From an Indian wine producer to an ethical underwear maker, there's a wealth of diverse entrepreneurial talent in Britain. We profile the innovative young companies poised to grab our attention in the coming year
BraveNewTalentRising star Lucian Tarnowski
What's so special? He's using social media to transform the recruitment industry
Lucian Tarnowski has big plans to shake up the recruitment industry with his social networking platform BraveNewTalent.com. The website allows jobseekers and employers to interact in an online environment, meaning businesses can hire from a community of people rather than simply relying on recruitment agencies and job boards.
"Social media is going to be the biggest disruption ever in recruitment," says Tarnowski. "It's really powerful to take recruitment from a transactional model to a relationship-based one. It saves employers money and time and gives them access to talents better matched to them."
BraveNewTalent was launched in 2009 and has since received £600,000 in funding. After initially running the site for free, Tarnowski introduced a commercial model last May. He's now taken on 10
full-time staff and has blue-chip clients including Tesco, L'Oréal and Pinsent Masons. "I've always been ambitious," says Tarnowski, who was named Global Enterprising Young Brit of 2009. With more funding on the table, he plans to expand into the US this year. "Our mission is to scale as fast as possible to win the global social recruiting market," he says. "We've got a good brand to take on what's going to be a billion-dollar industry."
Beulah LondonRising stars Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan
What's so special? They're employing women who've escaped the sex trade in India to help produce their fashion range
With no experience in fashion but a desire to make a social impact, Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan have set up Beulah London, which they describe as a clothing label bridging the gap between high-end fashion and ethics.
Rufus Isaacs explains that two months working in aftercare homes in India for women and young girls who had been caught up in human trafficking convinced them to set up a business that could make a difference to their lives.
"Corporate social responsibility is what motivates us and inspired us to set up," she says. "Creating a sustainable livelihood for these girls, that's the heart behind it. And we want to be known as a fashion brand with a high-quality product. The girls are involved in the production of the dresses and eventually we'd like to help these women more, by putting money into training schemes and supporting UK charities."
With funding from bank loans and family and friends, plus the guidance of a mentor at TiE UK, Beulah London starts trading this month. "Long-term, we'd like to open a store, but building the brand slowly and organically is our initial aim."
Soul Tree WineRising stars Alok Mathur and Melvin D'Souza
What's so special? They're bringing Indian wine to curry-loving Britons, potentially shaping India's wine industry as a result
Dining at an Indian restaurant, Alok Mathur and Melvin D'Souza wondered why they were drinking French wine when the beer served would invariably be Cobra or Kingfisher. As Mathur explains, they spotted a business opportunity in producing a wine designed to be consumed with Indian cuisine. "Melvin is from Nasik, which is where Indian wine comes from, and we knew that India had started producing really good wine. In spite of all the curry consumed in the UK, and £180m worth of wine sold in Indian restaurants, Indian wine wasn't available. The opportunity was glaring."
India's domestic wine industry has been growing at over 35 per cent annually. Soul Tree Wine wants to bring Indian wine into the mainstream, but it knows there are sceptics. "People don't necessarily want to invest in a wine that they're unsure about," says Mathur. "Some may have had an 'experience' with Indian wine. But I've tasted awful French wine. Almost every person who's tried our wine has liked it."
The pair supply wine to 40 restaurants and have a target of £10m worth of sales by year five. Before then, they're looking to raise bank debt to grow the business.
QunoRising star Aaron Gowell
What's so special? He's making rail travel simple with an international booking website
With a background in online travel, Aaron Gowell and business partner Will Phillipson were intrigued that no one had marketed a straightforward rail planning website. "We've both been in online travel for many years and were fascinated by the fact that, while rail is a $300bn (£187bn) market around the world almost none of it is sold online or by websites we are so used to buying our travel from," says Gowell. "I'd like to go to this idea where you can buy it from Expedia or Travelocity."
Last year, the pair launched a software platform that can tie into any rail system. At the moment only a few networks are connected but eventually customers will be able to plan any rail journey across Europe and buy tickets through Quno in any currency and language.
"The big goal is to have most of Europe's rail on our platform by the end of 2011," says Gowell. "There will also be a couple of large online travel sites that will start selling rail via our platform and that will be interesting."
He has high hopes for Quno. "Rail is the fastest-growing travel segment. I have been in either private equity or online travel for 18 years and I have never seen a space that was as interesting as this one," he says.
