Chris Hulatt and Simon Rogerson, Co-Founders of London-based Octopus Group, were named ‘EY Entrepreneur Of The Year UK 2017 overall winner’ at an awards ceremony in London last night.
Whilst still on a graduate training programme 17 years ago, Chris and Simon (aged 23 and 25 respectively) set up Octopus in 2000 with, in their words, “no money and no experience.” They describe how almost everyone believed they would fail, but their passion and “terminator gene” saw them through. They raised funds for the company when they had no products, no customers and no office.
In the last few years Octopus has entered a number of new industries – most notably energy and healthcare. It has become the UK’s fastest growing and highest rated energy supplier, now with more than 100,000 customers. The company has invested more than £1bn in building, and in some cases operating, care homes, GP surgeries, retirement villages, hospitals and special needs schools throughout the UK.
The judging panel also awarded the Octopus co-founders Master Entrepreneur of The Year, acknowledging their accomplishments over the last 17 years. The panel of prominent business figures, described Octopus as a “role model business of our time.”
Joanna Santinon, UK Entrepreneur Of The Year Programme Leader, said:
“In true entrepreneurial style, Chris and Simon started Octopus from scratch and have scaled it to a business of significant size.
“Right from the outset their main driver was to do things better and breathe new life into industries, which serve some of society’s most important needs. They have built highly disruptive, customer obsessed businesses with real purpose at their core.
“It’s the type of business we are increasingly seeing come through our programme year-on-year. Fast-growth companies that are led with a desire to make a difference in the world and to people’s lives, which aligns with EY’s own purpose – Building a Better Working World. It demonstrates the importance, and also the power of the global entrepreneurial community in making change happen.”
Simon Rogerson, CEO and co-founder of Octopus Group, commented:
“Putting our customers at the heart of everything we do has been the driving force behind Octopus since we founded it 17 years ago. We set up Octopus because we wanted to make a real difference to people’s lives in industries that affect their everyday life – whether its financial services, healthcare or energy and protecting our planet . We have never waivered from that mission. We want to be a brand people feel so strongly about that they will recommend us to friends and family. To us that is the ultimate success and how to realise our ambition of being in every home in the UK.”
Chris Hulatt, co-founder of Octopus Group, said:
“We have worked hard to build Octopus and are extremely proud of the impact we are having on the industries we have entered. We now have more than 550 people working tirelessly to help us create better outcomes for our customers and change the way energy, healthcare and financial services are provided in the UK. Our values remain the same as they did on the day we started. We are honoured to receive this award, not just for us as founders but in acknowledgement of the talent and hard work of all our employees over the years that have enabled us to grow the business so quickly and make a difference to more and more customers.”
In total eleven entrepreneurs from eight companies were selected by an independent judging panel – chaired by Penny Hughes CBE, Non-executive Director of Wm Morrison Supermarket, RBS and Vodaphone – each winning an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year UK award in the following categories:
Building a Better Working World – Co-Founders Christopher Baker-Brian, Mansoor Hamayun, and Laurent Van Houcke of BBOXX Limited, based in London – BBOXX is a venture backed company developing solutions to provide affordable, clean energy to off-grid communities in the developing world. Through their work over a quarter of a million people now have access to clean and reliable energy.
In Rwanda and Kenya, BBOXX runs distributed energy service companies (DESCOs), employing 400 staff. These businesses are models of how companies can successfully sell solar home systems to off-grid households, spreading the cost of the system out so far that it becomes similar to a utility provider in the developed world.
Disruptor – Dr Gordon Sanghera, CEO, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, based in Oxford – One of Europe’s only biotech unicorns, the company has developed the world’s first and only nanopore DNA sequencer, designed to bring easy biological analyses to anyone. Science Magazine voted their technology the second most important discovery in the world last year.
The judges recognised Dr Gordon for what they described as ‘phenomenal scientific achievement’.
Disruptor – Debbie Bestwick MBE, CEO & Founder, Team17 Digital, based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire – Founded in 1990, Team17 Digital Limited is an award-winning international games label that hosts the Worms franchise, Yooka-Laylee, The Escapists, and others. Debbie is disrupting traditional publishing, helping independent developers to set themselves up as sustainable businesses and bringing through the next generation of games creators.
The judges were impressed by Debbie’s leadership turning Team17 into a successful and sustainable business model, with significant growth over the last three years and international expansion. The panel also applauded Debbie for the passion and drive she demonstrates for her industry and supporting young people within it, in particular women in the gaming industry.
