Awards for 16 rising stars of UK start-up business

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The Appear Here team receive their award from Alun Cochrane (right) PICTURE: David McHugh

A men’s grooming company, a vegan skincare firm, and an online retail space marketplace scooped prizes in the prestigious Startups Awards 2015.

The top prize awarded at the ceremony in Vinopolis, London was the coveted title of Simply Business Startups Business of the Year.

That title went to Appear Here, chosen by the judges from the successful companies in all other categories. Appear Here is an online marketplace for short-term retail space which enables landlords and start-ups to lease and rent flexible space in key retail locations around the country.

More than 1,000 spaces are currently listed on the site which recently secured a $7.5m equity investment. The firm now plans international expansion. The company also scooped the Venture Funded Business of the Year award.

The People’s Champion, an award voted for by the general public, went to Cornerstone, a service delivering men’s grooming products.

Online estate agency Purplebricks was named as Tech Business of the Year, while former Apprentice contestant Susan Ma’s vegan skincare business Tropic Skincare collected the Product Business of the Year award.

Mini-cab and taxi booking app Minicabit won the App of the Year award – a new award for 2015 and the co-founders of guilt-free popcorn business PROPERCORN were recognised in the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category.

More than 200 talented businesspeople and spectators, gathered to celebrate the UK’s start-up scene’s ‘ones to watch’ at the ceremony on November 27, with 16 awards presented by comedian Alun Cochrane.

The awards, in their 12th year, are sponsored by business insurance broker Simply Business and organised by Startups.co.uk. To be eligible to enter businesses must have been trading no earlier than August 1 2011, must be privately owned and based in the UK.

The judging panel included Dragons’ Den star Touker Suleyman, British designer Cath Kidston and co-founder of Innocent Drinks Jon Wright. The list of previous winners includes Secret Escapes, Notonthehighstreet.com and The Cambridge Satchel Company.

David Lester, founder of Startups.co.uk, said; “In 2015 we also welcomed more entries than ever before, so this year’s finalists truly are the best in their fields. Huge congratulations to all of our participants, particularly our 16 outstanding winners.”

Startups Awards

The winners:  

Simply Business Startups Business of the Year: Appear Here

People’s Champion: Cornerstone

App of the Year: minicabit

Crowdfunded Business of the Year: Berrywhite

Export Business of the Year: Frog Bikes

Franchisee of the Year: Schmidt Palmers Green

Innovative Business of the Year: Purplebricks

Lean Start-up of the Year: Nutriment

Product Business of the Year: Tropic Skincare

Retail Business of the Year: Gousto

Service Business of the Year: ForrestBrown

Tech Business of the Year: Purplebricks

Venture Funded Business of the Year: Appear Here

Women in Business Award: Swoon Editions

Young Entrepreneur of the Year: PROPERCORN

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Four key ways to become a jargon buster

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It was my first week in a new job – working in the press office of the Post Office in Wales.

I’d barely taken off my coat when the phone rang. I answered, and the panicked voice on the other end of the line said: “We’ve had the Press on. There’s an issue with the PHGs at the MLO.”

What?

Over the next three and a half years, I learned the Post Office was then an organisation wedded to its acronyms.

PHGs – Postmen Higher Grade. MLO – Mechanised Letter Office. DO – Delivery Office.

Within a large organisation, acronyms like these are widely-understood shorthand.

Outside, they become jargon.

One of the first lessons any trainee journalist learns is to ensure jargon does not creep into their writing. Why? People hate it – it acts as a barrier, loses their interest, disengages them, makes your writing seem hackneyed and stale.

If you’re a small business selling to the public, jargon in your emails, on your website, in your blogs, is a turn-off to your potential customers.

At best, there are clichés, such as “blue sky thinking” or “pushing the envelope”.

At worst, there are phrases which have your potential customers scratching their heads and wondering what on earth you mean.

