored every step was extremely helpful. The Start Up Loan company Transmit was then introduced to us, from there on we went over all the necessary sets to get a loan and start the business off.

Company: Lamp Resources

Entrepreneur: John Olejnik, managing director

What does the company do?

Lamp is a specialist recruitment agency that focuses on open source technologies with the ecommerce industry.

How did you get your first funding?

In January 2012, with six years recruitment experience behind me, I moved to Sydney Australia. Working for a small agency I quickly found my feet, focusing my efforts on working with specialist ecommerce agencies that use Magento, a CMS owned by eBay, to build online retail sites. After what proved to be a very fruitful year I had earned enough money to fund my ambition of starting my own recruitment agency, so moved back to London to start Lamp.

Over the past 18 months I’ve concentrated on growing the business. With a proven track record of working with market leading agencies in Australia and New Zealand, I quickly picked up roles to work on and luckily built up relationships with the best agencies in the country. 

What happened next?

I’ve recently hired a junior recruiter to come on board to help service the large volume of work that I have and am now broadening the technologies that we cover in order to gain a greater market share in the UK ecommerce industry.

Company: FutureGov

Entrepreneur: Dominic Campbell, director

What does the company do?

FutureGov create better public services through elegantly designed technology.

How did you get your first funding?

FutureGov raised £1m from Nesta Impact Investments and Surrey County Council in February 2014. Investment came in three stages. We had initial conversations with Nesta Impact Investments about the possibility of investment and what kind of shape our business needed to be in. We got some really good, early advice from them and this helped us gear up for the next level of conversation with investors.

It’s not a short process and the next stage came about nine months out, where we had a more serious conversation to make sure our approach was right. Nesta gave us support to help us shape our business strategy, get our business plan right and start looking at our numbers to articulate value to investors. Even if we hadn’t got the investment, this process alone would have added massive business value.

The final stage was all in the detail, where we were trying to get the investment through and signed off. This is generally a straightforward process, once you have a relationship with an investor and they’ve told you they’re interested.

What happened next?

We doubled in size over the first year, adding a sales team and more product support, as well as increasing our design capacity and consolidating our service design function. We also expanded to Australia, with several new products launched to councils in New South Wales and Victoria.

Company: Bridget Bernadette Karn 

Entrepreneur: Bridget Bernadette Karn, artist and teacher

What does the company do?

Fine Art Felt Artist; making extraordinary detailed felt pictures and teaching workshops.

Bridget Bernadette Karn

How did you get your first funding?

To launch my business I needed £4,500 to have two exhibitions and be a part of the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, London. I talked to Virgin StartUp, who put me in touch with my local business advice and mentoring service, who then encouraged me to apply to the Art’s Council, which I did twice without success. Unfortunately, because I’d registered my business the previous April with HMRC I wasn’t able to apply for other startup funding available. So, I took £1,400 of my personal savings and a loan from my husband’s business of £1,500 and have made up the rest of the costs from the workshops I have run this year.

What happened next?

I launched my business this September and have made £2,080 in sales from two of the events.

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