North East entrepreneurs have been told that success comes only after taking chances, at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s Global Entrepreneurship Week conference in County Durham.
At ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’, more than 200 of the region’s leading business people gathered to hear from a group of highly-successful entrepreneurs about how to approach ‘make or break’ moments and how their social conscious has been a vital element of their business success.
The event was hosted by BBC Radio Newcastle’s Charlie Charlton, and included a discussion panel as well as a number of question and answer sessions with entrepreneurs who had not only successfully established businesses, but scaled-up their operations to enable them to diversify and also support community and social causes.
The conference was opened by chairman Nigel Mills, who said: “In the UK we are really good at start-ups, we are third in the world at them, but we are thirteenth in the world for scale-ups, which is not where we want to be.
“Scale-ups are absolute gold dust in the economy. Between 2013/15 the 30,000 top scale-up companies in the UK generated £900bn in turnover and created 3m jobs. So you can see how important they can be.
“Focusing on being brave and staying true to your beliefs can bring huge benefits to your company.”
Keynote speaker, Karen Lynch, CEO of Belu Water, told the audience that the defining moment in her career was when she decided to give up her job at one of the top car manufacturers in the world and start a social enterprise that would exemplify environmental standards in the bottled water industry.
Having previously pursued a corporate career, Karen became obsessed with waste and the desire to make a difference beyond satisfying shareholders in a traditional way. Exploring the third sector she joined and subsequently transformed Belu, which now provides the hotel and restaurant sector with ethical bottled water and filtration systems with profits going to WaterAid. So far, the business has donated £2.2million to the charity.
“Launching a social enterprise is a wonderful thing to do. It’s using your skills to do something amazing,” Karen told the audience.
Mike Welch, founder of online tyre distributer Blackcircles, discussed the defining moment in his career, where he sold his company, thus losing the emotional connection to it, meaning he could make more objective decisions with it.
Mike started his first tyre business in Liverpool when he was 17, which was later sold for to Kwik-Fit, which he joined before leaving to establish Blackcircles.com that was subsequently acquired by Michelin for $100m. He has since set up the Welch Trust in 2015 to support children and young people in need of critical care.
He said: “Starting the business with no money and exiting to the world’s largest tyre manufacturer in the way we did. As a single experience, it’s going to be hard to beat.”
Guests also heard the inspirational story of Nas Khan, managing director of Jennings Motor Group, who told the conference about his journey from Pakistan to Teesside, where he has led Jennings to become one of the UK’s biggest Ford dealerships, as well as diversifying into other areas.
He said: “I have always been driven. It may be because of my humble beginnings, but I have the drive to provide a safety net for my family and it is always about providing that security, which spreads across our businesses and our staff.”
Closing the conference was another inspiring tale of entrepreneurship achieved by overcoming adversity from the founder of Traveleyes, Amar Latif. Amar, who is also a TV presenter, lost his eye sight at 19 and, after training to become an accountant, set up his business to help blind and partially sighted people experience the world through guided holidays.
Amar said: “My refusal to accept negativity inspired me to overcome the challenges I faced. By being bold and being brave, anything is possible; that is true in both life and in business.”
Nigel Mills concluded: “This conference proved that entrepreneurs are armed with the tools to overcome challenges, but it also demonstrated they have a real social conscious and they use the success of their businesses to help others. It was a truly inspirational day, not only in terms of providing guests with entrepreneurial advice and expertise, but proof positive that if you do something well, something good can be done with it.”