Interviews

Growing Business Awards 2012: The winners

9 min read

27 November 2012

The awards have pedigree; among the winners, it was youth and energy that won through in the 2012 Growing Business Awards, hosted by Real Business and the CBI

Two retail entrepreneurs who are revolutionising the traditional high-street business model scooped two of the top accolades at the Growing Business Awards 2012, held in association with Lloyds Bank.

Colin Stevens, founder of Better Bathrooms, was named Entrepreneur of the Year, while Chris Li, founder of Luxury for Less and Bathempire.com, won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category. The ceremony, hosted by Olympic legend and BBC presenter Steve Cram, was held in central London tonight (27 November).

Both men have successfully broken into – and are now leading – an established industry by taking an entrepreneurial and digital approach to a business model that traditionally relied upon high-street presence and footfall.

Stevens set up Better Bathrooms from his bedroom aged 21 when he began to sell taps online after already seeing success selling clothing and golf equipment. Over the past ten years he has created a company that now employs 100 staff and makes profits of £5m in a highly competitive market. Alongside the Better Bathrooms website, he has also opened three large retail outlets.

The judges described Stevens as a “real disrupter, taking market share from competitors by realising the promise of the internet and moving faster than the incumbents”, and selected him from a shortlist that included Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company; Lawrence Jones, founder of UKFast; Mark Pearson, founder of MyVoucherCodes.co.uk; Adrian Pike, founder of Anesco; and Christian McBride, founder of Genuine Solutions Group.

Meanwhile Li established bathroom retailer Luxury for Less six years ago aged 23 and is now achieving a turnover of £14m. The judges described Chris as a “real money maker” and were impressed by the highly profitable business which is creating jobs.

The prestigious Growing Business Awards highlight some of the country’s most exciting, innovative and scaleable business models. Over the past 14 years the awards have identified emerging businesses that have since become household names, such as Innocent Smoothies, Autonomy and Lovefilm.

The competitiveness of online models over legacy businesses was also highlighted in the “Digital Champion” category, where online shopping delivery service Shutl triumphed. Shutl seeks to revolutionise how customers receive products from online retailers by enabling customers to have their purchases delivered ‘Now!’ (within 90 minutes) or to select ‘When?’ and choose a one hour window in which to receive the product.

Innovator of the Year went to First Mile, which has revolutionised the waste and recycling industry by making two million collections a year to businesses that were previously unable to recycle. Underpinning its success is its own sophisticated web system that has enabled it to grow to become the largest private recycling business in London.

Export Champion of the Year was awarded to Fever-Tree, the mixer drinks specialist which pioneered a new premium mixer drink category and overcame significant export barriers to ensure its product is now available in 38 countries around the world. Eight of the world’s top ten restaurants serve Fever-Tree products.

Chester’s EA Technology, an innovator in power engineering; and Southampton’s Bowman Power Group, a specialist in energy recovery systems, shared the spoils in The “Made in Britain” Award, which honours products, technologies and innovations primarily developed, designed, engineered and manufactured in the UK.

Six Degrees Group, which provides data network, datacentre, cloud and IP telephony platforms to mid-market and small corporates, came away with this year’s Young Company of the Year award after growing revenues to £55m in little over a year and with international expansion already in the pipeline.

Yorkshire-based transport technology firm Tracsis scooped the Company of the Year – Mid Sized award after judges described it as a “model company” with “tremendous IP”, whilst Company of the Year – Large Firms went to Wonga.com, a decision that the judges said would be “controversial” but that the firm’s successes were “incontrovertible”.

Two entrepreneurs were also recognised for the impact they have had on their local communities. The Local Hero award was presented to Jason Holt, CEO of Camden-based family jewellery business Holts Group and founder of social enterprise Holts Academy, who is committed to the regeneration of the UK jewellery industry; and Askar Sheibani, founder of IT and telecoms repair firm Comtek, who is helping communities near the company’s Deeside HQ to flourish.

Mark Stokes, Managing Director of Mid Markets, Lloyds Bank Wholesale Banking & Markets, said: “Congratulations to all of tonight’s winners; they are a fascinating and highly impressive group of entrepreneurs and high-growth businesses whose future successes will no doubt play a vital part in our economic recovery.

“It’s encouraging to see so much innovation, energy and promise from all corners of the UK and across so many sectors. It’s time to champion British enterprise and ensure these businesses reach their full potential in both national and international markets.”

Matthew Rock, part of the founding team behind Real Business, said: “Tonight’s winners are delivering ‘economic replenishment’; a breed of new entrepreneurs are breaking into established industries and disrupting the long-standing market leaders. Better Bathrooms, Luxury for Less, Shutl and others were recognised for changing the logic of their sectors and for pioneering new, digitally-driven business models and updating conventional approaches.

“It just goes to show that no business can rest on its laurels as they can be assured that a hungry, innovative and determined entrepreneur will soon be snapping at their heels.”

Dr Neil Bentley, CBI Deputy-Director General, said: “The UK’s small and medium-sized firms have some of the greatest potential to grow and increase jobs, so creating the right conditions for them to do business in is critical to the health of our economy.

“The CBI is delighted to celebrate the achievements of these firms by supporting the Growing Business Awards.”

The Growing Business Awards are supported by Cass Business School, Business Voice, Professional Engineering, Land Rover, Lloyds Private Banking, Spring Law, Cavendish, Visa, Your Business Your Future, Bdaily Business Network and the Financial Mail.

Full list of shortlist and winners for GBAs 2012:

Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Chris Li, Luxury for Less

David Barker, 4D Data Centres
Callum Bush, MediaDevil
Jude Ower, Playmob
Chris Li, Luxury for Less
Suleman Sacranie, 99p Shopper
Charlie Walker, Vivid Resourcing

Export Champion of the Year: Fever-Tree

Alaric Systems
Fever-Tree
JacTravel
Microlease
MTL Group
Tyrrells Potato Crisps

The Made in Britain Award: Bowman Power Group & EA Technology (joint winners)

i2O Water
Bowman Power Group
EA Technology
Global Personals
Trunki

Company of the Year – Mid-Sized: Tracsis

Brainjuicer
Brand Learning
Cupid
GRITIT
UKFast
Tracsis

Company of the Year – Larger Firms: Wonga

99p Stores
Halewood
Opus Energy
The Fragrance Shop
Wonga
World First

Young Company of the Year: Six Degrees Group

Anesco
Climate Cars
MVF Global
Redx Pharma
Six Degrees Group

Digital Champion: Shutl

Crowdcube
Everyclick
Funding Circle
Made.com
Nucleus Financial
Shutl

Entrepreneur of the Year: Colin Stevens, Better Bathrooms

Julie Deane, The Cambridge Satchel Company
Lawrence Jones, UK Fast
Mark Pearson, MyVoucherCodes.co.uk
Adrian Pike, Anesco
Christian McBride, Genuine Solutions
Colin Stevens, Better Bathrooms

Innovator of the Year: First Mile

First Mile
Ink
Innovate Services
MarketInvoice
Mind Gym

Local Hero – co-winners

Askar Sheibani, Comtek
Jason Holt, Holt’s Academy