Jolly Back EnterprisesRising star Lorna Taylor
What's so special? She's designed an ergonomic chair to help primary school teachers avoid musculoskeletal problems
Paediatric physiotherapist Lorna Taylor was visiting primary schools to teach children about back care when she realised that teachers were also suffering back pain. She says: "You cannot avoid working at low height when you're working with children. Teachers sit on kids' chairs and work at kids' furniture-they're in a constant high-risk situation. The Jolly Back chair came about as a practical way to help them."
Taylor lodged a patent in September 2009 and advice from the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet in Nottingham helped her secure a grant to pay for IP costs. She found an engineer who wasn't going to charge her £10,000 to make a prototype, and who cut and welded an old Ikea chair for her to take into schools. "I needed a seat wedge to get the knees lower than the hips; an adjustable back rest; four legs to stop twisting knees, and a handle so you're not bending and lifting," she explains.
Distributors say her product is "so simple it's genius". Now she has to convince more county councils and head teachers to invest in the chair.
Sambrook's BreweryRising star Duncan Sambrook
What's so special? His London microbrewery uses local ingredients and has sold more than one million pints since its 2008 launch
Having "grown up surrounded by cask ale"—he lived in between Ringwood and Hop Back, two of the UK's best-known microbreweries—and later studied chemistry, Duncan Sambrook was pretty confident that when he left his City accountancy job he could make a decent beer. But he had been surprised when he arrived in London that there weren't more brewers. Having intended to start small he was talked into thinking bigger by David Welsh, ex-managing director of Ringwood. So he raised £350,000 from friends and family and launched Sambrook's on a larger scale in August 2008. By last July he had sold one million pints. He admits that he makes beers which reflect his personal taste, but his first and best-selling ale Wandle-named after the south London river-has evidently pleased the palate of London's drinkers.
When challenged on why he has stuck within the capital, Sambrook points to the traditionally local nature of the cask ale business. "The beauty of being a niche player is that you attract a certain type of customer. And it's always been a regional industry, with small breweries maintaining their appeal to local consumers."
Sambrook plans to double output next year. "We sell 27,000 pints a week in about 200 pubs. But there are about 3,500 pubs selling cask ales in London," he says. "I can walk for miles through London without finding our beer for sale. I see that as a massive opportunity. We want to fill in the gaps in the patchwork."
Grannies IncRising star Katie Mowat
What's so special? Her design-your-own knitwear is made by UK grandmothers
Katie Mowat always knew she wanted to run her own business. Having saved cash working as an IT consultant she quit her job and looked around for ideas. A keen knitter and skier, she knitted beanies (woolly hats) for herself and her friends. It was while making one of these that she had her eureka moment and decided to turn the skill into a business.
Investing £5,000 of her own money, Mowat built a website and starting looking for people to knit for her. "I found they were mostly of the older generation so then I twigged it would be a great spin to have a granny-fuelled company," she says. The website allows people to design their own beanie (it now sells scarves, snoods and wrist-warmers, too), choose the colour and even which granny they would like to knit it for them.
Launching in October 2009, Mowat sold 1,300 beanies to the end of last January and turned over £29,000. "It was a manic four months," she says. Last year's investment of around £15,000—of which a large chunk went towards a new-look website—all came from the previous year's profit. Mowat predicts turnover for 2010 to be around £40,000, which she intends to grow this year by launching less seasonal products such as babywear and blankets.
FiretextRising star Matthew Newman
What's so special? His standalone smoke alarm sends a text when smoke is detected
Every time Matthew Newman went on holiday he had visions of his house burning down while he was away. And being new to the area, he worried that nobody would be able to reach him because his whereabouts would be unknown. So he decided to fit a smoke alarm. He says: "As I fitted it I thought, it's useless because even if I'm at the back of the garden with the door shut I'm not going to hear it."
Fitting a mains-powered alarm that sent a text message when the smoke detector went off wasn't an option—he needed a standalone unit. But there wasn't anything on the market in November 2008, so he spoke to an electrical design company about making a prototype.
At the start of 2009 Newman applied for the East of England Development Agency's proof of concept scheme.
He received £6,000 funding to build 30 units, which have undergone trials at the Alzheimer's Society and the Hertfordshire Fire Authority. His system is now in production and he plans to start selling alarms this month. "My ambition is to sell 2,000 units this year and within five years to be selling 1,000 units a month. I have a distributor in Australia, and then I'll be looking to emigrate to the US and sell the product there," he says.
