With Britain's traditional economy still languishing, a new generation of business heroes is emerging to lead in the rebuilding of the UK economy. We reveal our future FTSE leaders.
They are your worst nightmare. They are immersed in new media. They see recession as an opportunity. And they have their eyes on your industry...
Warren Bennett, 28
David Hathiramani, 28
Company: A Suit That Fits
Business sector: Tailoring
It used to cost thousands of pounds to get a hand-tailored suit in Britain, but those days are over. Warren Bennett and David Hathiramani, the founders of A Suit That Fits, now offer suits from £150, handmade by Nepalese tailors.
“We instinctively knew that hand-tailored suits for an off-the-peg price would be attractive to a lot of people,” says Bennett. “We always knew we’d go far with it, but never imagined how far.”
Today, A Suit That Fits produces 8,000 hand-made suits per year, and with a turnover of £2m, the potential for growth is huge.
“It’s so, so important to listen to your customers,” says Hathiramani. “From the start, they’ve played an integral part in developing our service, and they continue to do so.”
Lucian Tarnowski, 26
Company: Brave New Talent
Business sector: Recruitment
Recently named Europe’s youngest Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Tarnowski runs Brave New Talent, a social media website that connects people to employers. This business takes the recruitment model and flips it around. Rather than spamming potential employers with their CVs, individuals can find out whether they would fit in at a company before they apply, while employers can see who is interested, what their credentials are, and if they’d be a good match.
He explains: “Social media recruiting will fundamentally change the relationship between brands and potential employees. It’s the next step in recruitment.” With big clients such as Allen & Overy already signed up, Brave New Talent could be a game-changer.
Tarnowski also looks after Take Heart India, a no-overheads charity that provides blind students in India with IT skills, helping them secure a job for life.
Vincent McKevitt, 30
Business sector: Food
Vincent McKevitt set up Tossed – a chain of healthy-eating outlets specialising in fresh tossed-to-order salads in 2005 – straight out of university. The self-proclaimed “top tosser and founder” has since been changing the way we eat.
“I’ve always wanted to own a large business,” he explains. “I want this to be a national brand. There’s no reason why there can’t be as many Tosseds as there are Pret A Mangers – healthy eating isn’t niche any more.” McKevitt expects sales to hit £3m this year, and has just completed a VC funding round.
Louis Barnett, 18
Business sector: Food
Louis Barnett is a prime example of triumph over adversity. He left school aged 11 because of his strong dyslexia and dyspraxia, to undertake a vocational education. In 2005, Barnett set up Chokolit, his own chocolate company, with a £5,000 start-up grant from Advantage West Midlands and £500 from his grandparents.
He has now launched a range of ethical chocolate bars, the proceeds of which go towards conservation organisations. Barnett now supplies chocolate to Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Selfridges, supplying in excess of 100,000 boxes of chocolate a year.
“To be an entrepreneur is to be part of a mindset,” says Barnett. “It’s in your blood from the start – you either conform, or you’re outside of the box. You have to have faith in what you’re doing.”
Jamie Murray Wells, 26
Company: Glasses Direct
Business sector: Retail
Who hasn’t heard of Jamie Murray Wells, the founder of £10m-turnover Glasses Direct and the youngest ever person to be awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion? Not having satisfied his entrepreneurial itch by fundamentally changing the way we buy glasses, Murray Wells is now turning to the hearing-aid market, launching Hearing Direct last month. “The gloves are on!” he says.
“The Holy Grail for an entrepreneur is finding an industry which looks as if it’s been gathering cobwebs for a while. This sector is ripe for a shake up,” he explains, adding that although the average spend on a new hearing-aid device is £1,000 to £3,000, they only cost £100 to £300 to make. “The margins are extortionate, it’s a complete scam.”
Asked what he hopes to achieve in the next ten years, he says that he simply wants to change the way people buy and use products. “It doesn’t end with glasses – glasses were a start. For me, it’s being able to apply myself to other sectors and provide consumers with a better deal.”
Murray Wells scooped the Young Entrepreneur of the Year gong at our 2009 Growing Business Awards.
Jane Burston, 28
Company: Carbon Retirement
Business sector: Green
Carbon offsetting has been a contentious market for years. Traditionally, companies can offset their emissions by investing in projects in the developing world. But Jane Burston doesn’t think this is right.
“Typically, only one-third of the money ends up going to the projects – it isn’t fair,” she says. What Carbon Retirement does is actually remove companies’ carbon credits from the system entirely by buying their credits, forcing them to reduce their emissions and change their long-term behaviour. “It’s a radical leap to what offsetting has represented in the past.”
Burston’s company has already signed up a FTSE 100 company as well as a wide range of SMEs. As people move away from fluffier offsetting projects to larger-scale industrial projects, retiring carbon could be the next step forward.
Laura Bates, 30
Company: Bombay Duck
Business sector: Retail
After a stint at Deutsche Bank and Arthur Anderson, Oxford graduate Laura Bates now heads Bombay Duck, the innovative home accessories website, which her sister founded in 1993.
Since 2005, Bates has taken Bombay Duck to the US, Japan and Oz, and has expanded its stock to 2,000-plus items, sold through 1,000 stores.“The key to success is to build long and lasting relationships with suppliers and clients,” says Bates. “Make sure your goals are big.”
Hermione Way, 24
Business sector: Online media
Hermione Way is a journalist and new media entrepreneur spanning the online media and technology sectors, bringing a fresh approach to how the industry works. She is the founder of Newspepper.com – a new way for companies to report news through social media and internet video – and Techfluff TV, which provides tech news in a lightweight, jargon-free format.
“In the UK, old media still seems to rule,” says Way. “There are so many students trying to do media in this old way – they’re not being taught that, actually, they can just have a blog and get going.”
Today, Newspepper.com takes on and trains around 70 students and graduates per year, providing them with the skills to start their careers and changing the way the media industry works.
Mark Pearson, 29
Business sector: Retail
Mark Pearson’s business, £15m-turnover MyVoucherCodes.com, has become an internet phenomenon in the past three years. The controversial online voucher site is changing how people shop, but Pearson doesn’t plan on stopping there.
His newest venture, Groupola.com, is a group-buying discount site offering location-specific deals up to 90 per cent off normal prices.
This isn’t a new idea, but Pearson has added a twist: there is a “tipping-point” of demand that needs to be reached before the offer actually materialises. “A couple of weeks into launching, we know it’s going to be a winner. It’s very promising.”
Pearson believes the mobile market will be the next big thing: “That’s the direction we need to
push and be innovative in. Of course, in such a fast-moving business, something that happens next week could completely change the direction of where my company is going. There’s so much opportunity out there, it’s very exciting.”