The Telegraph has covered more than 1,000 different entrepreneurs this year. Here is our pick of the crop across technology, finance, retail and manufacturing, plus the nation’s most innovative young entrepreneurs
The UK is consistently ranked among the best places in the world to start a business. From Sir Richard Branson to Sir James Dyson, some of the world’s leading billionaires were born and raised on British shores.
The Queen’s Speech this summer, which set out the government’s agenda for the year, pledged to “make the United Kingdom the best place to start, finance and grow a business”.
Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said that the “only strategy” for UK economic growth is to support Britain’s entrepreneurs.
Small firms account for 99.3pc of all private sector businesses in Britain, and 15.2m people are employed by small and medium sized businesses in the UK.
In the past year we’ve spoken to around 1,000 “disruptive” British entrepreneurs – people that are shaking up the way things are currently done. They are creating jobs, solving problems and finding customers worldwide.
Here are just some of the exceptional business owners that made waves in 2014.
THE TECHNOLOGY HEROES
Stuart Sawyer, D30
D30 is a bright orange putty that is soft when handled gently but stiffens immediately when hit.
Boss Stuart Sawyer has created a market for this patented gel in products ranging from snowboarding clothing to “military grade” smartphone cases and trainers.
Elizabeth Gooch, eg solutions
Software boss Elizabeth Gooch single-handedly built a global empire before being ousted from her own company.
Sales tumbled in her absence, but now she’s back and the company is flourishing.
Alex Abrey and Sean Smith, Eden Research
The brains behind Eden Research have developed a new kind of technology that allows farmers to use natural products such as lemon juice and tea tree oil to protect crops from harmful bugs.
This clever process doesn’t harm bees, and moved the global farming industry further away from harmful pesticides.
The small company is making agriculture more sustainable – and its innovation could have interesting new applications: such as perfume that keeps its scent all day, not just a few hours.
Ian Forshew and Tom Hatton, RefME
RefME is an online tool that allows students to create references and footnotes for essays and dissertations in a matter of seconds.
Since launching in October, the company has added between 5,000 and 30,000 users a day, mainly through word of mouth.
THE CHAMPIONS FROM RETAIL
Louise Ferguson and Kate Cotton, Skinny Tan
Skinny Tan, the fake tanning brand that was backed by Dragons’ Den investors Piers Linney and Kelly Hoppen in last year’s series, has become a retail sensation, generating £1m in sales.
We caught up with founders Louise Ferguson and Kate Cotton earlier this year to find out the secret to their success .
Richard Bye, Fat Lad At The Back
This cycling wear brand for the larger man was rejected out of hand on Dragons’ Den earlier this year.
However, Fat Lad At The Back founder Richard Bye has gone on to prove the Dragons wrong, winning nationwide distribution deals for his high-quality gear.
Ning Li, Made
Online retailer Made.com has changed the way we buy designer furniture by cutting out the middleman.
Co-founder Ning Li spoke exclusively to The Telegraph about creating a culture of “furniture porn” – and also shared the mistakes he made along the way.
Eric Partaker and Dan Houghton, Chilango
Ex-Skype executives Eric Partaker and Dan Houghton (pictured below left and centre) are the founders of Chilango, a fast-growing chain of Mexican restuarants.
Not content with shaking up the nation’s tastebuds, the duo are also financial innovators, launching a “burrito bond” on crowdfunding site Crowdcube (that’s founder Luke Lang on the right of the picture) earlier this year – the first bond of its kind on the site.
Chris Robshaw, Black, White and Red
Harlequins flanker and captain of the England rugby team Chris Robshaw is now the proud owner of a coffee and wine shop in Winchester.
Unlike many sportsmen with sideline careers, Robshaw has thrown more than just money at his new venture, training as a barista.
DISRUPTIVE MAKERS AND TALENTED ENGINEERS
Rob Law, Trunki
The designer behind Trunki, the children’s ride-on suitcase, has created a new market with his invention.
However, this year has been tough for Law, who is fighting off competition from Chinese rivals.
Tom Newman, Celt Experience
This brewer-meets-microbiologist has built his Welsh craft beer business into a global brand, which is on target to sell 1m bottles next year.
His creations are often weird and wonderful, featuring unusual ingredients – a tonne of strawberries and raspberries went into a recent brew.
He’s won the respect of ale-drinking beardies and young hipsters alike with his brewery, Celt Experience, and courted controversy with a spot of breaking and entering to harvest “holy yeast” from Tintern Abbey.
Roger W Smith, RW Smith
Britain’s most exclusive watch maker sells his handmade timepieces for up to £250,000 and has a four-year waiting list.
