By Daniel Hunter
The proportion of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) in the UK run by women is continuing to grow, with many of the country’s most respected businesswomen now becoming household names in their own right, according to the Business is GREAT Britain campaign.
One of these women, Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company and 2013 Great British Entrepreneur of the Year, has joined up with the campaign to help inspire more women to start up and grow their own business and raise awareness of the government support and advice available to female entrepreneurs.
As part of the campaign Julie has selected some of her top female-led businesses to watch in 2015.
Julie said: “Making your way in the world of business is not straight forward, but if you have the determination and dedication to see your idea through, huge rewards can be reaped.
"I started my business six years ago from the kitchen table with my mother, with just £600. The Cambridge Satchel Company now makes around 900 bags a day with celebrities such as Alexa Chung, Rita Ora and Sophie Ellis-Bextor donning our bags, which has been such an honour to see. Anything is possible if you're passionate and truly believe in your idea.
"The diversity of these women's products is fascinating. One of these companies could be the next big thing that hasn't yet been discovered, that's what makes small businesses so exciting!"
Ones to watch
Amelia Rope, founder of Amelia Rope Chocolate
Amelia Rope is the founder of Amelia Rope Chocolate, a company which produces single origin, luxury, chocolate bars and chocolate products.
The chocolatier realised she had discovered a true passion when she began creating her chocolate recipes. Her first products were bespoke award-winning truffles and crystallised flora dipped in chocolate and decorated with gold leaf. The turning point in her business was designing her chocolate bar range. Before she discovered the alchemy of chocolate she had worked as a PA, studied nutrition and herbal medicine and qualified as an aromatherapist.
She gave up almost everything to start the business which led to her at one stage moving 15 times in 15 months and house-sitting for friends, to keep cash in the business. When the banks shut the doors on her to launch she refused to give in (a confirmed order from Selfridges and Hush Homewear was enough to prove she had to do it). Raising £7k from family and friends she launched her chocolate bars to the market, beginning her exciting business journey.
Alissa Koopal, founder of Izzy Melody Limited
Alissa Koopal, 29, is a mother of two from Liverpool and founder of Izzy Melody Limited, a company which designs and develops British manufactured, innovative, practical and soothing baby products.
Izzy Melody’s launch product was the I.M. BabyBangle, a soft and soothing baby teething ring that also supports oral and motor skills, from birth to toddler, which can be sterilised and does not drain natural resources. The product also doubles up as an accessory and is already stocked by leading retailers such as John Lewis, Mothercare and Jojo Maman Bebe. With this, Izzy Melody's BabyBangle is available in five other countries and has major contracts set up for more international launches in 2015.
Alissa always wanted to start her own company and had product ideas in mind, but financial strains, coupled with fear of not being able to provide for her young family should her business not succeed, deterred her from turning Izzy Melody Limited into a reality at first. In February 2013 she took the plunge and launched.
With the massive success over the past 22 months, Izzy Melody is now expanding its product range in 2015 to other British made products to naturally help support parents and baby in the likes of sleeping, teething and bonding.
Sandy Ruddock, founder of Scarlett & Mustard
Sandy Ruddock is the founder of Scarlett & Mustard, a company which produces unique and award-winning dressings, marinades, oils and curds.
Scarlett & Mustard began in 2012 with a secret family recipe and the talents of a budding entrepreneur. When he was just eleven years old, Sandy’s son Oliver decided to set up a stand in the drive, selling bottles of his great Granny’s tarragon dressing — an original cider vinegar recipe which had passed down through the family. Extolling its virtues and describing how delicious it is served with warm, crushed new potatoes, he returned two hours later having sold all the bottles and with £76 in his pocket!
Having seen how popular it was, Sandy made up some more bottles and sold them through a local shop. She was soon peeling, chopping and mixing all day to keep up with demand, until she needed help and a bigger kitchen; and Scarlett & Mustard was born.