Here are some examples from business which are enough to make any customer’s heart sink, and what they really mean:

  • Due diligence – Putting effort into research before making a business decision.
  • Sweat equity – Getting a stake in the business instead of pay.
  • Land and expand – To sell a small solution to a client and then once the solution has been sold, to expand upon the same solution in the client’s environment.
  • The helicopter view – An overview of a job or a project.
  • Drink our own champagne – A term meaning that a business will use the same product that they sell to their customers. The champagne is an indicator a good product.
  • End-user perspective – What the customer thinks about a product or service. It also is an indicator of a how a client would feel after having used the product or service.

Even social media posts can be guilty of using tortuous acronyms like these:

  • YMMV – Your mileage may vary.
  • IIRC – If I remember correctly.
  • IANAL – I am not a lawyer.

When people have to remember six different passwords for different social media accounts, who has the time or energy to remember those?

Then, there’s technobabble. More often than not, this is used to cover up a lack of true understanding of the issue. People mistrust technobabble because they sense that, and if you use it instead of explaining things clearly, why should they trust you?

Why should you care about all of this? Small business thrives upon relationships and authenticity. That authenticity in dealings and communication builds the bond between business and customers, builds your business community. Authenticity and clarity build trust.

So how do you banish jargon, technobabble, and report-speak?

Remember: If you don’t understand something, neither will your customers.

All the technobabble in the world is no substitute for a clear explanation. Research it yourself. Write it simply. Your writing is about communication, not scoring points for knowing the latest buzzwords.

If you have to use an acronym, explain what the letters stand for the first time you use it.

For example: What we aim to do is generate good, organic search engine optimisation (SEO).

Read through your writing after the first draft and ruthlessly cut any clichés you see.

Inevitably, some will creep in. It happens to all of us.

Read it aloud.

What does it sound like? Would you cringe if you heard some of the phrases in a conversation at a bus stop? If so, you know what to do. Hit that delete button.

Welcome to the world of the jargon busters! Have you come across some terrible examples of jargon? Please share them with us below.

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Hey, small businesses! Let me tell you a story…

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Once upon a time, there was a small business with a great story to tell – but its owner didn’t realise what power she had within her grasp.

Brand storytelling. I suspect a hard-nosed businessman or woman like you is already rolling your eyes.

I suspect you think those words conjure up fairytale books, and the thought that woolly phrases won’t get you a good return on investment.

Here’s a secret – you might know brand storytelling by an older, more business-focused name: your USP.

Brand storytelling is all about differentiating your business from those of your competitors.

In a crowded marketplace, your unique selling point is unlikely to be that you offer products or services completely unlike those of your competitors.

It’s likely to be that your business has a unique story, and your story is the key to forging the best way of ensuring your good return on investment: a strong business relationship between you and your customers.

Your customers want to know about you, how your business began, what it stands for, what its aims are, and how they matter to your company.

There is so much choice. Technology means that choice is now available at the click of a smartphone key. You cannot rely on being the only provider of wedding stationery in Bury, for example, when your customer can Google dozens of other providers in the North West of England alone, order online and get items delivered to their door.

With choice comes confusion. Customers are faced with making far more decisions than ever before when it comes to choosing where to spend their money.

Your job is to make the choice easier for them, to let them know you understand their problems, and will solve them.

Faced with a list of anonymous businesses and a business which tells them its story, customers’ choice starts to become easier.

Businesses which have built empires on telling their customers all about themselves include Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Innocent Smoothies.

Both companies have introduced personality into their marketing as a result of telling their tales.

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Here’s an example from the Ben & Jerry’s website Our History section: “From a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, to far-off places with names we sometimes mispronounce, the journey that began in 1978 with 2 guys and the ice cream business they built is as legendary as the ice cream is euphoric.”

The site says the business began with a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of it borrowed).

Its history section clearly shows how far the company has come, and how it has developed its company values.

Ultimately, if the firm had produced ice creams people didn’t like, it would have failed. Spin won’t cover up a bad product or service.

The company had good products, and its storytelling process has helped it carve out a niche with a loyal customer base who feel part of that process. They keep coming back for more.

Here’s some of the storytelling on the Innocent Smoothies website: “We started Innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No” in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

That’s a powerful story: “We do this because we have a great product, because people said we should, because we have the get-up-and-go.”

