Speculation over what a hard Brexit might mean for the UK is inevitably going to cause a period of economic uncertainty for British businesses, but Dragons’ Den star Nick Jenkins, pictured above, is confident that “the future is bright for British business”. Speaking in his role as judge for The Startups Awards, Jenkins scrutinised the shortlist of 52 of the UK’s most promising new businesses and was confident that they will continue to adapt and flourish through the challenges of Brexit.
But what about the entrepreneurs behind these hot new start-ups? How do they anticipate Brexit affecting their businesses, and how are they adapting in preparation?
The period of uncertainty:
There is an overwhelming consensus among Startups Awards finalists that their size can actually make them more adaptable to successfully navigate the challenges of Brexit.
“We know that we may need to make changes once the government concludes Brexit negotiations, but that’s over two years away, which is a long time in the life of a startup, and far too long for us to put our plans on ice while we wait and see what happens” says Aron Gelbard, CEO and Co-founder of Bloom & Wild, shortlisted in three categories, Product, Venture-Funded and Retail Business of the Year.
Brexit also should not deter budding entrepreneurs, argues founder of digital agency Climb Online and 2014 winner of The Apprentice, Mark Wright: “If you’re thinking about starting a business, stop thinking and just do it! Yes, Brexit will bring new challenges, but if you want your business to work, you will find a way of achieving success.”
The importance of acting quickly and decisively is a view shared by James Davidson, co-founder and CEO of Tails.com: “In times of change and uncertainty, small dynamic companies are often the ones who can thrive. At tails.com, we’ll make sure we are set up to make the most of Brexit by planning well, taking calculated risks and acting quickly. One of our values is ‘nimble’ and I’m sure Brexit will test this.”
“We are proud of our European roots” says Jas Bagniewski, CEO of finalist in three Startups Awards categories, eve Sleep, “What we must do now as a business is, in the nature of any start-up, to prepare and adapt to the changing economic environment.”
Freedom of movement:
Perhaps the biggest concern among the start-ups is how Brexit might affect access to talent.
Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominee, and founder of Cornerstone, Oliver Bridge explains: “Of our team of 20, eight are not UK citizens. If we’re not able to pick the best people to come and work for us, we won’t be as successful – it’s quite simple!”
Jamie Keeble, co-founder of Heck Food, shortlisted for both Product and Venture-Funded Business of the Year awards, also supports this view: “We are one big European family and some of our team have been with us since the beginning. While we’re encouraging young people to join the business and trained up, it’s important we maintain the current knowledge in the business. We don’t know yet how it will affect our labour, and hope we can still get the best people out there to make our food.”
While the weakening pound presents challenges for many, it is also providing opportunities that nimble start-ups are capitalising on.
“The weakening of the pound has fast-tracked some of our plans. Our products are now much more competitive in the euro zone so we’re pushing on export to Norway, Holland and UAE in order to get a natural hedge over the currency. Whilst the UK will continue to be the primary market, pushing forwards on some of the export markets will be a great opportunity to start establishing our presence overseas,” says Pip Murray, Founder of Pip & Nut who is shortlisted as Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Product Business of the Year and the Women in Business categories.
Oppo Ice Cream, shortlisted in the Crowdfunded and Innovative Business of the Year awards, are another start-up using their size to their advantage, as co-founder Charlie Thuillier explains: “Our attitude has always been that any challenge can and must be turned into an opportunity. We source ingredients from across the globe. This obviously exposes us to fluctuating exchange rates: as the pound falls our costs increase. Hedging when you’re small is not a luxury we have, but it does mean we can adapt quickly.”
The nature of the trade agreements reached, not only with the EU, but also other trading partners, is likely to have a significant impact.
“70% of UK gin is exported, so the impact of EU trade agreements will be critical” says Will Holt, Director of Pinkster Gin, shortlisted in the Crowdfunded Business of the Year category. “We’re bullish as initial export territories for Pinkster include Australia, Hong Kong and the USA. This truly international perspective bypasses any Brexit bother, allowing us to build our brand on a global scale. We’ll drink to that.”
The winners of The Startups Awards, sponsored by Sage, will be announced at the ceremony at The Royal Garden Hotel onNovember 17. For more information on the awards, a full list of the finalists or to vote for the People’s Champion business, go to www.startupsawards.co.uk