ENTREPRENEURS who suffer setbacks can come back fighting to lead their businesses to bigger and better things, a North-East conference was told.
The Entrepreneurs Forum’s third annual SME conference, this year entitled Above and Beyond brought the young leaders of some of the UK’s most exciting businesses to the region. They came with the inspiring message that determination and vision bring success and that even setbacks should be grasped for the lessons that can be learned.
As one of the original panellists on TV’s Dragon’s Den, Rachel Elnaugh’s fame came on the back of her success both in building a business and also in its dramatic crash.
After 18 lonely, soul-destroying months and spending her £50,000 savings getting the business off the ground – a time she calls The Pit – her idea to sell experiences, including £20m trips into Space, eventually turned Red Letter Days into a company that turned over a total of £100m.
Believing her success was a fluke, her mistake was to listen to management consultants and agree to appoint a CEO, which only 15 months later resulted in the company suffering a £4.7m loss. “You are at your most vulnerable when everything is going well. You think you’ve got the Midas touch and become too ambitious,” she warned. “It goes to show how quickly things can go wrong when you take your eye off the ball.”
Unable to access millions held in the bank and facing £2m in bank charges, the company went into insolvency, only to be scooped up the next day by Rachel’s fellow Dragons Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis.
Rachel, a mother of five boys, now runs a business from home which includes developing an entrepreneurship profiling test and inspiring and motivating young entrepreneurs.
Michelle Mone, whose bra company MJM International has become the biggest designer lingerie brand in the UK, found her entrepreneurial skill at an early age in the east end of Glasgow when her parents were unable to work and she was forced to earn a living as a teenager.
Her breakthrough came after an uncomfortable night at a dinner dance in Glasgow saw her sitting at her kitchen table until dawn puzzling over what was wrong with her famous brand name underwear.
Her idea to create a cleavage-enhancing yet comfortable bra combined with bold marketing soon saw Ultimo, her gel-filled bra invention, launched in Selfridges.
Soon it was being worn by Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock and brought requests for stock from luxury New York store Saks Fifth Avenue and eventually a World Entrepreneur of the Year title and a place on the Prince’s Trust Council for Michelle.
Michelle almost lost the business, however, after an American distributor “ran away” with money and stock.
She went on to support the Sultan of Oman in setting up women’s enterprise in the kingdom and speaking to 2,000 people with former presidents Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbechev.
“I want us to be the Victoria’s Secret of the UK, then we want to go global,” said Michelle. “I’m not going to stop until we get there. That’s my dream and I’m so focused on it.”
Mark Joynson, regional managing director of event sponsor TSG, said: “Small and medium-sized businesses are the core of TSG’s IT service strategy. We were very enthusiastic about supporting the SME Conference and we are proud, as a regional business, to be associated with the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and its vision to support business growth in the North-East.”