10 years of Young Guns

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From innocent smoothies to virtual monsters, lingerie to prescription spectacles, our Young Guns awards have celebrated businesses of every description over the last 10 years. Our alumni have gone on to forge some of the UK’s most disruptive and recognisable brands, earning international acclaim and, in some cases, TV stardom in the process.

Here’s a quick look back at some of the entrepreneurs who have shot to fame and fortune since becoming a Young Gun�


Few of our alumni have been more commercially successful than Richard Reed, part of the inaugural cast of Young Guns back in 2003. Reed’s business, Innocent Drinks, has transformed the UK drinks market with its range of fruit-based smoothies. The company sold more than 25 million units last year, and its products have been purchased by around a quarter of UK households.

Meanwhile Richard’s Young Guns contemporary, Thea Green, is now firmly ensconced as Britain’s queen of nails. Her company, Nails Inc, is set to turn over £22m this year, and currently operates 58 separate nail bars across the UK and Ireland. Last year Green’s efforts were recognised with an MBE, and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.


Innocent’s success has made Reed an extremely wealthy man; in 2009 he and his fellow directors sold a small stake of their business to Coca-Cola in a deal worth around £30m. Twelve months later, the American soft drinks giant took a controlling stake in Innocent, paying an eye-watering £75m for the privilege.

Like Reed, former bodybuilder Zef Eisenberg has achieved huge financial success since appearing in Young Guns. Eisenberg, who made our list in 2007, sold a controlling stake in his game-changing sports nutrition business, Maximuscle, for £57m back in 2007. He remained a minority shareholder, and was still on board when Darwin sold to GlaxoSmithKline for £162m in 2010.

Several other alumni have secured significant external investment, while keeping control of their business. For example, Jamie Murray Wells, founder of Glasses Direct and a Young Gun  in 2005, raised £13m in two separate fundraising rounds; similarly Sam Barnett, a member of our 2010 awards roster, has just completed an $8.5m (£5.3m) funding round for his online advertising platform, Struq.


While several of our alumni have made their fortune, others have found fame through their business success. Tony Caldeira, who was named a Young Gun in 2004 in recognition of the success of his eponymous home textile business, ran for the Liverpool mayoralty earlier this month, and several other former Young Guns have burst into the public’s consciousness on the small screen.

For example Matthew Riley, head of Daisy Communications (a Young Gun in 2007), and Eric Partaker, the co-founder of Mexican food chain Chilango (2010) both provided expert analysis on last year’s series of The Apprentice, expounding the secrets of their business success while grilling the hapless contestants. This year Azhar Siddique, a Young Gun in 2009, was among the candidates hoping to impress Lord Sugar.

Although Siddique was booted off the show a couple of weeks ago, his business, UK Equipment Direct, is still going strong..


Not every Young Guns story has had a happy ending, however. Some of our alumni, such as Toby Ash, founder of furniture chain New Heights, and Pepita Diamond, creator of online wedding-list service Wrapit, have suffered the agony of bankruptcy. One former Young Gun, Nasa Khan, was even sentenced to nine years prison after being found guilty of VAT fraud last December.

However, the successes among our alumni far outweigh the disappointments. And some of our entrepreneurs have changed the entire complexion of their industry with their dynamic, disruptive propositions.

Game changers

Few, if any, of our old boys and girls have proved as dynamic, or disruptive, as Michael Acton Smith, the entrepreneur behind social gaming phenomenon Moshi Monsters.

Smith was named a Young Gun in 2003 in recognition of the success of his original company, Firebox. However he decided to launch a new business, Mind Candy, that same year; the company’s flagship game, based on a collection of cute collectible critters, is now played in 150 countries, has set new records in the Nintendo games charts, has inspired its own TV station and music label and has been tipped by some to be “Europe’s next billion-dollar break-out success”.

As Smith surveys the British business landscape from his lofty treehouse (yes, he’s actually got one in his Tech City office), disruptive start-ups are sprouting all over the country. The 2012 Young Guns list promises to be more keenly contested than ever; who knows, the next Mind Candy, Maximuscle or Nails Inc could announce themselves at this year’s awards�

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