Customers like that narrative.

Innocent’s website uses cartoons and a great visual timeline to show how the business has developed. See that here.

Don’t think your brand’s story ends with the tale of how you set up your business. Everything you do feeds your narrative, whether you like it or not.

Customers will talk about your business online and in the flesh, it’s up to you to have your input into that conversation and steer it in the way you want it to go.

What’s the best way of creating the next chapter in your brand’s story? A good service backed up by testimonials from your clients.

Sian Richardson set up her CV writing and careers mentoring business, Career Master CV Solutions, four years ago, after extensive experience working in banking, business mentoring, and human resources.

Her history, as a former military spouse, meant she knew the challenges being faced by veterans leaving the armed forces for Civvy Street. She also knew the skills former service personnel would bring to any company.

“I went through career transition with my husband who was lost after completing his military career and entering Civvy Street because of redundancy in the 1990s. Also, I started the business because I knew I could use my skills and experience to help people after helping friends and colleagues,” Sian says.

She decided to build a bridge between veterans and businesses in civilian business with a specialist arm of her company, http://www.careermaster4military.co.uk/.

“It was important to develop trust amongst my customers. They needed to know I understood their problems, and the best way of showing them that I did was to share my story with them,” she says.

The next step, of course, was sharing her customers’ testimonials with potential clients.

“It’s great when a client gains that interview from the CV I’ve written tailored for their application, and wonderful when they go on to clinch that job. Some have been looking for a new role in civilian life for some time, and getting that job is a huge weight off their shoulders,” says Sian, who is based in South Wales.

“Their testimonials can give hope to those who’ve lost their way.”

There is, of course, another good reason to tell your story – it could well get you coverage in the media, which is always looking for fresh stories and good angles.

A call to a newspaper telling reporters a shop is opening will never be as interesting to them as a call which says a shop is being opened by someone who is investing their redundancy settlement after the closure of a major employer in the area, for example.

Here’s to the next thrilling chapter in your brand’s story.

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Is this a Golden Age for small business in Britain?

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The report says you can now set up a business using little more than a smartphone

A government report says this is the Golden Age for small businesses in the UK.

The report on the small business sector between 2010 and 2015 says there are now 5.2 million small businesses in the country, an increase of 760,000 since 2010.

Small firms now account for 48 per cent of private sector employment, and the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute ranks the UK as the most entrepreneurial country in Europe – placing us fourth in the world.

There are some interesting trends revealed by the report compiled by Lord Young, the former secretary of state for trade and industry.

The boom in small businesses is being driven by technology – but only a third of firms are fully exploiting the opportunities

In his report, Lord Young says a business can now be set up using little more than smartphone.

He says: “Technology is having a transformative effect on small business to trade, raise finance, export, market and network. Effective use of technology and the internet can lower business costs by making processes more efficient and automated, and allow businesses to reach more customers.”

Yet, he says, only 1.6 million (less than a third) of small firms actively trade online. So the potential for the expansion of the technology in the sector is huge.

Research in 2012 by Booz & Co suggested the internet represents a £19 billion opportunity for small firms and the UK.

However, infrastructure problems are holding back small businesses. Not all businesses have fast connections to the internet, and in 2012 a BIS small business survey found 8 per cent of businesses had no internet connection at all.

In 2013, the government launched a £100 million Broadband Connection Vouchers scheme to offer small firms a grant of up to £3000 to cover the cost of getting superfast broadband installed in their premises. So far, 7000 small firms have benefitted.

Another dampener to growth is the fact some firms simply cannot see the opportunities digital technology affords them, the report says.

A number of small firms have been combatting the technology gap by accessing digital expertise using the government’s Growth Vouchers scheme, which partners small companies with those with expertise in the fields they need.

Small businesses are becoming “inadvertent exporters” thanks to the internet

Overseas customers are spotting UK small business websites on the net and buying their goods.

Lord Young says: “In Growing Your Business, I reported that 25 per cent of PayPal’s activity in the UK comes from overseas trading. 81 per cent of SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) on eBay export to five or more countries. Last year, eBay launched a new initiative to support UK businesses to sell overseas by allowing them to create a shop for other eBay sites across Europe.”