International – Adrian Binks, Chairman & Chief Executive of Argus Media Ltd, based in London – Argus is a leading provider of price data, news, analysis, conferences and consulting services to the energy and commodities sectors. Companies around the world use Argus data to index physical trade and as benchmarks in financial derivative markets as well as for analysis and planning purposes. Since Adrian joined the company in 1984, Argus has doubled its size every three years.
Master – Co-Founders Chris Hulatt and Simon Rogerson of Octopus Group, based in London – Building highly disruptive, customer obsessed businesses in the financial services, energy and healthcare sectors for over seventeen years. The duo started Octopus with the vision of helping people, which is their main driver when choosing a sector to enter, such as healthcare and energy.
Their energy business now has more than 100,000 customers making them one of the UK’s fastest growing energy companies. Their healthcare business has now moved into education assembling special needs schools, looking after hundreds of children with disabilities ranging from Asperger’s Syndrome and autism, through to profound disabilities.
Rising Star – Josh Rathour, CEO and Founder of UNiDAYS, based in Nottingham – UNiDAYS is the world’s leading Student Affinity Network, connecting a verified student audience with relevant brands and services all over the world. Joining the UNiDAYS network gives students exclusive discounts from some of the best known retailers. The company is already one of the fastest growing companies in the UK with more than 8.5m student users and over 2m app users across 32 countries. The judging panel commended Josh for creating a business that is truly putting back into the community.
Scale Up – John Turner, CEO, Regulatory Finance Solutions Limited, based in Swindon – An independently owned regulatory management consultancy, John started RFS working from a spare bedroom of his home. Under John’s leadership RFS has achieved continuous growth over the 12 year period. The judges commended his entrepreneurial leadership.
Transformational Leader – Di Walker, Executive Chair, Karro Food Group, based in Malton, North Yorkshire – One of the UK’s leading suppliers of pork products into the retail, foodservice and export markets. Di played a pivotal role in the transformation of the business through a difficult period, transitioning the business from loss to profit and rescuing over 1000 jobs in the process. The judges were impressed by continuous focus on improving the company culture by leading from the front.
Special Award – EY Family Business Award of Excellence
During the ceremony, hosts EY presented a special award to The Rubin Family of Pentland Group – The Family Business Award of Excellence. A third-generation, family-owned business, Pentland is the name behind some of the world’s best sports, outdoor and fashion brands, including: Berghaus, Speedo, Mitre, and Red or Dead.
Based in North London, the business has roots in the North West, with its founders setting up The Liverpool Shoe Company in 1932 with little more than £100 base capital. The company floated on the stock exchange in 1964, changing its name to Pentland in the 70s and bought a 55% stake in a small athletic footwear brand called Reebok USA for $77,500 in 1981. Pentland now has annual sales of USD $3 billion across 190 countries, and their brands are well-known by people all over the world.
The judges recognised the international reach of the business and how that global mind-set is embedded into the company’s wider strategy. They also commended the family’s investment in the future of the company and the importance they place on engaging the next generation early on. Their forward-looking approach helps to create business security and to fuel plans for further international expansion.
Special Award – EY Lifetime Achievement Award
Dame Mary Perkins DBE, Founder and Board member of Specsavers was also honoured at the event, recognising her role in building the world’s largest optical retailer and also her contribution to inspiring the next generation of female entrepreneurs through her patronage of Everywoman.
A leading figure in optometry and audiology, Dame Mary set up Specsavers with Doug Perkins in 1984. Their revolutionary vision was to provide affordable, fashionable eye care for everyone, at a time when product choice was limited and prices for optical care were high.
Today the Specsavers Partnership is the world’s largest optical retailer with 1,800 stores operating in 10 countries. Each store is part-owned and managed by its own directors, who are shareholders of their own businesses, and are supported with marketing, accounting, IT and wholesaling services, among others. The partnership model ensures that the opticians and audiologists who run their stores, can concentrate on what they do best – providing expert eye and hearing care to their customers.
A qualified and registered optometrist for more than 50 years, Dame Mary plays an active role in the business, including driving customer service standards, championing values and shaping corporate responsibility. Dame Mary is passionately involved with a number of national and local charities and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2007.
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year is nationally sponsored by LGT Vestra and Merrill Corporation. The Financial Times is the programme’s UK media partner.
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