Elspeth Duxbury: Entrepreneur of the Future

Duxbury set up Intelligent Space Partnership with co-founder Jake Desyllas in 2000, each ploughing £10,000 of their own cash into the business, along with £110,000 from an angel investor.

The Shoreditch-based firm specialised in mapping pedestrian movements. “Our first contract was with Camden Council, advising it on safety improvements, pedestrian movement and accident analysis for St Giles’ Circus [the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road],” explains Duxbury. She throws us a statistic: “Did you know that 64 per cent of pedestrians cross the road at Oxford Circus when the lights are red, not green?”

Duxbury reckons setting up a business while she was still in her twenties was a “low-risk move”. She explains: “Yes, you might fall flat on your face because you don’t have experience – but if you do fail, it has less of an impact. I didn’t have a husband, I didn’t have any children. No-one was financially dependent on me. And if I needed to work all weekend, I could.”

Duxbury and Desyllas started considering a trade sale last year. “As a small niche business, it was difficult to win business with large organisations. We didn’t have the clout,” says Duxbury. “Secondly, we were ahead of the market – but we knew our competitive edge would be eroded over the next few years unless we did something about our growth.”

The pair signed a deal with multinational engineering and design consultancy Atkins last year and have joined the company’s Transport Planning board as directors.

“Is it strange going from a company with 18 employees to a company with 18,000 employees? Absolutely! But I still think it’s possible to be entrepreneurial within Atkins,” comments Duxbury. “We’re a business within a business so we still write our own business plans – we just have to make sure we get them signed off.”

She says the company has just won a bid in the Middle East. “We wouldn’t have stood a chance if we weren’t tied to Atkins.”Duxbury won the entrepreneur award at last night’s Women of the Future event. To read about the other winners, click here.

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