The importance of women entrepreneurs is growing

By the end of 2014, the government had lent £131 million to 25,000 businesses in start-up loans, supporting 33,000 jobs in under three years.

Here’s the interesting part – 37 per cent of those businesses were led by women, compared to an overall business figure of 20 per cent.

Young people are more prepared than ever to start their own businesses

Lord Young writes: “Particularly encouraging is the incredible entrepreneurial spirit amongst young people. This has been intensifying since 2010 and it is now the case that those aged 18 to 24 are almost twice as likely as older age groups to say they intend to start a business in the next three years.”

The rise of home-based businesses continues

The report says that in 2013 there were 2.9 million home-based businesses, an increase of nearly half a million since 2010. They contribute £300 billion to the economy. (SOURCE: BIS small business survey and business population estimates)

Lord Young says: “Today, knowledge based or service businesses do not require large amounts of space, and even small, artisan craft or food businesses can be run from a well-equipped kitchen. Once you might have been concerned about presenting a professional image or worried about giving customers your home address, today there are now many ‘virtual offices’ that provide these home-based businesses with a credible business identity.”

More people than ever, particularly the young, want to set up a social enterprise

Lord Young says: “Since 2010, there has been an increase in the number of social enterprises, from 240,000 to 300,000 and they now account for nearly 6 per cent of small firms, although 15 per cent of SMEs report they have a social mission.”

The National association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NaCUE) says that interest from its members in starting a social enterprise is noticeably increasing, and last year 19 per cent of their members were involved in founding a social enterprise.

New mum Gemma Roe set up her social enterprise Rotunda Living – building roundhouses from wood – in 2012.

She says in the report: “It allows us to put our profits into woodland regeneration and conservation projects in the UK – in keeping with our enthusiasm for human well-being and the natural world, we have a very strong environmental philosophy and are striving to provide a much needed boost to our British woodlands.”

Late payments and red tape are putting small firms off applying for public sector contracts

In 2010 only 6.5 per cent of the value of central government procurement spend – a quarter of a billion pounds – went to SMEs.

Lord Young writes; “Small firms told us that excessive bureaucracy through the use of Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) had made access almost impenetrable; contract opportunities were too hard to find; and late payment not only impaired a supplier’s access to working capital but also discouraged them and others from competing for and delivering future public sector business. These impediments also pointed to a fourth issue, that small firms reported little means of recourse available to them when they were treated poorly by a public procurer or as a sub-contractor in a public procurement supply chain.”

Lord Young says central government should lead by example and stamp out late payments.

Sometimes, single contracts are so large that small businesses cannot compete. Some local authorities are tackling this by splitting up contracts to create a level playing field for small firms.

Ludlow butcher Andrew Francis is quoted in the report. He won a contract to supply a small area of Shropshire as part of a larger contract for Shropshire Council, and now provides fresh meat and sausages for schools in the south of the county. This happened after the council split its single contract into smaller ones, meaning smaller businesses could compete.

He says: “The contract has been fantastic for the business, increasing turnover year-on-year. I have increased my staff from five people to eleven. We have also had extra business from word-of-mouth recommendations, with parents coming into the shop having seen what they provide for children’s school meals.”

Small businesses are still having issues accessing bank financing

Lord Young says: “While it is encouraging that gross lending to SMEs is a third higher in 2014 when compared to the same period in 2011, issues still remain. Net lending to SMEs remains near zero as small firms continue to pay down their debts.”

He says the new British Business Bank is starting to address the issue.

“In 2014, Government announced a new British Business Bank, designed to unlock finance to small business, from a greater number of providers, through a wider range of products. I am impressed by its early progress including the way in which it has been able to attract additional private sector investment alongside public funds to increase finance available to small businesses. This has generated £890 million of new lending and investment to smaller businesses in the 12 months to end September 2014 and 71 per cent of support is being channelled through new, emerging or smaller finance providers.”

Read the full report here.

Tell us what you think of the issues highlighted in the report. Please leave us a comment below.

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