GreenBottleRising star Martin Myerscough
What's so special? He's invented an ecofriendly alternative to plastic bottles
A papier mâché balloon is an unlikely inspiration for a business venture. But that's what sparked Martin Myerscough's idea for his ecofriendly milk bottles, which will soon be available nationwide. A biodegradable alternative to plastic bottles, the packaging is made mostly from paper and contains just a third of the plastic of an equivalent plastic bottle. His company, GreenBottle, teamed up with local dairies to successfully test market the bottles in two Asda stores in Norfolk, and there are plans for a wider rollout this year.
"It's all about helping consumers do their bit for the environment, with the minimum of fuss or habits change," explains Myerscough. "The problem with a lot of green companies is they ask the consumer to make a trade-off on price or utility. GreenBottle makes it easy for consumers to choose an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic every day."
The team includes former BSkyB group brand marketing director Andy Brent and former senior Boots executive Paul Bateman. Award-winning advertising agency Mother has also invested in the company. With plans to develop the design for other packaging, as well as potential international expansion through Asda's parent company Walmart, scope for GreenBottle is huge. Myerscough isn't surprised. "This is one of those ideas which people just 'get'," he says.
Sure BladesRising star Sean McDonagh
What's so special? He's helping redundant workers back into employment
When wind turbine manufacturer Vestas shut down its factory on the Isle of Wight in 2009, workers made headlines as they occupied the factory. Businessman Keith Hounsell heard one of the group, Sean McDonagh, speaking on the radio and the pair met to talk about setting up a business together once the 18-day occupation had ended. Sure Blades starts manufacturing this month after securing its first contract.
"I didn't want this skill pool of redundant workers to end up being filtered out," says McDonagh. Whereas Vestas focused on large turbines, McDonagh and Hounsell will concentrate on mid-size blades of up to 10 metres, which will be targeted at domestic and industrial users as well as farmers.
"We feel it is a section of the market that has been neglected and we knew it would be good for us to tap into it before others jump on," he explains.
McDonagh's motivation has been to bring former Vestas employees back into work. "In our team of seven we have about 35 years' combined experience in turbines, so as a company we have been able to start running almost immediately," he says.
"We are hoping to take on at least 40 people over the next two years; I think that is a realistic goal," he says. "But for the next year we just want to get production going and make sure our client is happy."
MediarootsRising star Jack Smith
What's so special? His video software tutorials company has cornered the UK market
Jack Smith isn't your average student. Having started freelancing as a Web designer aged 13, Smith launched his video software tutorials business Mediaroots in 2008 while still at university.
Although free video tutorials are available on sites such as YouTube, the quality varies and they often don't cover an entire piece of software. But inspired by the success of the video training market in the US—worth in excess of $100m (£62m) annually—Smith saw a gap for a UK-based company offering content aimed at British audiences. "There weren't any comparable companies in the UK, and in the US tutorials, the culture and slang comes across really strongly, which can be hard for a British audience to relate to," he says.
Mediaroots uses British presenters and targets its training at UK schools and individuals. The company is now the leading UK provider of video training for software from suppliers including Adobe, Apple and Microsoft, and has a partnership with Amazon to sell its DVDs. Smith has big ambitions for the company. "This year we're looking to expand into major European countries such as France and Germany, providing localised training in foreign languages," he says. "We're also investing in new product development—we want to make the most of every opportunity."
TechHubRising star Elizabeth Varley
What's so special? TechHub is championing a resurgent early-stage tech scene in east London
Last year was "crazy" for Elizabeth Varley. On top of the attention Varley's TechHub has received from a London start-up population starved of affordable desk space, she's also had to cope with the added wave of publicity created by David Cameron's plan to develop a UK rival to Silicon Valley. Not that Varley is complaining. If it comes to fruition, Cameron's Tech City would deliver even more talent and investment to east London, an area already bustling with start-up activity.
Varley says TechHub is partly a space for entrepreneurs from all over the world to work and meet, and partly an effort to support a community of like-minded, product-focused start-ups.
"It's about creating a culture where everybody's shooting for the same goals but in a non-competitive environment," she says. "People help each other here-for no other reason than they know what it's like to have no money to pay someone to do something."
TechHub's space is cheap and cheerful—"people would rather we spend the money on WiFi than fancy wallpaper," says Varley—but it's hoped the concept is exportable. "Right now we're working on the model for global expansion, likely to be a combination of wholly owned and franchised." First on the list is San Francisco. "This year is going to be even more nuts than last year."
