There’s no better feeling than having an idea for a business and seeing it come to life. It’s why many entrepreneurs (including yours truly) can’t help but go on to try and explore other business ideas once they’ve had their first success story.
It’s great to see that at least a dozen companies on this year’s Sunday Times Fast Track 100 league table are founded by serial entrepreneurs who have previously set up successful companies. Reading through the list, which ranks Britain’s top 100 companies with the fastest-growing sales, and seeing all the entrepreneurial talent is always inspiring.
Entrepreneurs are vital to the future of the British economy and it’s wonderful to see so much growth. This year’s companies grew their sales by an average of 78 per cent a year over three years and their combined sales have increased from a total of £652m in 2015/16 to a huge £3bn in 2018/19. Companies also tripled their combined workforce to 16,800 over the three years. These are staggering statistics that really show the power of entrepreneurship to create jobs and real change.
I enjoy reading the backstories about how the founders on the list started their companies. People often think that you need lots of money to start a business. It’s simply not true in many cases.
Alan Barratt is one of the serial entrepreneurs on the league table who stuck out to me because he started his first business, a sports nutrition distributor, with just £500 in his pocket. A decade later he sold it for £400k, and then went on to set up his second business, his own sports nutrition company, Grenade.
His start-up story reminds me of my own - I launched my first business, Student Magazine, with very little cash when I was just 15-years-old and still at school. It was created to provide an alternative to the stale school magazines, give young people a voice and protest against the Vietnam War. We went on to launch mail-order records and then Virgin Records. We didn’t need lots of money to start our first business and, with the opportunities the internet provides, that’s even truer today than it was back then.
Another entrepreneur on the list who started out rather young with very little is Susie Ma. She sold her first product at Greenwich Market aged 15. Eight years later she convinced Lord Sugar to take a 50 per cent stake in her natural skincare business Tropic Skincare. Her sales have been helped by growing demand for ethically and sustainably sourced goods – everything Tropic Skincare sells is vegan and cruelty-free.
While these entrepreneurs prove that you can start something out of virtually nothing, if you think your business idea really needs some backing then there’s good news – it’s the best time to get funding to start a business. Raising finance from banks has gained a reputation for being difficult, but today you can bypass this altogether with schemes that are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch, such as crowdfunding or Start Up Loans. At Virgin we have an organisation working to support entrepreneurs in the UK when they’re getting ready to launch and grow. Virgin StartUp is the not-for-profit home of entrepreneurship for the Virgin brand. Since launching in late 2013 they’ve supported thousands of entrepreneurs in the UK to start-up, distributing over £35m of Start Up Loans in the process. Through working with these entrepreneurs we’ve seen first-hand what great businesses can blossom from a small amount of funding.
I’m also really proud that Virgin StartUp has committed to funding an equal number of women and men. Gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to starting a business – what is important is the strength of your idea and your determination to make it happen. It’s great to see more women proving this point by starting their own successful businesses. On the first Fast Track 100 league table in 1997 there were just seven women on the list – this year there is a record 27 (including two in the top 10). This is a significant increase, but there is still lots of work to be done to help break the barriers that stop women from making the jump to becoming an entrepreneur.
While we are living in rather uncertain times, there is one thing I am certain of: entrepreneurs are the ones driving innovation, chasing improvements and challenging the norm. There are so many inspiring examples of this on the Fast Track 100 league table and it’s heartening to think of all the change that is being created across Britain by people who all have one thing in common – an idea and the desire to turn it into reality.