The Blog

Seven Reasons to Feel Good About Britain's Entrepreneurial Economy


This Friday, ten companies will make their final pitches in Virgin Media Business' Pitch to Rich competition. Although the event will take place in Shoreditch, this will not be your usual hipster-tech fest.

From selling out-of-date food to devising holograms, from teaching maths to making surfboards, the line-up shows a breadth of invention and resourcefulness. Take a look at them, feel the fresh breath of entrepreneurial optimism, and see what they share in common.

Our entrepreneurs are everywhere

Colin Hegarty was a teacher in Wembley when he and his colleague Brian Arnold began building their maths teaching website. The first version of hegartymaths is currently used by four million students.

Dan Cluderay started selling out-of-date goods around Yorkshire from a van that he purchased with some redundancy money. He originally intended for his trading to help fund his going to university; today Approved Foods employs 50 people and has a £4m turnover.

After a spell in financial recruitment, Ricky Martin was running a surf school on the coast of Northern Ireland. He and his brother have teamed up with universities and materials scientists to develop high-performance, eco-friendly surfboards.

They are thinking big...

These may be small businesses but they are addressing huge, complex issues. Andrew Hunt's Aduna aims to reshape the African economy. In two-and-a-half years, the social enterprise has taken the baobab from an unknown product to a best-selling superfood.

"Our objective from the start was to build a product that has global potential to solve a global problem," says Jeff Paterson, co-founder of self-service foreign currency kiosk business Fourex.

Julius Reynolds' Sendy aims to match people who send parcels with people who are travelling and can deliver them. Around the world.

...and they are on a mission

"I want hegartymaths to be the place where every child goes to for online support for maths," says Colin Hegarty. Dan Cluderay wants Approved Food to change the way the world deals with food waste. Gem Misa is making the humble cauliflower the low-calorie alternative to rice, bread and pasta - her Cauli-Rice is part of the global fight against diabetes and obesity.

They are breaking new ground

"There wasn't a sounding board about how to sell out-of-date food," says Dan Cluderay of Approved Food. "We have created this market."

Starting Fourex wasn't just a complex software development task for du Toit and Paterson. They had to collect tens of thousands of banknotes, and millions of coins to build the biggest digital currency database in the world. It's taken more than three years to do and is still ongoing.

Aduna is literally creating new markets. "Twenty-five per cent of the world's botanical species originate from Africa, yet they represent less than one per cent of what you see on the shelves," says founder Andrew Hunt. "The pipeline for extraordinary high potential natural ingredients from Africa is just immense. We are now the voice in the market for those producers."

They are clever...

Art Stavenka and Kiryl Chykeyuk are making it possible for holography to go mass-market. Their Kino-mo displays allow 3D images and videos to appear floating in the air. The displays can be attached to any surface and can be transferred to any image or video from a computer or smartphone by one press of a button.

Unsurprisingly, the Belarusian pair have filed patents for their technology - and are big enthusiasts of the R&D tax relief scheme. But they aren't the only ones to benefit. Gem Misa has a global patent on her Cauli-Rice product. Julis Reynolds is filing patents soon, and internationally, for Sendy. Skunkworks has patents pending on its new surfboards.

However, Fourex chose not to patent its technology because the founders don't want their information becoming public knowledge. "There are so many facets involved in getting this right, including collecting and storing such a massive database, that we believe it would be easier for a competitor to license it from us," explains Jeff Paterson.

...and globally ambitious

There is massive international potential for Approved Food, believes Dan Cluderay. We are educating people about food waste - Iceland, Sweden, Germany, France, Israel, Canada, Australia

JustPark may be a UK business but it's a digital service - so it's global. The sharing economy app lets drivers use home-owners' parking spaces. "People are renting out spaces around the world - from Melbourne to Boston to San Francisco, even in Kazakhstan," says founder Anthony Eskenazi. The next step: a global city-by-city roll-out.

Sendy's founder Julius Reynolds says his business is "truly global" in scope: "Sendy can and will be used in every country of the world."

Jeff at Fourex says that his machine acts as a 24 hour unmanned bureau de change, "so the possibilities in airports and tourist destinations worldwide is enormous."

They can find finance, in many forms, from many places

Friends, family and the credit card are their first source of finance but once their business began to grow, further funds have flowed in from many different sources.

Hegartymaths owes much to a grant from the charity Shine, enabling the founders to take their time out of teaching in order to develop their new website. Aduna is backed by ClearlySo Angels, a social impact investing syndicate.

Approved Food obtained loans from Finance South Yorkshire and UK Steel. Skunkworks Surfboards received grants from Invest Northern Ireland: "we have had specialist advice on finance and patents, on pitching and writing a business plan, to specialist materials expertise - all for free," enthuses Ricky Martin. "Northern Ireland is the place to start a business."

Cauli-Rice received an agri-tech grant from the government and then went on to hold a highly effective crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube.

Oliver du Toit and Jeff Paterson financed Fourex for the first three years and, after more than 1000 rejections, turned to crowdfunding. The response was phenomenal: Fourex was over-funded by 240 per cent in 13 days through investment from 432 investors.

A car manufacturer (BMW), a VC firm (Index Ventures) and the crowd have been three remarkably different sources of finance for JustPark.

Given the remarkable range of the finalists, it may feel invidious to cast a vote just for one of them. But you can here: Virgin Media Business Pitch to Rich

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