Welcome to the Business Leader Top 50 Trailblazers. This feature profiles 50 of the top entrepreneurs who have had a positive economic impact in the South West.
Our criteria is simple; 50 of the most successful entrepreneurs who have founded, acquired or sold companies, often taking huge financial risks, and who have gone on to achieve significant financial success typically with multi-million revenues and creating numerous jobs.
Have we missed anyone?
With thousands of successful entrepreneurs across the region, we’re always keen to learn of individuals who have launched or acquired a business which went on to build sizeable operations, revenues, and job creation.
Top 50 South West Entrepreneurs
Here is the Business Leader Top 50 Trailblazers, in alphabetical order. If you are included in the list, please promote the achievement via social media, using the hashtag #BLMTrailblazer.
SILAS ADEKUNLE – REACH ROBOTICS
With 4 years of experience in his field, Silas is the founder and CEO of Reach Robotics – a company developing cutting-edge gaming robots. The company created the MekaMon, billed as the “world’s first real-life gaming robot”.
Users can play with the crab-like robot via games on their phones and tablets, with both single-player and two-player battle games available.
Silas signed an exclusive deal with Apple robots and his robots are currently for sale in the UK and US.
RYAN ANDERSON – MAGIC SEAWEED
Devon-based surfing goods and forecasting firm Magic Seaweed was founded in 2002 in Kingsbridge and provides forecasting and live reporting from more than 4,000 beaches around the world. In 2015, the company was bought by Australia’s Surfstitch as part of a £7m deal.
JASON BANNISTER – OAK FURNITURE LAND
41-year-old Bannister started as an entrepreneur selling pine products, before setting up one of the UK’s most well-known furniture stores. Fusing online and destination shopping, Jason’s entrepreneurial approach and keen business brain has built him a business that has been valued at £400m.
PETER BARKWILL – JOHN WAINWRIGHT
John Wainwright & Co Ltd was founded in 1891, supplying stone asphalt and formation material to customers across the South West. In 2014, Peter Barkwill was named Chief Executive Officer and was short-listed for the accolade of Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016.
MIKE BEESLEY – RSG PLC
Mike founded RSG in 1975 with close friend Keith Dawe. The business has revenues of over £400m and is still completely privately owned. Mike was named EY’s entrepreneur of the year in 2016 due to his instinct for creating wealth and spotting new business opportunities.
A renowned figure in the construction industry, Chris built the Symonds Group into one of the most successful construction consultancy businesses in the UK, before selling it to the Capita Group in early 2004. Until recently he was the Non-Executive Chairman of the property arm of Capita. Since selling Symonds, Chris has been active on the business scene and as Chairman of Bristol Rugby Club.
PETER BREND – BREND HOTELS
Brend Hotels, operates a portfolio of three and four-star hotels in Devon and Cornwall. It amassed turnover for the year ending 31 March 2015 of £32.5m, up from £30.5m in 2014.
PAUL BROWN – MAIL HANDLING INTERNATIONAL
A qualified pilot, Paul also has a keen eye for business and over fifteen years ago spotted a gap in the market for a business that packaged and distributed international mail more efficiently. Fast-forward to the present: MHI is a multi-million pound business that operates globally. Paul is also a serial investor and a business fellow at UWE.
SIMON BROWN – FORRESTBROWN
Some say accountants and tax advisers are risk-averse. Not so with Simon, who saw a gap in the market for a highly-targeted R&D tax consultancy that supported businesses across the UK. Today, ForrestBrown employs over 50 people and is set to end the year having achieved record-breaking financials.
From delivering pizzas to setting up the UK’s largest and most successful business networking group, Brad’s story is well documented and well-known. No-nonsense and shooting straight from the hip, Brad has become synonymous with helping start-up businesses and he has used his accumulated wealth to set up various businesses and enterprises.
CRISPIN BUSK – KABUTO NOODLES
A Pieminister protégé, Crispin spotted a gap in the market for posh noodles and created an Asian-inspired brand that has seen the business reach revenues of £4m plus. Ultra-lean in operations and innovative in its approach, Crispin took a risk in leaving a secure job that has clearly paid off.