Pants to PovertyRising star Ben Ramsden
What's so special? He wants to eradicate poverty through the production and sale of underwear
Having seen his social enterprise, Pants to Poverty, double in growth annually for the past four years Ben Ramsden aims to take it even further in 2011. Pants to Poverty grew out of the Make Poverty History movement in 2005 and supports more than 5,000 cotton farmers in India who produce fairtrade and organic underwear. "We wanted to develop new ways of eradicating poverty, and engage young people using fashion and art," says Ramsden.
He admits access to finance has been a constant problem. "We have to pre-finance all production and banks don't always understand our business," he says. Last month saw the launch of £250,000 worth of Pants to Poverty bonds, inviting investors to buy £2,500 Pants bonds in the company, with interest payments in 12 pairs of pants and a charity donation. "Think of it as a philanthropic investment," he says. "It generates interest to be paid to charity."
Pants to Poverty is teaming up with three YMCAs, employing young homeless and unemployed people to sell the underwear while gaining skills leading to an NVQ. There are plans to relaunch the brand for Easter, and Ramsden has been in talks with major retailers in the UK and abroad to increase the brand's presence. "The ambition for this year is to prove how fashion can change the world," he says.
Lightning Car CompanyRising star Iain Sanderson
What's so special? The Lightning GT has the potential to become an iconic British sports car
It's generally accepted that a business which has survived at least three years after launch is likely to keep going. But what if it hasn't shipped a single product? Having launched in 2007 that is the position of the Lightning Car Company. A prototype of its gorgeous electric sports car has thrilled crowds at motor shows for two years and it already has 15 confirmed orders. But chairman Iain Sanderson—the company's marketing man—admits that the recession has slowed plans. "Our timing was perfect, in terms of the recession," he jokes. "But we have used the time in between these fundraising rounds to really develop the technology and we now have a much better powertrain and batteries."
With lithium-titanate batteries built into the chassis, the Lightning GT offers owners a true luxury electric sports car with a range extendable to over 225 miles. "There are a range of charging options, from very fast to not so fast," says Sanderson. "I'd rather not give times because the technology is improving all the time."
Lightning has focused on building a sports car with the wow factor that will be manufactured in Britain. With a call for investors out, Sanderson says he hopes to raise £15m to allow the company to take the car into full production this year, with deliveries due in 2012. "We'll build the cars in Coventry and hope to produce about 250 a year, which at £180,000 a time would mean a £45m turnover."
TeamlyRising star Scott Allison
What's so special? More efficient employees with less micro-management. What's not to like?
There's no better time to launch a productivity tool for SMEs, says Teamly chief executive Scott Allison. "You want an ROI on your salaries, otherwise why hire people?" Teamly is an online people management device, designed to help managers keep track of their staff.
"People make commitments all the time: phone calls, email, you have hundreds of conversations as a manager. The question is, how do you actually keep track of all that? Only a fraction of that information can be retained."
Although Teamly is a tracking device, Allison denies it encourages micro-management. "This is a tool to help get rid of micro-management." With Teamly, employees decide what they want to achieve each day, entering their top priorities into the database. Managers can check progress against those targets once a week, says Allison. "It gives the control-freak boss the ability to see what's going on with a very light touch."
The key to Teamly is openness, says Allison. It helps employees who want to be more productive and it enables managers to identify those that don't. "The people who won't like it are the people who just want to coast along. As a CEO what you really want is to know the truth."
Freelance Training & ConsultancyRising star Jessica Grosvenor
What's so special? This award-winning young entrepreneur is helping people retrain
Life has been a whirlwind for Jessica Grosvenor since she picked up last year's Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. She set up her business, providing tailor-made training programmes last March and has already grown the company.
Freelance Training & Consultancy started with 20 staff, all former NHS employees who had either been made redundant or had retired. Training candidates include school leavers, people who have lost jobs or who have retired. Or maybe they want to upskill or change career. "We get candidates to set their own targets and get their self-confidence back," says Grosvenor.
The £10,000 cash prize for the Shell LiveWIRE award will go towards funding a Wolverhampton community centre. "We will employ apprentices in a centre that will be predominantly for the elderly, who can come in and have their hair or nails done and we will also set up a sensory room for people with learning disabilities. It will be like a day respite centre," she says.
Her business is quickly expanding beyond the West Midlands. "We want to set up more training companies. We want to see even more people get back into employment. So far, we've done 200 but we want to see that reach 5,000."
