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Entrepreneur stars of the stage

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Here’s an abridged review of Britain’s best, and not so good, entrepreneur-orators (you can read the full article in the September issue of Real Business).

Rags to riches: the motivatorsJohn BirdIf you’re planning a nice, safe, smoothly run evening with no surprises (and no swearing), then this social entrepreneur and founder of The Big Issue is not your man. If, though, you want to be provoked, castigated and exhilarated by a man who has seen an awful lot of life, he should be top of your list.

Karen DarbyRumour has it that the SimplySwitch founder was very close to becoming a Dragon until some BBC head decided she was too “nice” and opted for Deborah Meaden. With her chirpy, proudly working-class credentials, Karen Darby will light up audiences.

Alex AmosuNot as big a name as many on our list, Alex Amosu made a tidy little fortune selling ringtones in his early twenties. Will lift aspiring entrepreneurs desperate to emerge from tough backgrounds.

Michele MoneDriven Glaswegian bras entrepreneur and founder of MJM International, she’s been a regular on the post-Apprentice shows, often savaging the latest evictees. Dragons & Apprentices: the TV personalities

Sir AlanNo surname required. Branson apart, the star of The Apprentice probably gets more invitations to speak than any other entrepreneur, so grab the opportunity to hear him when you can.

Simon WoodroffeLong before he appeared in the original Dragons’ Den, Woodroffe was treading the conference and after-dinner circuit, wowing (and doubtless bewildering) audiences with his honesty, humour and, yes, songs. Today, he’s an indefatigable speaker but may be regarded as over-exposed.

Peter JonesThe Tall One takes his public persona very seriously, using his profile to boost his bid to launch a National Enterprise Academy, for example. He’s a compelling speaker; attendees say he can be crabby on a bad day, but that can’t mask a fundamentally generous nature.

Duncan BannatyneThe later the evening gets, the thicker the accent becomes. Dragons’ Den’s hard man is actually a natural storyteller from the Dave Allen school of long, enthralling yarns. No evening with Bannatyne will go quietly.

James CaanSmooth as satin sheets, he’s barely been off a platform since he debuted on Dragons’ Den. Strong for the novice-entrepreneur audiences of business exhibitions etc, but his A-B-C, soundbite style can grate with more sophisticated business audiences.

Levi RootsLevi Roots’ song, as he climbed the dreaded stairs, is still the best moment yet in the Dragon’s Den, and the Reggae Reggae Sauce founder has rightly milked his fame. Now a regular on the inspirational start-up circuit and a role model for many, he could do with talking in a bit more detail about his actual business, but he’s a huge, attractive personality.

Rachel ElnaughOne of the founder-inmates of the Dragon’s Den, she was humiliated after her Red Letter Days business collapsed, only to be bought by fellow Dragons Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis. To her undying credit, she used the failure as the source of her own redemption and now makes a good living mentoring and advising would-be entrepreneurs, particularly about “business nightmares”.

James AverdieckThe founder of Gu Chocolate Puds tries to limit himself to one speech a month, but is convinced that this is the way to spread his message of “chocolate extremism”. Makes it onto our list after a star turn on The Apprentice – You’re Fired.

Think different: the strategists and provokers

Brent HobermanMartha Lane Fox may have attracted all the attention, but never underestimate her fellow lastminute.com founder, as both an entrepreneur and a communicator.

Margaret HeffernanWe’re biased, but few convey the sheer human significance of entrepreneurial activity as powerfully as technology entrepreneur turned Real Business columnist Margaret Heffernan.

Dawn GibbinsZany, irrepressible and now very rich, Dawn Gibbins MBE built her Flowcrete business into a £35m global business before selling it earlier this year. Quiet, retiring types may find her overwhelming (like your mum doing bad dancing at a wedding). In reality, she’s a very serious businesswoman and an inspiration to many.

Sahar HashemiSaher Hashemi has probably been guilty of over-hawking herself as a “guru” but her book about “Building Coffee Republic from our Kitchen Table” is one of the best guides to starting a business around. She is a gentle, very thoughtful observer of the entrepreneurial character.

It’s a new age: the social entrepreneurs

Richard Reed, Adam Balon & Jonathan WrightThese days, the Innocent Drinks crew are more picky (and more pricey) when it comes to speaking engagements but still well worth hearing. They’re laid back and immensely likeable, and seriously lucid on the challenges of building a business with values.

Tim SmitSheer bull-headed inspiration was behind his almost single-handed transformation of Cornwall’s tourist economy, and it’s no wonder the man behind the Eden Project is as big a draw as ever. Upper crust: the statesmen (and woman)

Sir Stelios Haji-IoannouThe easyJet founder has a natural warmth that’s unheard-of among public company bosses. He sometimes pays the price for his lectern-free approach and we’ve seen his Mediterranean blood begin to boil when challenged by a questioner but he’s enormously generous with his time, frank about his own entrepreneurial beginnings and often truly funny.

Lord BilimoriaLike the politician he was destined to become, Karan (Lord) Bilimoria has done the hard yards on the hustings, touring the country to speak about the concept, creation and rapid growth of Cobra Beer. Polished, attentive and statesmanlike, he’s now turning his significant gifts to the impact of multiculturalism on British society.

Charles DunstoneThe Carphone Warehouse founder has an utter likeability that masks a formidable business brain. The global growth enabled by the recent tie-up with Best Buy could propel Dunstone into the superstar set. Like a classy bra, modest and uplifting.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, “The Black Farmer”The rural sausage entrepreneur turned Conservative parliamentary candidate has an uncannily similar presentation style to Lord Bilimoria. He’s a dominating stage presence and has some very challenging (and sometimes uncomfortable) views about multiculturalism and race in Britain today.

Jacqueline GoldGold runs the Ann Summers saucy retail brand and, to her credit, has done a decent job building it up. Made an ill-judged appearance on a Back to the Floor TV show a few years back but recovered to become an enthusiastic conference keynote. Our pick of the pack

Doug RichardWith his hybrid background – non-dom American in Britain, serial investor, software entrepreneur, TV personality – Richard brings numerous perspectives to his craft. For his range, subtlety and almost tourettes-like honesty, he’s up there with the very best (although he’s bound to upset at least one person in any audience).

Tim WaterstoneThe legendary entrepreneur and founder of Waterstones is one of our all-time favourites. Doesn’t come cheap (doesn’t need the money), but his donnish wisdom and experience bring something genuinely different to platforms often dominated by the You-Can-Do-It gang.

Martha Lane FoxMartha Lane Fox is a simply brilliant, natural, warm, intelligent communicator. We also know, from personal witness, that she goes beyond the call of duty at events, passing on useful contacts, responding to further questions.

Camila BatmanghelidjhNot many speakers on the business circuit can stare into an audience’s eyes and tell them: you are deeply insignificant. The founder of Kids Company, the charity that helps (nay saves) many troubled kids in London, is a genuinely magnetic individual.

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