Essence of the Entrepreneur winners previewed

An exclusive look at Rankin’s portraits of the winners of this year’s BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur competition

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An exclusive look at Rankin’s portraits of two of the winners of this year’s BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur competition.

The BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur competition has once again identified 20 successful entrepreneurs who are building successful and fast-growth small businesses with the help of technology.

A panel of judges headed by Dragon Peter Jones sifted through hundreds of entries to choose this year’s list of winners.

Jones said: “The BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur winners are bucking a trend, creating stand-out businesses, harnessing the developments of technology and thriving. I was massively impressed with the standard of entries, and the diversity of the entrepreneurs, and I congratulate the winners for being selected.”

All of the winners had the spirit of their business captured by renowned portrait and fashion photographer Rankin, who made his name photographing celebrities including Kate Moss, David Beckham and Naomi Campbell.

The judges also identified an overall winner, Robert Matthams, founder of innovative online delivery service, as the outstanding entrepreneur of the year.

Matthams will receive a £10,000 grant from BT Business to help him further fuel the growth of, which helps customers find cheap courier services by matching them up with under-booked delivery companies already making similar trips across the UK & Europe.

Additional recognition was given to four entrepreneurs in the following categories:

  • Best female entrepreneur – Sara Murray – Buddi

Murray set up Buddi, which manufactures the world’s smallest assisted GPS personal trackers with emergency support, after losing her daughter in a supermarket, and it is now a hugely successful company

  • Best male entrepreneur – Mitesh Soma – Chemist Direct

See below

  • Young entrepreneur – Daniel Ox – Fruit For the Office

Ox transformed his family’s traditional fruit and veg stall in Piccadilly Circus into a thriving online business, which is the first company in the UK to offer a specialised fruit and veg delivery service to the office

  • Most original business concept  – Bompass and Parr

Self-confessed ‘jelly mongers’ Sam Bompass and Harry Parr use CAD to create fine English jellies, design bespoke jelly moulds and curate spectacular culinary events


While a high profile exhibition of Rankin’s portraits of the entrepreneurs will be launched on January 27 with a private view party, Startups has been given an exclusive look at two of them.

The portraits will be displayed from January 28 at the gallery@oxo on London’s South Bank until February 28. Startups also has two pairs of tickets to give away to the private view launch party (full details below). For a full list of this year’s winners, visit, where you can also find out how to enter next year’s scheme.

WINNER: Mitesh Soma, chief executive, Chemist Direct

Founded at the end of 2007, Mitesh Soma’s online pharmacy has grown remarkably quickly, achieving £5m in its first full year and projecting between £10 and £15m for 2009. The already profitable Chemist Direct buys stock in bulk, sells nationally and offers discounted prices on 20,000 products that include everything from toothpaste to anti-malarials. Customers can also call to speak to registered pharmacists who check every order.

A fortuitous meeting with former Skype co-founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, now of VC fund Atomico, led to a £3m investment which Soma said has “allowed us to continue our hard work in growing the business in a number of areas, such as expanding the customer services”. The firm’s cut-price offering has helped it secure more than 300,000 regular customers.

With Chemist Direct now the market leading online pharmacy in the UK, Soma has also recently launched an offshoot that will sell office supplies and stationery online.

Soma was named male entrepreneur of the year in this year’s scheme. While he’s no stranger to winning awards, including online business of the year in last year’s Startups Awards, he said Essence of the Entrepreneur offers something unique.

“There are plenty of fantastic awards out there but what appealed to me about Essence was the unusual format, with a Rankin photoshoot replacing the traditional awards ceremony. This is a fun and different approach, which chimes well with the entrepreneurial spirit of the entrants,” he said.

“The exhibition should be good fun, if a little strange in terms of seeing our own faces staring back at us. I hope the photo the exposure will help raise the profile of Chemist Direct in one or two different arenas to the ones we’re normally used to.”

WINNER: Marcus Simmons, managing director, iknow-uk

When Marcus Simmons’ work as a consultant dried up at the start of the decade, he developed technology to power “high visibility websites” that performed well in search engines. “You couldn’t sell them eight years ago,” he said.  “I thought it was important, so I built one myself.”

Founded in 2003, iknow-uk’s regionally branded directory websites allow hotels and B&Bs to gain huge search audiences and sell individual entries at a low cost. The company has doubled its turnover in the last 12 months to £1.5m and will be launching a new regional site every other month in 2010. Its sites get an average of 250,000 unique visitors a week.

Simmons said: “Being named as a finalist in the BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur awards has certainly been a highlight of 2009 and is testament to the hard work of our entire team.

“We’re still a young company. Winning an award gives customers confidence in the company, and crucially, helps us recruit excellent people. The best people can have doubts about joining smaller companies and we find this really helpful.

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