PloditRising star Yahya Thadha
What's so special? His online bookshop turned over £500,000 in its first year
When Yahya Thadha set up online book retailer Plodit in July 2009 he knew nothing about books or online retailing. But having been made redundant from his community leader's job he had to find a way to support his wife and three children. Family members in the book trade said they could introduce him to wholesalers and suppliers but that he'd have to "work hard" and "learn new skills".
Thadha researched the top 100 authors, bought their books (on 30 days' credit) and started selling them on eBay and Amazon. After six months he had made enough profit to build his own website. "Nobody at eBay had ever seen someone who came from nowhere to within a month or two become the fifth-largest store on it," he says.
Thadha was able to show publishers high sales volumes and orders started growing along with the discounts. Plodit has three million books on its database and sells more than 1,000 books a day. In its first financial year, the business turned over £500,000. Thadha expects this figure to grow to between £1.5m and £2m this year.
He puts his success down to luck, hard work, motivation and self-belief. "I walked into the unknown but I walked in there believing in myself," he says.
Drive-DaddyRising star Arnold du Toit
What's so special? The London-based design firm hopes to change golf forever
Product designer Arnold du Toit is keen to impress the golf world. But it has nothing to do with his game. Rather it's through his company, Drive-Daddy—launched with assistance from London South Bank University's Enterprise Associate Scheme (EAS)—that he hopes to make his mark. With a couple of other designers, du Toit has developed a ride-on golf trolley he calls the Rolley. Part golf trolley, part Segway Transporter, the idea is to transport golfers and their clubs around long courses without having to take a golf buggy. And the Rolley can be folded away in a car boot.
The EAS support included what du Toit calls "a package of goodies worth £80,000" and he suggests there is more available if he should need it. He has already marketed the Rolley in South Africa and hopes to launch here later this month. It allows golfers to ride around the course (standing) but can be either collapsed to fit into a car boot or be folded into "travel mode" where it turns into a piece of wheeled luggage. Du Toit has plans for the Rolley to be seen across plenty of golf courses soon, thanks to London mayor Boris Johnson. "We want to offer a Boris bike-style scheme at clubs replacing cumbersome golf buggies."
DezineforceRising star George Shanks
What's so special? Dezineforce helps smaller engineering firms compete with the big boys
Dezineforce supplies cloud-delivered software to the engineering sector. "Every engineering company is trying to use fewer materials, get higher performance, and be more competitive," explains chief executive George Shanks. "All of that means your design needs to be better."
But designing, building and testing prototypes can be expensive, especially if you don't get a result first time. Dezineforce's virtual prototyping allows engineers to test many different designs before committing money on a real prototype. "Our software could be used to test-fire propagation inside a building, or heat flow inside a computer chip-every facet of engineering," says Shanks.
The real beauty of Dezineforce's software, though, is the price, he adds. Traditionally, the computing power required to tackle complex computational work has been prohibitively expensive. But Dezineforce's cloud solution reduces the cost from millions of pounds to tens of thousands, allowing smaller engineering firms to tackle high-performance computing jobs "much faster and at higher fidelity", enabling them to compete with much larger firms.
Ultimately, Dezineforce allows both small and large engineering firms to do more work at the design stage without the inherent cost increase, a strategy that allows savings to be made down the line.
"A penny spent in solving a problem at the design stage equates to a pound spent solving the same problem after you've released it into production," says Shanks.
BboxxRising star Laurent Van Houcke
What's so special? His company is bringing electricity to the developing world
After setting up a charity at university and developing a portable solar-powered AC battery box, Laurent Van Houcke and his two colleagues have embarked on a mission to bring electricity to Africa.
The trio set up charity e.quinox during their time at Imperial College London where they studied electrical engineering. "We had to do a project for university and we decided to do something that could have a real-life application," he says. "Africa has experienced a mobile-phone boom with the number of users having increased from 50 million in 2003 to 250 million in 2008. But most don't have the electricity to charge them."
As the three partners completed their degrees, they set up Bboxx. "We thought it would be a waste of time to leave all that work behind," Van Houcke explains. They launched the business last March and started manufacturing in a facility in Rwanda, employing 12 people on an assembly line.
The first production batch of 1,500 units has already sold and Bboxx have had interest from countries across the world, including Nigeria and Afghanistan. The company plans to set up production facilities in China by the end of this year, but Van Houcke is focused on getting the product right first. "We will not increase capacity until we are sure people are satisfied," he says.