This week we gathered in the elegant dining room of our sponsor, the private bank Julius Baer, to meet the regional finalists from London and the South for The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Award. Our host was David Durlacher, chief executive of Julius Baer International, and with him were Tracey Reddings, the bank’s head of front office, and half a dozen colleagues. Our guests represented seven of the ten regional finalists. Each was asked to talk informally, for five minutes, about their business’s potential for disruption and growth. Here’s some of what we learned.
Carwow is an online platform that ‘takes the hassle out of new-car buying’ from franchise dealerships. Head of Innovation Vanessa Lenssen told us many dealers and some manufacturers are ‘stuck in the 1950s’, that the trade as a whole ‘doesn’t welcome disruption’ — in consequence, ‘customers are not getting a fair deal’. But one in four car buyers now looks at Carwow, 6.6 per cent of UK car sales go through the site, and the model has potential to expand across Europe.
Echo is an app that allows NHS patients to take control of repeat prescriptions, with delivery by mail and reminders of how and when to take medications. It has 200,000 users so far, and founder Stephen Bourke says it has had a 1.6-times impact on ‘adherence’ — that is, on whether patients actually take the drugs prescribed. In doing so, it has the potential both to save a major slice of wasted NHS budget and to encourage better health outcomes.
Hectare Agritech is an online portal for farmers and wholesalers to trade in grain and livestock — activities that still largely take place one-to-one or in traditional live auction marts. The sites have the potential to create more efficient price discovery, cut overhead for traders and reduce livestock movements, with associated animal welfare risks and CO2 outputs. UK farmers are set in their ways, but the business is achieving 123 per cent year on year growth, and online trading is clearly the way of the future in this as in many industries.
Onedox is a digital dashboard for managing household bills; it’s designed to save consumers time and money while nudging utility and phone companies to treat customers more fairly. Founders David Sheridan and Hugh Nimmo-Smith pointed out that ‘most consumers are just too busy to look at comparisons’ but by making that much easier Onedox can save most households £700-£1,000 a year — a boon for the ‘Just About Managing’.
Peanut is a social network for ‘likeminded mums’. It is backed by investors from California and has been talked about by Tim Cook of Apple, says founder Michelle Kennedy. She sees Peanut becoming a global platform providing information, interaction and support, particularly to new mothers who might otherwise feel isolated: ‘Not Mumsnet 2.0, with great respect to Mumsnet’s founders, but something much more impactful’.
Slitherine, represented by father and son Ian and Iain McNeil, creates video games with military and defence industry applications — and the McNeils’ pitch began with the arresting sentence, ‘One day we had a call from the Pentagon…’ Their games are cost-saving and potentially life-saving for military planners, and have attracted interest from major companies such as BAE any Raytheon as well as defence ministries of NATO and Middle Eastern allies.
Touchlight Genetics uses enzymes to manufacture DNA for a range of medical purposes, and founder Jonny Ohlson told us a number of milestones for the company are likely to be announced in the next few weeks. In simple terms, Touchlight has the capability to make DNA products ‘ten times cheaper, ten times faster and in one tenth of the space’ compared to earlier methodologies.
These businesses represent widely different sectors but what was really exciting about the conversation round the table was the potential for synergies: how Peanut’s hard-pressed mums might benefit from Onedox, Carwow or Echo, for example. Unfortunately three regional finalists were unable to attend: Movem, whose instant tenant referencing system is aimed at ‘creating a better, safer and more transparent rental experience for everyone’; Revolut, the currency exchange and payments site that is one of London’s fastest-growing fintech ventures; and Pockit, the ‘no nonsence’ low-cost banking app. We’ll find other opportunities to hear their pitches. But as with the seven we heard at this excellent lunch, we’re discovering that all our disruptor finalists have compelling stories to tell.
Details of semi-finalists are at www.spectator.co.uk/disruptor; finalists will be announced soon. Meanwhile, warm thanks to everyone who took the time to enter or to encourage so many exciting companies to do so.