Economic disruptor

Why China is planting its flag on what’s left of British Steel

It cannot be other than good news that a rescuer has been found for the bankrupt remains of British Steel, and in particular for its ‘long products’ plant at Scunthorpe — even if the buyer, at a token £50 million but with a promise of £1.2 billion of investment, is a little-known Chinese group, Jingye, owned by a former communist party official, Li Ganpo. Jingye has stepped in after potential offers from the Anglo–Indian tycoon Sanjeev Gupta and a Turkish steelmaker, Ataer, failed to firm up. Some 4,000 British Steel jobs, and many more in its supply chains, will be saved if this deal goes through. But still we might

2019 finalists lunch – Scotland & Northern Ireland

Another fine lunch and a particularly fine Edinburgh venue for our encounter with finalists for the Scotland & Northern Ireland region of The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor Awards 2019. We’re in the Register Club, inside the Edinburgh Grand Hotel on St Andrew’s Square – a building which happens to have been the headquarters of Royal Bank of Scotland before its chief executive Fred Goodwin commissioned an extravagant new campus on the city outskirts. Fred’s name will forever be associated with RBS’s 2008 collapse, and guess what: we’re lunching in a handsome room that actually used to be his office. So here we are discussing new frontiers of entrepreneurship in a setting

2019 finalists lunch – North West and Wales

Readers of my weekly ‘Any Other Business’ column know I occasionally find reason or excuse to slip a restaurant tip in amongst the financial commentary. In that spirit, let me start by saluting the venue for our encounter with North-West & Wales finalists for The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019. This was 20 Stories, a penthouse restaurant in Manchester’s Spinningfields district, which gave us everything we needed, including fine food, service that never cut across our conversation and a view that encouraged us to think in panoramic terms about the markets our entrants are seeking to disrupt. With us were regional guest judge Hugh Campbell — founder and

Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019 – the regional finalists

We’re pleased to announce the regional finalists for The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019, sponsored by Julius Baer. We were delighted to receive some 50 per cent more entries this year — including many more from the regions outside London and the South. Business sectors represented range from fintech to funerals, and from ‘big data’ to dating. The full set of entries illuminates how entrepreneurs are addressing today’s pressing social and environmental issues, whether that be food waste and sustainable packaging, or the decline of town centres and the shortage of affordable housing, or the need for greater efficiencies in the NHS. When we launched the Economic

A drive to change lives

Welcome to The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019, sponsored by Julius Baer. We’re waiting to hear from entrepreneurs in every business sector across the UK who are eager to tell us how their products are bringing radical benefits to consumers in terms of price and choice. We’re looking for disruptors who can make an impact nationally and globally. Meanwhile, we’ll be presenting inspirational stories about the people behind the UK’s fastest-growing entrepreneurial ventures. In the first of the series, Martin Vander Weyer meets Virraj Jatania, whose low-cost banking app Pockit was the overall winner of our 2018 awards.  Virraj Jatania doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur. He’s

Tough choices and worthy winners in a dazzling field

Mail Rail — the venue for the grand finale of The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor Awards, sponsored by Julius Baer — is the former terminus of the driverless underground London Post Office Railway that shuttled mail between London’s major sorting offices from 1927 until 2003. A fine example of the disruptive technology of its era, it had a Doctor Who ambience that made it the perfect setting to celebrate the entrepreneurial creativity showcased in this first year of our Disruptor Awards. The range of innovative business ideas presented to us from all over the country was dazzling: everything short of a better model of sonic screwdriver for the Doctor, you might

The winners of the Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2018

Which UK companies are rewriting the rules and redefining their marketplaces? Earlier this year, The Spectator and Julius Baer launched the inaugural Economic Disruptor Awards to celebrate the most creative entrepreneurs in the UK. Over the past six months, over 100 nominations have been reviewed by our panel. Last night, we announced the winners at a gala dinner hosted by Andrew Neil, Chairman of The Spectator, and attended by over 120 guests from across the world of business. We are delighted to announce that the 2018 Economic Disruptor of the Year is Pockit – a low-cost, easy-access banking app aimed at helping Britain’s ‘unbanked’. Pockit is billed as ‘a bank for

2018 finalists lunch – Midlands

Today we’re in the baronial setting of Hampton Manor Hotel in Warwickshire — a long iron shot from Birmingham Airport, but happily out of earshot of the fractious Tory Party conference up the road. We’re here to meet the Midlands regional finalists for The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards: our host is Mark Embley, regional manager for our sponsor, the private bank Julius Baer, and our guests are Dr David Jehring, chief executive of Black Pear Software, Ian Firth, vice president for products at Speechmatics, and Steven Greenall, founder of Warwick Music Group. I’ve met or talked to some 16 of our 22 disruptor finalists so far, listened

2018 finalists lunch – London and The South

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

2018 finalists – The North East

  rradar has established a vast online resource for clients seeking legal advice, a database for risk management, and the opportunity to contact a team of experts who can respond quickly to their queries.   Surfaceskins have developed push pads for the fight against superbugs. Designed to be placed at hand height on doors they dispense an alcohol-based gel when pressed. The gel disinfects the user’s hand, leaving the door germ practically germ-free for the next person.   ZeroLight uses immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality to create an ‘Intelligent Car Configurator’.

