With Britain’s great design heritage and integrity, we can produce incredible things, writes Kelly Hoppen

Being a Dragon gives me the opportunity to meet creative entrepreneurs from all over the country, and while not every contestant on the show has a viable idea, it’s their innovative traits that I think characterises British business and sets it apart from the rest of the world. Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to export my design services internationally, and it’s wonderful to see the Made in Britain moniker getting the attention it rightly deserves on the global stage.

It was heartening to see that, for the first three months of this year, UK manufacturing grew at its strongest pace since 2010. It certainly feels that the UK economy is starting to blossom and I think that the reputation and creativity of British firms is really helping to drive this recovery. British brands are valued worldwide and, over recent years, we’ve seen the success of firms like Burberry, Johnnie Walker and Aston Martin in emerging markets like China, Russia and India.

I take great pride in seeing the achievements of smaller UK brands and watching how they fly the Made in Britain flag. Last year, through my role as a Prince’s Trust Ambassador, I was lucky enough to attend the opening of The Prince’s Trust Tomorrow’s Store, which is sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS). The shop is stocked by young entrepreneurs who have set up in business with support from the Trust’s Enterprise programme. Based in Eldon Street in London, it’s a great example of the young entrepreneurial talent that is helping to revitalise the UK economy and get unemployed young people back to work.

Take Marc Gaylor, 26, from Essex, who recently stocked his product in the shop. He had always had a passion for mechanics and wanted to start his own business. After stumbling across an image online of a table made from an old engine, he had the idea to create a range of furniture and accessories, but had no idea how to get started. Thanks to support from the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme he received funding to buy stock and produced a range of different furniture variations made from engines. Marc now welds, spray-paints and powder coats each of his pieces of furniture for the office or home. His business – Fuel Finesse – is growing steadily through word of mouth and recommendations and his eBay store. He is exporting worldwide and has recently sold stock to customers in Australia, Singapore and Italy.

Another one of my favourite companies championing Brand Britain is Brompton and its famous folding bicycle. Britain has an incredible engineering heritage and Brompton, for me, highlights the ingenuity and passion that drives British business. Brompton Bicycles are the kind of product you’d absolutely dream of getting on Dragons’ Den. Andrew Ritchie came up with his folding bike in the 1970s but his company’s rapid growth over the past decade is in part down to engineer Will Butler-Adams, whose big-firm experience and vision helped drastically expand the firm’s production. It went from making 6,000 bikes a year with a workforce of 24 in 2002 to selling 40,000 bikes a year and providing jobs for 190 people in 2012, and the Brompton is in huge demand, both at home and abroad. Again, I’m very proud of Brompton’s approach in making all of its bicycles in Britain. As well as using its own sites for bicycle production, Brompton has outsourced part of the task to other UK manufacturers, helping to keep skills and jobs within Britain. By making its bicycles in the UK, it’s easier for Brompton to preserve its designs and manufacturing techniques. Being able to control the quality of your product is so important, and the high manufacturing standards within the UK are another reason that I think Made in Britain
carries such weight.

For those who have seen the programme you may have noticed that one of the first questions I ask on Dragons’ Den is “where is the product manufactured?” This is because I want to support British manufacturing, and I know with our great design heritage and integrity that we can produce incredible things. This is was one of the reasons I invested in Reviveaphone – not only was I completely taken by entrepreneur Oliver Murphy, who is only 20 years old, and his innovative idea of fixing water-damaged phones, but I was so happy to hear his products are made in the UK – a great example of a young British entrepreneur pushing the boundaries. In January of this year I launched my online store, and I have made it a commitment to use British-made materials wherever possible. It feels great to be able to support British manufacturers and know that I am getting materials which are brilliant quality.

People ask me what’s behind the UK recovery. Is it government policies? Is it innovation? Technology? I’m sure we all have different opinions on this. Recent government initiatives to help the UK recovery have seen extra grants for apprenticeships and an increase to the annual investment allowance for firms. This makes it easier for firms to employ young people and spend money on new technology and machinery.

Of course, access to money is one of the key requirements for smaller, developing businesses. The government has permanently put in place the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme as a way to achieve this. Simply put, people investing their money in smaller UK businesses face less risk as the money that they invest receives tax relief.

Although this helps to encourage investment in smaller UK firms, it does rely on people being willing to risk their own money to fund new start-ups. In an ideal world, it would be easier for smaller firms to borrow money from banks to fund their enterprises. In reality, banks aren’t lending as much money to small firms. Smaller firms tend to be riskier, and banks have less appetite for risk these days.

As an entrepreneur, I’d like to think that the UK recovery is being led by smaller firms. Every day I see examples of innovation and self-belief in the people I encounter. We’re bombarded right now with bright, budding entrepreneurs who believe that “British is best” – and I’d love these new businesses to drive Britain forward.




Get our latest features in your inbox

Join our community of business leaders