The business grew by 300% in its second year, and turnover nearly doubled in 2014. Sandy won the Investec Food & Drink Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2014 for Best Newcomer and now employs five full time and two part time staff, with two further full time members of the team to be recruited in 2015. The products have won nine Great Taste Awards and are stocked in over 650 independent retailers, including some of the most prestigious food halls in the world — Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Partridges and Harrods. They are also stocked in Booths, Waitrose and three regional Co-operative Food Groups. Export is a big growth area, with orders so far to Korea, Germany, France, the Middle East and Denmark.
Scarlett & Mustard was awarded a Local Enterprise Partnership Grant in 2014 and will apply for a further grant in 2015; the business also raised funds in early 2014 through 9 private investors, and will shortly be looking to raise further investment to fund growth over the next 3 years through crowd-funding.
Lucy Serafi, founder of The Urban Botanist
Lucy Serafi is the founder of The Urban Botanist, a company which offers ready-made terrariums (a miniature plant ecosystem) full of lovely ornamental succulents, such as cacti, and air plants. She currently resides in Manchester.
Lucy founded The Urban Botanist less than 18 months ago and launched the products last February. It appears a fresh, design-orientated approach to potting has inspired a new market to plant indoors. The company has revived interest in the terrarium, a miniature garden inside a glass container, in Britain — they were first popular among Victorians — and reinvented it as a high-end, beautifully designed statement object for the discerning customer.
Lucy first noticed the trend in Vancouver, Canada, where terrariums “were everywhere”, and within an hour had bought a business name in order to supply Britain and Europe. Nine months later The Urban Botanist launched at 2014’s Spring Fair at the National Exhibition Centre and John Lewis immediately bought up the brand’s Aztec range; a showing at Chelsea Flower Show followed.
The Urban Botanist is now embarking on a rapid expansion plan into Europe and beyond whilst consolidating key relationships within the UK market. Aspiring to be well ahead of the curve, The Urban Botanist is delighted that its new ‘Supersize Aztec Range’ has made it to the final shortlist for 2015’s Premium Gift of the Year!
Jules Quinn, founder of The *TeaShed
Jules, 26 is managing director of The *TeaShed, a company which sells whole-leaf silky pyramid teabags.
Jules launched The *TeaShed in May 2011 just as she was finishing her degree in Fashion Marketing from Northumbria University. She came up with the idea whilst on a work placement where she was made to make lots of cups of tea. One lunch time she was sent to Sainsbury's to buy some more tea for the office and she noticed how much more of a selection there was for coffee as opposed to tea, which she thought strange as everyone in the office drank tea and lots of it. This was five years ago and the company has since blossomed.
Harriet Mears and Molly Freshwater, co-founders of The Secret Linen Store
Harriet Mears and Molly Freshwater are co-founders of The Secret Linen Store, a company which produces quality bed linen and accessories at affordable prices.
Sisters Harriet Mears and Molly Freshwater started the company in the sleepy countryside of West Sussex and came up with a unique and versatile range of bed linen to bring pattern and colour into the bedroom. All the sets are made from 100 per cent long-staple cotton with a choice of three finishes to ensure you find the perfect match.
They recently picked up the Retail Week Award for ‘Start Up Retailer of the Year’ (November 2014).
Anette Moldvaer, co-founder of Square Mile Coffee Roasters
Anette Moldvaer is co-founder of the Square Mile Coffee Roasters, a multi award winning coffee roasting company based in East London. She started her career in coffee as a barista in her native Norway 16 years ago. Since coming to the UK in 2003 she has worked in coffee imports, education and training, cupping (tasting), roasting and coffee buying. She has years of experience as a UK and World Barista championship judge, Cup of Excellence juror and Q grader, and continues to travel the world as a coffee judge. She even roasted the winning coffee of the World Barista Championship three years in a row, and her cupping skills led her to win the World Cup Tasters Championship in 2007.