2018 finalists – The Midlands

  Black Pear’s principle activity is software research and development in the healthcare sector. Its greatest innovation has been the use of the public cloud to create an electronic ‘Shared Plan’ for patients.   Speechmatics has recently developed a unique AI-powered framework called ‘The Automatic Linguist’, which uses machine-learning to ‘build’ any language in the world in a matter of days.   Warwick Music Group has created a range of musical instruments for children from plastic. The plastic designs are typically more portable, more durable and cheaper than traditional instruments.

2018 finalists – The North West and Wales

  AMPLYFI has created DataVoyant, which it claims is ‘the most advanced business intelligence and research tool in the world’.   Arctic Shores is developing pioneering psychometric assessments to help people and organisations make better career and personnel decisions.   Evergreen Life’s NHS-approved app enables people to own and take control of their own health data, managing and sharing information on allergies, conditions and fitness, while also allowing users to order repeat prescriptions, book appointments with their GP and check test results.

2018 finalists – Scotland and Northern Ireland

  Amiqus ID is an encrypted online system for client-onboarding and transaction checks, with the intention of tackling cyber risk and money laundering.   Avocet Infinite makes use of a ‘unique hydroponic system’ to produce fodder to grow ideal barley for cows.   See.Sense makes ACE, an award-winning smart bike light that uses advanced sensor technology to give cyclists more visibility on their ride.

A nation of original thinkers

Let’s remind ourselves what we mean by ‘disruptor’. A truly disruptive business revolutionises its marketplace by delivering radical improvements in choice, price and accessibility. A disruptor may be a boffin or a bold lateral thinker: Henry Ford did not invent the motorcar any more than Airbnb invented the ‘homestay’, but both created systems that made the product cheaper and more available than ever before — and both count as great disruptors. But these days ‘disruptor’ status is claimed by all manner of ventures. So in choosing our shortlist for the Award sponsored by Julius Baer, we had to sort the original from the derivative and distinguish those that are already

Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2018 – the regional finalists

We are delighted to announce the finalists, region by region, for The Spectator Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards sponsored by Julius Baer. We received entries from every corner of the UK, in business sectors ranging from advanced genetics to ice cream and from musical instrument-making to cyber security. Particularly well represented were ‘Fintech’ in all its aspects — in which the UK has already established a reputation as a world leader — and healthcare, including a number of smart ideas aimed at improving patient experience in the NHS. Overall, we’ve been thrilled to learn about the creativity, enthusiasm and dedication of the entrepreneurs behind the entries. Many of these

Patience has its rewards

Very few business plans survive their first interaction with the real world,’ says Luke Johnson, whose own ventures have ranged from Pizza Express to fresh fish distribution and the UK’s largest chain of dental surgeries. ‘Entrepreneurs have the advantage that they can adapt swiftly — “pivot”, as they say in Silicon Valley — to satisfy real demand, or improve their product and its distribution. Bigger companies find it much more difficult to change course in that way. ‘I’m a great believer in incubating a business quietly: pivoting it until the model works. Maybe I’m unconventional, but I believe raising money too early — through crowdfunding, for example — can be

The path to growth — and the exit

Maybe it’s a sandwich chain, or a price comparison website, or a bioscience breakthrough: but the start-up was your baby, and you’ve worked night and day to prove its potential. Now it needs capital to go to the next level — and you need liquidity for family needs, as well as a plan for long-term exit. Who do you turn to, and what questions should you ask? Earlier in this series, Julian Cooper of Julius Baer told us that entrepreneurs need to think well ahead — and ‘meet the right people, the right lawyers, the right potential investors’. Simon Ward is a lawyer with Farrer & Co who acts for

Entrepreneurship is a way of life

James Espey was born in Zambia and educated in South Africa before moving to London in 1977. For many years he worked for international drinks companies, developing brands such as Malibu, Baileys and Johnnie Walker Blue Label. For the past two decades he has been an entrepreneur in his own right, as well as a mentor to others. He is a client of Julius Baer, which is also a sponsor of The Shaw Mind Foundation, a charity founded by Adam Shaw and James to support mental health sufferers and their families.  James is the author of Making Your Marque, subtitled ‘100 tips to Build your Personal Brand and Succeed in

Smart advice for entrepreneurs

All would-be entrepreneurs are told that ‘most start-ups fail’. A popular factoid from the US says nine out of ten new businesses don’t survive. UK statistics are more encouraging, but not spectacularly so. Here, surveys say roughly four out of ten new businesses live to celebrate their fifth birthday. Some sectors have higher survival rates than others, but whether your entrepreneurial vision is to make hats, cakes, apps, medical devices or space rockets, survival through infancy is your first challenge. You’ll have to risk your own savings and persuade family or angels to provide capital that will allow you to perfect your product and bring it to market — while