Small businesses spring to life

It’s not all doom and gloom out there. meets four entrepreneurs who are seeing their start-ups flourish.

Dragon-backed growers

Having attracted investment from Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones, Kate Cazenove, co-founder of flavoured water drink Sip, is set for another roaring year

‘We came up with the idea four years ago. Within six months Waitrose took us on and we later launched with Eat. We then found a business angel who saw the potential of Sip and put a decent investment into the company. The hat-trick came when we were taken on by Boots, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

‘I think what impressed [those big companies] was the passion we had. Only entrepreneurs and small business can give that level of complete commitment to something.

‘It’s great to now have Peter Jones on board with his name, contacts and resources. I think there are always people with money to invest if the idea is good, you have a sound business plan and can show commitment to growing the business. The world doesn’t stop just because it’s bad out there.

‘The banks aren’t a great alternative for finance at the moment, but there are other ways. I’ve never had a problem with funding. Personally, I wouldn’t be too precious about hanging on to the control when you need money.’

Franchising expansion

Vincent McKevitt, founder of London-based salad bar chain Tossed, is set to open his seventh branch this year and has plans for more healthy growth

‘I started it in April 2005 just after university. Our success is down to having a good product that’s good value. London’s such a busy place and people aren’t going to just start bringing in packed lunches.

‘We made some big decisions last year. A lot of people didn’t go for Westfield shopping centre, but we decided to push ahead [and open there], which is really paying off.

‘Over the next two years, the key for us is growing and moving forward. We’re hoping to open another six to seven branches this year and then a further nine to 11 next year.

‘In this economic climate, I think franchising works really well as it can provide a safer option. We’re getting lots of people coming forward and approaching us at the moment.’

Niche players

Husband and wife team John and Melissa Nicholson left their City jobs to start online T-shirt company Kettlewell Colours. With more growth to come, e-commerce is fitting them well

‘My wife and I realised that we wanted to move out of London. After having a couple of bottles of wine one night we decided that e-commerce was the best way to go. So we sold our house and started the business in 2004.

‘Over the last two years, we’ve quadrupled our turnover. So far we’re well up on the first three months of this year compared with last. I’m confident that we will go forward as we’re in a fortunate sector of the market. E-commerce is still set to grow. A business like ours that specialises in a small sector is an ideal model for the internet.

‘Even a company like Marks & Spencers can’t compete with us when it comes to the range of colours we offer because they simply don’t have space. Selling online allows niche businesses to do well. We’re hoping to be bigger by maybe one or two members of staff by the end of the year.’

Recession start-up

Losing her job gave Jill Palmer the confidence to go it alone and start her HR and legal consultancy, ProLeader. Since then she hasn’t looked back.

‘I started the consultancy after being made redundant in 2007. I was an HR and customer director for a major motor manufacturer. The slowdown had already started in that industry and we were hit early by the recession.

‘I had been thinking about doing it for a while, but I was in my comfort zone. It was easy to just stay and get my pay cheque. I think things are changing really fast. People are receiving pay-offs and using them to set up businesses.

‘About 70 per cent of my work is from previous contacts. There are some types of work that are recession-proof and will always be needed. I know lots of people who are doing a similar thing at the moment

‘Since I started out I’ve been doing really well. I’m a lawyer and also an HR director, and as such my skills are a useful combination to clients. At the moment, I have a growth aim to double my turnover in the next two years.’

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