Top Business Startups

Some of Britain’s most successful brands started from next to nothing, illustrating that with ingenuity, determination and resourcefulness, great businesses can be created in the garden shed or in the back of a van.

Perhaps five of the most well-known business’ to start this way are:

Amstrad – Sir Alan Sugar

Alan Sugar started building his business empire in the back of a van he bought for £50, along with £40 worth of car aerials which he began selling. That was the start of Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading Company).

In 1968 Amstrad began manufacturing, initially low-priced hi-fi turntable covers, and subsequently home computers. In 1980, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange, and after diversifying into the telecoms market, in 2007 the business was sold to Sky for £125m.


Hargreaves Lansdown – Peter Hargreaves

One of the UK’s most successful investment firms, Hargreaves Lansdown emerged from the humblest of beginnings; the spare bedroom of Bristol-based co-founder Peter Hargreaves. With just £500 initial capital and a single phone, he and his friend and business partner Stephen Lansdown began their start-up which went on to become a business giant.  In 2007, the company was floated on the London stock market, valued at £800m. In the year to the end of June 2015 profits before tax exceeded £199m.


Virgin Group – Sir Richard Branson

The entrepreneur behind one of the world’s most iconic brands started his business career in a church crypt.  At the age of 15, he published a student magazine, borrowing £300 from his mother to launch it, and running operations from a local church that a vicar let him use.  Richard Branson started his business career in a church crypt. “To get it started, all it took was a few pennies to call advertisers and contributors from the school phone box, a lot of determination, and a bit of luck,” he wrote in a blog marking the 45th anniversary of the first issue in 2013. Today his Virgin Group holds more than 200 companies, including Virgin Trains and Virgin Atlantic.


Carphone Warehouse – Charles Dunstone

Charles Dunstone founded Carphone Warehouse in 1989 when most mobile phones were still the size of house bricks. Investing £6,000 of his savings, Dunstone launched a business selling mobile phones from his flat. “I was just trying to make a living. I certainly didn’t realise that mobile phones were going to become a mass-consumer product. I was lucky; I caught the wave,” he said in an interview.

Today Carphone Warehouse is Europe’s largest independent mobile phone retailer. In July 2000 the company floated on the London Stock Exchange and was valued at approximately £1.7bn.


Dyson – James Dyson

The garden shed is usually a place to escape to and hide among garden tools and the odd tin of paint, but for British inventor James Dyson it was the workshop where, in the early 1980s, he set out to turn his vision of a bagless vacuum cleaner into reality. Five years and 5,127 prototypes later, the world’s first cyclonic bagless vacuum cleaner arrived.  Dyson then spent two more years scouring the UK and Europe for someone to license the product, before taking it to Japan. Income from the Japanese licence eventually enabled him to manufacture a new model under his own name in the UK. Dyson is still privately owned.

Top eight female founders behind incredibly disruptive businesses, each of which is reworking a traditional high street haunt into a slick, convenient and innovative digital service.

Emma Montague: Tipsity

Riya Grover and Lyz Swanton: Feedr

Lana Elie: Floom

Francesca Hodgson: GoodBox

Debbie Williamson: Swoon Editions

Alexandra Isenegger: Linkilaw

Alice Revel: Reading In Heels

Gemma Young: Settled

And lastly, the one that got away.

Trunki – Rob Law

“No-one in their right mind would think that business was worth £1m” – was the comment made by Theo Paphitis following Trunki’s exit from Dragons Den in 2006; an appearance which had seen founder Rob Law fail to win investment from the Dragons.  Eight years later, Paphitis’ remark couldn’t have been further from the truth. Widely known to be one of the Den’s most successful ‘rejects’, Law’s sit-on, ride-along children’s suitcases have become a familiar sight at airports all over the world, secured £4m backing from the government-backed Business Growth Fund in 2013, and has totted up product sales of over two million and counting.  And that’s not all. Since appearing on the show, Trunki has won over 100 design awards, Law has been granted an MBE, and the Trunki product range has been extended to include BoostAPak; a children’s booster seat that doubles as a backpack, and SnooziHedz; a three-in-one travel pal, pillow and blanket. Law’s business has also become a ‘Made in Britain’ success story with its own factory in Devon which manufactures the suitcases and recycles them, supported by a team of over 60 staff.