JULIAN CHENOWETH – CHENOWETH TRADING COMPANY
The company deals in aggregates, waste, and building products, specialising in restricted access deliveries across Cornwall. The company also boasts a rapid response team that can react to trade and domestics needs and reach even the most difficult of places.
JEREMY COOMBES – CASTLE BUSINESS FINANCE
Well-known on the South West and London finance scene, Jeremy was the brains behind the formation of both Bibby Financial Services and Ultimate Finance – he sold his stake in the latter in 2016.
Like any entrepreneur, Jeremy was soon back in the saddle and his most recent venture is Castle Business Finance – an invoicing factoring company that already employs over ten people.
PATRICK CULLEN – SDS LTD
Patrick Cullen founded SDS Ltd 20 years ago and has overseen a business that – at the time of writing – employs over 100 staff and last year turned over £20m. Patrick has recently been rewarded for this company’s success with a string of awards, including being named Small to Medium Sized Business of the Year at the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards.
Always looking for the next opportunity or growth area, SDS has become established as a UK leader in sustainable drainage and stormwater treatment systems.
NICK DAVIES – NEIGHBOURLY
Nick launched Neighbourly.com in July 2014 to help forward-thinking companies find the right balance between value for shareholders and value for society. By empowering colleagues, causes and citizens to collaborate, Neighbourly companies can work together to help communities address local needs and, together, can become a powerful force for good in the world.
CHRIS DAWSON – THE RANGE
Chris Dawson is a self-made millionaire who can’t read or write and has a reported net worth of £1.65bn that he has acquired from his retail chain The Range. He has also established several other companies involved in property, dry cleaning, manufacturing and waste management services.
JULIAN DUNKERTON – SUPERDRY
Having started out his business life running a cider company, Dunkerton founded Japanese-inspired Superdry in 1985. The business now operates globally, employs over 400 staff and has revenues of £752m. Dunkerton now has various interests and has invested in, bought and sold various businesses.
STEPHEN FEAR – FEAR GROUP
The original ‘phone-box’ millionaire, this old school entrepreneur has a back catalogue of successful business ventures and enterprises. Up until recently, he was also the entrepreneur in residence at the British Library. Now an active investor, speaker and mentor, Stephen’s son Leon is also a prominent business figure in the South West.
MATT FIDDES – MF MARTIAL ARTS
Matt recently took part in the programme Rich House, Poor House, where he gained notoriety for his generosity – a key trait of many successful entrepreneurs. Having spotted an opportunity to launch a professional martial arts training network in his teens, Matt quickly gained notoriety and the business is now hugely successful, with franchises across the UK.
Formerly Michael Jackson’s bodyguard, Matt’s celebrity connections shouldn’t overshadow a clear entrepreneurial zeal and sharp business brain.
JUSTIN HAWKE – MOOR BEER
The owner of the aptly named Moor Beer, Justin has seen a passion for good beer turn into a business that is now selling in countries across the globe (most recently Italy). Part of the craft beer revolution, he has shown an eye for business that goes beyond his passion for creating the perfect pint.
TRISTAN HOGG & JON SIMON – PIEMINISTER
How many business ideas were formed on a beach in Australia? Quite a few probably and this was the genesis for Pieminister. The business now operates a multi-million-pound turnover, runs numerous restaurants and can be found in supermarkets across the UK. But it’s the founders’ easy-going charm and their mentorship of fledgling businesses that make this company so special.
CHRIS HOLLAND – WASTE SOURCE
Formerly at Pieminister, Chris had an idea for a waste brokerage business that could out-perform what was already on the market. He took a risk, launched it, and is now at the helm of a nearly £4m business that is on course to grow exponentially over the next few years.
GRIFF HOLLAND – FRISKA
The co-founder of innovative healthy fast food restaurant Friska, Griff has turned his idea of food nirvana into a successful chain of outlets that operate across the UK, remain financially successful and are true to their founding principles.
NICK HOUNSFIELD – THE WAVE
In 2014, Nick was voted one of the UK’s “Most Disruptive Entrepreneurs” by The Telegraph and his relentless vision to create an inland surfing destination has seen the business attract millions of pounds in investment.
An osteopath by training, Nick is now focused on a second development in London that is due to be completed prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where Surfing will be showcased for the first time.
