9 small UK businesses win Barclays innovation awards

Wanobe Founder Dave Noble applauds the entrepreneurialism of the UK's small firms

I am happy to see that the spirit of entrepreneurialism in bringing great ideas to the marketplace is alive and thriving among the UK’s small firms.

A portable heated seat cover, a new generation ice cream parlour and smart labels for food jars were among the nine small-business ideas to each win a £50,000 prize in the 2011 Barclays ‘Take One Small Step’ awards.

The awards were open to both established small businesses with plans to grow and would-be entrepreneurs trying to get their business ideas off the ground.

More than 5,000 small businesses registered to take part in the competition. A panel of judges then picked 27 finalists, whose entries were brought to life by videos which were published on the Take One Small Step website.

Following a public vote online, nine regional winners have each been awarded £50,000 prize money to invest in their enterprises, and will receive free support and advice from Barclays experts.

Alongside the regional winners, 18 shortlisted companies will each receive £3,000 to support their business development.

Steve Cooper, Managing Director of Business and Personal Banking Solutions, Barclays UK Retail Banking, said: “This is a life-changing moment for these deserving businesses and we intend to support them every step of the way in order to help build the next generation of SMEs in the UK.”

The winners range from an innovative ice cream parlour which offers a vast array of flavour combinations, to an educational group which plans to use the prize money to reconstruct a Roman fort.

The winners:

Central: Goodeseats
Goodeseats’ star product is a portable heated stadium seat cover, which comes in club colours and features a club logo.

Eastern: The Student Pocket Guide
A mobile phone application providing discounts, competitions, tips and advice for students.

London: RMP Enterprise
A student recruitment business, founded by three students in 2007.

North East: Choc Cards
Foil-wrapped milk chocolate bars, made to a Belgian chocolate recipe, designed with individual wrappers to mark a range of events.

North West: Salad|Bowl
Healthy, delicious lunches delivered to customers’ desks on demand.

Scotland: UWI Technology
Smart labels for food jars that combat unnecessary food waste and help consumers save money.

South West: Lick Me I’m Delicious
A new generation ice cream parlour, offering hand-churned ice cream creations from a vast combination of flavours and ingredients.

Southern: Snuggle Bundl
A unique baby lifting and carrying blanket, which helps parents and carers who have trouble bending or stooping to move their babies.

Wales & West: The Roman Fort Project
Providing Roman educational tours and visits for over 30,000 school children a year, bringing history to life.

Britain’s young entrepreneurs reveal hopes

Wanobe founder Dave Noble believes in the entrepreneurial talents of Britain's youngsters

Some good news for all of us who believe that the youngsters of today mean business. According to the survey of 2,000 youngsters, commissioned to support the Ambition AXA Awards, more than three-quarters of 11 to 18-year-olds (77 per cent) say they would like to start their own business in the future.  And around half (47 per cent) say that they have always wanted to be their own boss.

TV programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den and the high profile of entrepreneurs, particularly those creating successful online businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Skype, are having a profound effect on the dreams of Britain’s children. Online or digital businesses and IT are among the most popular areas of business interest for young Brits, with more than one in five (22 per cent) saying this is where they intend to pursue their ambitions.

Encouragingly, there is no dramatic difference in entrepreneurial ambition between the genders: 75 per cent of girls want to run a business of their own, almost matching the 80 per cent of boys with the same determination.

Karren Brady, one of the Ambition AXA Awards judges and a champion of young people in business, said: “It’s wonderful to see that at last the number of women being motivated into entering the business world is growing.  Gender should never be an issue when it comes to achieving ambitions and has no place in the modern world. I’ve long been aware that women like me are paving the way for our daughters, so it’s rewarding to see that this is now happening.”

While entrepreneurship is burgeoning among young Brits, the Ambition AXA Awards survey reveals that more can still be done to support and nurture entrepreneurship. Of the quarter of young people not keen on running their own business, 17 per cent say it is down to a lack of confidence.  However, the majority admit it is down to finances: 40 per cent worry about the money required to start it, while 38% are concerned by the risk of failure.

The overall findings are backed by business education charity Young Enterprise, whose own data reveals that 250,000 of their members are under 18.  Catherine Marchant, Director of Young Enterprise, said: “It’s heartening to see how many young people dream of becoming an entrepreneur. We’re living in a culture where stories of dreams started in someone’s bedroom becoming big business abound, and that’s clearly having an inspirational effect.

“What concerns me among these results is that many say they lack the confidence to follow their dream or fear failure. That is why we put 5,000 volunteers from 3,500 real businesses into classrooms up and down the UK every year to inspire young people and give them the skills and ambition to succeed in business. Programmes like The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den and schemes such as the Ambition AXA Awards can only help.”

The study into ambition in young people was commissioned to support AXA’s initiative the Ambition AXA Awards.  The £200,000 awards scheme for 11-18 year olds rewards young UK talent and achievement in Enterprise, Science, Community, Sport and The Arts. Five talented young people could each win a bespoke mentoring prize worth up to £40,000 (a total prize fund of £200,000). The deadline for applications is 14 October 2011 and the winners will be announced on 30 November 2011, after which the judging panel will work with the winners to create a development package that will help them to achieve their goals.

Late payment threat to small business

UK businesses saw their financial health deterioate in the six months to April 2011 in the face of surging operating costs and a fall off in new orders, according to new research.

The latest SME Trends Index, which surveys almost 600 business owners on bad debt levels, tax arrears, turnover and profitability to calculate financial health of firms in the UK, saw 76 per cent of those taking part reporting a rise in operating costs and only 58 per cent winning new contracts.

Those companies with a turnover of more than £3 million remain significantly stronger than businesses turning over less than £500,000, while the best performing regions included eastern England and the South East, according to Hilton Baird Financial Solutions.

Meantime, bad debt has prompted a business lobbying group to call on all smaller suppliers to anonymously ‘name and shame’ late paying companies.

Many suppliers fear fear tackling late payment by especially large customers will lead to unwelcome reprisals and cost them business, but The Late Payment Hall of Shame, introduced by the Forum of Private Business (FPB), allows them to identify late payers yet still protect their identities.

Jane Bennett, FPB head of campaigns, was quoted on website smallbusiness.co.uk as urging all small suppliers who have suffered to come forward and provide evidence that they have been squeezed, and FPB would absolutely guarantee their anonymity.

She said: ‘Late payment destroys companies yet it is often seen as normal practice by many big supermarkets and other companies, which believe it is acceptable to create lines of credit at the expense of their smaller suppliers. We certainly do not.’

Bennett added that previous initiatives to address late payment have failed, and that the FPB is committed to helping small firms and the economy as a whole by building a ‘momentum for change’, that involves ‘shedding light’ on the ‘epidemic of late payment’ in the UK.

What are your thoughts? Have you been squeezed by a large customer to accept late payment? Do you think your business is being put at risk by having to offer extended lines of payment?