The same year she co-founded Square Mile Coffee Roasters, wanting to make London famous for good coffee and furthering the appreciation of specialty coffee in London and the UK. Since the launch of Square Mile, the company, its staff and customers have won numerous awards for their product. They recently took Silver in the Urban Entrepreneur category of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards. Anette now travels extensively year round to visit her coffee producing partners and to make sure she sources the best coffees available anywhere.
She is a member of the Guild of Food Writers, contributing articles to national and international publications. Her first book ‘Coffee Obsession’ came out in the summer of 2014 and has just won ‘Best Coffee Book’ UK in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
Sally Page, founder of PLOOMS
It was reading about Julie Deane’s experience that gave Sally Page the confidence to sit down at her kitchen table with a blank sheet of paper and create her brand of fountain pens, PLOOMS. PLOOMS is inspired by Sally’s belief that some words need to be written in ink. This, and the fact that Sally could never find the fountain pen she really wanted — one that would be snug and weighty in the hand and such a beautiful colour that it would make her smile every time she used it. Manufactured to Sally’s registered design, PLOOMS fountain pens are currently available in five colours, each shade inspired by a woman who has brought a splash of colour into Sally’s life. Three more colours are planned for the spring.
Sally's starting point for her new business was to list what it is that makes her happy — after all she was going to be spending a lot of time working on it. Sally also looked at her existing skills so that she could build on a solid foundation of experience. She felt her work as a photographer and writer producing a series of books about flower shops gave her an understanding of design, colour and production which would help her as she considered products, packaging and the website.
Sally’s years as a marketing consultant led her to review carefully her target audience and gaps in the market. From her experience creating a new charity event for London, The 10 Stores Challenge, (10km walk visiting 10 iconic stores) where she worked alongside companies such as Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Anya Hindmarch, Liberty, Kurt Geiger, Heal’s and Farrow & Ball, Sally was convinced that people are drawn to brands that have a clear positioning in an increasingly complex world — and this went on to inform her thinking behind PLOOMS.
PLOOMS is gaining a loyal following and Sally is encouraging others to put pen to paper. “After all,” Sally says “it is a lovely thing to be able to recognise your friends by their handwriting.” And for those who don’t have time for letter writing, Sally suggests “Next time you want to send a special message, don’t text it, PLOOM it! Handwrite a message in ink and send a photograph of your words.”
Megan Trimble, founder of ZanZan eyewear
Megan Trimble is the founder of ZanZan eyewear, a company that design sunglasses which are then handmade in France.
The creative team behind ZanZan, Megan Trimble and Gareth Townshend, introduced the brand in 2010 “to continue to drag sunglasses out of the opticians and onto the catwalk”. You won’t find ZanZans in sterile sunglasses stores – only in the world’s best fashion stores and optical retailers alongside the beautiful products they complement. ZanZan is proud to be creating fashion eyewear for fashion lovers.
Lisa Tse and Helen Tse, co-founders of Sweet Mandarin
Sweet Mandarin was started a decade ago by the Tse sisters — twins Lisa and Helen — and these third-generation restaurateurs have achieved a degree of celebrity that would be simply inconceivable to most Chinese restaurant proprietors.
Not only are they releasing their second cookbook titled ‘Dim Sum — Small Bites Made Easy’ in February 2015, (their first cookbook ‘Sweet Mandarin — Gluten Free and Dairy Free Chinese Cooking’ was a Times Bestseller), but Helen’s family memoir was also praised by best-selling author Amy Tan. The Manchester-based twins were successful on Dragon’s Den, which led to the release of a line of cooking sauces and spice blends that are now being sold on the Chinese mainland. Most recently, they received an MBE from Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and cooked for the Prime Minister and Premier of China.
And yet neither of the Tse sisters ever forgets that the key to their success is treating their customers and their neighbours like family. Whether it means supporting food banks, teaching food technology classes at local high schools or providing culinary training for at-risk youth, they can’t imagine not giving back to the people of Manchester.
In order to help UK businesswomen achieve success within their chosen sectors, the government has created a Women in Enterprise hub which houses advice and information on everything from business mentoring schemes, to available funding and a guide to flexible working.
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