HELEN LACEY – RED BERRY RECRUITMENT
Helen is the founder of Red Berry Recruitment, a business she opened in 2007. It now has four offices across Somerset and Helen has driven the company to ensure it is a profitable and sustainable business.
Helen also holds various roles with the business community, as a senior member of the IoD and Somerset Chamber of Commerce.
LUKE LANG – CROWDCUBE
Luke ran his own marketing consultancy before launching Crowdcube with Darren Westlake in February 2011.
Luke was named by Debrett’s as one of Britain’s 500 most influential people in 2016 and has earned his position as a leading expert on the burgeoning ‘crowdfunding’ scene.
STEPHEN LANSDOWN CBE – BRISTOL SPORT
Co-founder of the financial powerhouse Hargreaves Lansdown – along with Peter Hargreaves – not many businessmen have done more for the city of Bristol than Stephen.
Now owner of Bristol City FC, he has turned its fortunes around and is articulating a vision of how a well-run and successful sports team can positively impact a population.
ROB LAW – TRUNKI
Famously rejected by the Dragon’s Den, Rob has gone on to build his most notable venture Trunki into a business that operates globally. Rob is now a serial investor and recently fronted a government campaign to encourage UK firms to export.
RICHARD LONGHURST – LOVE HONEY
Lovehoney, a sex toy company with a turnover of £58m was started on an initial investment of just £9,000. Now, 15 years on, the company sold over 1,000 toys per month in the first year of trading, generating £37,000 in revenue. The firm has a warehouse in Bath, gaining more than 3,000 orders per day.
MARK MASON – MUBALOO
Now a serial investor, Mark is most famous for having set up mobile app business Mubaloo in 2009. He sold the business in 2016 for millions of pounds and is now involved in several start-ups and established businesses.
DEBORAH MEADEN OBE
Most famous for her role in the popular TV show Dragons’ Den, Deborah is a serial entrepreneur and investor. Based in Somerset, she made her name in the tourism and leisure industry and throughout her career has invested in multiple businesses across the UK. One of her most famous South West beneficiaries was Trowbridge- based GripIT Fixings.
KERRY MICHAEL MBE – GRAND PIER LTD
The Michael family have a long business history in Weston-super-Mare and Kerry has emerged as one of the family’s most notable business figures.
Best known for his ownership of the iconic Grand Pier, Kerry has various business interests that span property, retail and insurance, and has built a huge net worth.
CHRIS MORLING – MONEY.CO.UK
When you’re the first to register the domain money.co.uk, there is a chance you might be onto something and Chris, despite a few false starts, went on to build one of the UK’s most well-respected financial services businesses and recently sold it for £80m.
ANDREW NISBET – NISBETS
Andrew Nisbet started his own business selling utensils, clothing and text books to catering students in 1983. He then skillfully turned this into the uber successful Nisbets that now trades in over 100 countries worldwide and has a turnover of £321.1m (latest financial figures).
ADAM NORRIS – PENSIONS DIRECT
Adam Norris recently ploughed £100m into start-up companies through Glastonbury-based Horatio Investments and now has a stake in Bristol-based Hargreaves Lansdown worth around £187m.
RYAN PASCO & JAMES TAYLOR- ANGELBERRY
Launched in December 2011, Ryan Pasco and James Taylor co-founded of AngelBerry, an international frozen yogurt franchise with more than 20 stores operating worldwide. Pasco and Taylor have now moved onto their second venture, www.makemyblinds.co.uk – a site which specialises in made to measure blinds, ranging from roller blinds through to wooden venetians.
JAMES PHIPPS – EXCALIBUR COMMS
Swindon-born Phipps never took to school but walking home one day he told a friend that he would one day own the building where his company is based and that he would be a millionaire. After a career in telecoms, Phipps acquired Excalibur and has turned the business into a telecoms powerhouse. Now a mentor, investor and philanthropist, Phipps recently became Chairman of the company.
JAMES PIPER – ECOSURETY
Ecosurety (originally Budget Pack) was established by Steve Clark in 2003 in response to the lack of flexibility, innovation and customer-focus in the compliance scheme market. Inspiration was taken from the mobile phone market, which continues to provide a diverse range of pick-and-mix options for the customer, and built the original business on a commitment to provide flexible, friendly and tailored support for all clients.
