Innovative play boxes invented by a Newcastle firm have triumphed as the best start-up firm in Britain.
The Weekend Box was created as a way to educate, stimulate and occupy young children aged four to six, and they can be delivered straight to homes once a fortnight, packed with four activities.
Now Andrew Stephenson, the brains behind the boxes, has been hailed by Business Minister Matthew Hancock and ex-Dragon James Caan, chairman of the Government-backed Start Up Loans Company, for his creative company.
Mr Stephenson set up the Weekend Box business with the help of a £7,500 Start-up Loan, funds that have helped create 20,000 businesses in the two years since the programme was created within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, led by Business Secretary Vince Cable.
Thirty-five regional winners, from food companies to wildlife gardens, were announced at a ceremony at City Hall in London, but it was Mr Stephenson’s business which beat strong competition from 550 entrants to be named Start-Up of the Year.
He said: ‘Our success is testimony to the hard work the whole team have put in.
“I’ve been really lucky in finding and surrounding myself with people that feel really passionate about what we are trying to do to improve education for nursery and primary school children and hopefully this is the first of many Awards to come.
“I am really grateful for all the help I have had from my team and outside help from The Start Up Loans Company, PNE and everyone else that has helped us along the journey.”
Once delivered, families will find four activities inside each Weekend Box. Each contains guidance and materials around something to make, something to eat, something green and something creative.
The business took on a Start-Up Loan to help fund growth after three months of trading. As a result, it grew to send 1,000 boxes in six months and then 10,000 boxes in 12 months.
Fifteen months later the business has gone from strength to strength, now employing a team of eight and aiming to expand further, with ambitious plans to deliver more than 50,000 boxes in the next six months.
Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock said: “I am thoroughly impressed by the energy and entrepreneurial zeal of Andrew Stephenson.
“He is a fine example of the thousands of hard-working people who have benefitted from Start Up Loans, and the values of hard work and reward for effort that they support.”
James Caan said: “It’s wonderful to be able to meet and congratulate so many of our successful businesses. I’m delighted for all of them and immensely proud of the work we have done at the Start-Up Loans Company.
“Awards like this should be a permanent fixture in the calendar as they give us the chance to recognise the risk takers and entrepreneurs who are so vital to this country’s economic well being.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable added: ‘The Start Up Loans Company have enabled thousands of entrepreneurs to get their businesses up and running.
“The winners illustrate the creativity and innovation that is at the heart of great British business. I congratulate them and hope they will inspire other businesses to work with us through the Start Up Loans programme.”