Mr Smith, based in the Isle of Man, mastered 32 trades to design and build every component of a watch from start to finish – and he’s one of only a handful of people in the world with this skill.
Will Crawford and Peter Brewin, Concrete Canvas
These engineers have developed an innovative concrete material that can be transported in a roll and hardens when you add water.
The invention slashes construction times tenfold, and allows entire buildings to be transported in a bag.
Ian Tansley, Sure Chill
This engineer (below, left) has developed a new fridge that remains cold for up to 12 days without power.
Not only can vaccines be safely transported to off-the-grid rural areas in developing nations, where diseases such as polio claim hundreds of lives each year, the massive energy savings will benefit people and the planet.
Adam Place and Diego Alcala-Gaona, NuDesine
The co-founders of Bristol-based company NuDesine have developed an electronic musical instrument called the Alphasphere.
Shaped like a football, the Alphasphere is comprised of 48 tactile pads that respond to touch, velocity and pressure. Place developed the instrument two years ago after getting bored with conventional keyboards.
Nick Hounsfield, The Wave
Surf enthusiast Nick Hounsfield is the man behind The Wave, a giant artificial surfing lake that will be built in Bristol next year .
Mr Hounsfield raised £220,000 in a crowdfunding campaign – well over his £150,000 target – and has also received grants and cash from private backers to collect the £6.8m needed to build the lagoon.
Steven Greenall and Hugh Rashleigh, Warwick Music
Two brass musicians have developed a ground-breaking new plastic trumpet that retails for just £100 but has the sound quality of a high-end instrument.
The invention is set to breathe new life into trumpet popularity, as schools invest in the cut-price version for students.
Catharina Paukner, Cambridge Nanosystems
This young scientist is building a supersized graphene factory in Cambridge that can turn methane from landfill – or even cows – into modern day black gold.
A visionary entrepreneur, she sees a future where liquid graphene can be used to literally paint radiators onto the walls or floors of your home.
Jason Powell,Longbow Shop
Founded by former graphic designer Jason Powell in 2011, the Longbow Shop sells traditional English longbows, the 6ft medieval bows famously used in the battles of Agincourt, Crecy and Poitiers.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Hunger Games character, Katniss Everdeen, has helped encourage young people to take up the sport.
INNOVATORS IN FINANCE AND BANKING
Giles Andrews, Zopa
Zopa matches borrowers with savers, generating returns of up to 5.2pc on its rainy day fundsand providingunsecured personal loans of up to £15,000.
Sean Oldfield, Castle Trust
Castle Trust is an equity loans provider combined with an investment product linked to the national housing index.
This allows those with money to invest to get a return based on house prices, while those who need finance could unlock the value of their homes with minimal risk.
THE YOUNG GUNS OF 2014
At just 23, James Roberts, designed a simple, low-cost inflatable incubator to help reduce mortality rates in premature babies across the developing world.
His invention won acclaim from engineer emeritus, James Dyson, and he is hoping to get his product onto the market in 2015 to start saving lives.
Josh Valman, RPD International
19-year-old Josh Valman has built a global hi-tech manufacturing company, which was valued at more than £1m after just six months.
He built his first robot at 13, and now runs RPD International, which allows companies of all sizes to pay a fixed retainer to access a flexible supply chain, comprising designers, engineers and distributors.
“We can help any company to make any product,” he says. This is Josh’s story .
Solveiga Pakstaite, Bump Mark
22-year-old Solveiga Pakstaite from Brunel University has solved the problem of inaccurate sell-by, best-before, and use-before dates by inventing the Bump Mark, which reacts to the freshness of packaged foods.
When the product is no longer good to eat, bumps can be left on her clever food label.
It could save the UK billions in wasted food each year.
Toby and Oliver Bartlett, Alan Bartlett and Sons
These 23-year-old twin brothers have developed the world’s first bushy top purple carrots at their family farm in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.
They are the fourth generation of the Bartlett family to work on the farm, which also grows parsnips, and are hoping to keep the farming tradition alive by innovating new and interesting varieties.
Nathan Winch, Winch Pharma
This 23-year-old a biology graduate landed million-pound deal to sell his range of alcohol-free hand sanitizers to the NHS.
Not only can these sanitizers be used by patients of all faiths, they are also helping to discourage alcoholics from visiting hospitals to drink the alcoholic varieties.
Oliver Murphy, Reviveaphone
20-year-old inventor turned entrepreneur Oliver Murphy has devised an ingenious system for bringing phones that have been damaged by liquids back to life.
Within weeks of launch in July this year, he was selling 200 a month through his Reviveaphone website.