Ecosurety is now one of the UK’s fastest growing sustainable businesses and James has been instrumental in its rise.
STEVE PRESTON – HEAT RECRUITMENT
Ex-marine Steve Preston started his recruitment business in a log-cabin and in less than ten years turned it into a multi-million-pound business.
With health and wellbeing at the heart of the business, Steve has channelled his boundless energy to create a recruitment business that is going places, fast.
ALEX REILLY – LOUNGERS
Alex Reilly has always believed in working hard and getting to know every aspect of his business; it’s an approach that has paid dividends as he sold the Loungers group he co-founded in 2016 for £137m. A serial entrepreneur, he has come up with a winning formula for launching innovative food and drink businesses.
Sweden-born Rosengren led Falcon Group Plc from a small business to one that, under its holding company Sumus Plc, later merged with AIM-listed Lighthouse Group Plc to form the largest independently controlled IFA and wealth management group in the UK.
Also an active investor with a portfolio of business interests, Allan has bought and sold various companies.
DARREN RYEMILL – OPUS
Opus Recruitment Solutions was founded in 2008 and the company turnover has risen from £1.25m in 2008 to £100m. Darren has grown the company rapidly into the Opus Professional Services Group, offering a range of niche and specialist recruitment services.
ANDREW SCOTT – ASCOT GROUP
Belfast-born Andrew grew up amidst the conflict in Northern Ireland, surviving an IRA bomb before moving to London at 18.
He applied his survival street-smarts to business and successfully acquired, built and sold several companies before moving to the South West. Here he launched the Ascot Group, creating 70 jobs across the marketing, media and tech sectors.
GARY SHEPPARD – HELM CONSTRUCTION
Gary has bought and sold countless companies throughout a career that has spanned the retail, telecoms and most recently construction sectors. A shrewd operator, Gary’s latest business – Helm Construction – is set to achieve revenues of over £10m by the end of its calendar year and is fast becoming one of the most talked about firms in its sector.
BEN TRELEAVEN – ISO SPACES
Headquartered in Truro and founded in 2013, ISO Spaces began producing one-off bespoke creations for the likes of Jeep, JD Wetherspoon and the BBC. The company initially set out to raise £300,000 in return for 10% of the business from crowdfunding, but the target was exceeded within four weeks. Since then, the firm has achieved sales in excess of £1m.
MARTIN TEDHAM – WASDELL GROUP
With infectious charm and relentless energy, Martin has battled against the odds to become a giant of the pharmaceutical packaging industry. Having bought and sold various companies, Martin took over as MD of the Wasdell Group in 2010 and has taken it from near bankruptcy to a business set to hit £50m in turnover and employing over 800 staff.
Martin also has various other business interests spanning property, recruitment, horse racing and even tattooing.
SUE TUMELTY – HR DEPT
Sue is the founder of the HR Dept, which she set up in 2002. She quickly franchised the model and recently the business has become international, moving into Australia. Her daughter Gemma is now Managing Director of the business, having previously been an adviser to former Labour party leader Ed Miliband.
DALE VINCE – ECOTRICITY
Best known as the man who turned Forest Green Rovers into ‘that vegan football Club’, Dale is a prolific entrepreneur and green energy industrialist whose portfolio of companies includes Ecotricity. A former ‘new-age traveller’, he is the archetypal ‘entrepreneur in jeans’ and was awarded with an OBE for services to business in 2004.
CHRIS WATT – QUALASEPT PHARMAX
This company began in 2005 as Bath ASU and in 2010 the group launched a sister business Pharmaxo, which provides traditional pharmaceutical and hi-tech homecare services.
Both companies have gone from strength-to-strength with Qualasept posting a turnover of £76.2m in 2016, while Pharmaxo grew its turnover to £17.4m.
NIGEL WHITE – KEY SOLUTIONS MORTGAGES
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Worle outside Weston-super-Mare, Key Solutions Mortgages is on a mission to employ 200 staff and hit a turnover of £10m by 2020.
Nigel White is the founder and CEO and has overseen the company’s growth. One of the region’s best kept secrets Nigel has recently brought in Anna Pepler to Key Solutions as Managing Director.