Dragons’ Den star Sara Davies has told aspiring North East entrepreneurs how she was inspired by an earlier panel member on the BBC business program.
The founder and creative director of County Durham firm Crafter’s Companion has probably become the best-known face of North East business in recent years thanks to her appearance on Dragons’ Den, Strictly Come Dancing and other TV programs.
She has also turned the firm she started while at university into a £ 40m turnover business employing more than 200 people, and was the guest speaker at an event held by the North East LEP to celebrate a program that aims to reverse low rates of entrepreneurship in the North East.
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The High Potential Startups program has worked with 99 people in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham looking to launch their own business, leading to 58 new firms being incorporated with more likely to follow in the coming months.
The event heard that the program was launched after research showed that the North East needed another 25,000 businesses to reach national averages, while only 1% of people in the region had started their own firm despite thousands wanting to do so.
Ms Davies said: “It’s been a bit surreal sitting here this morning, seeing all those statistics, and having the realisation that 17 years ago I was exactly where you are now and I was that statistic. At the time, if anyone had said to me: ‘Sara, 17 years from now you’d have a £ 40m business employing 250 people, the majority of which are in the North East’, I would have laughed at you.
“Never in a million years did I have any aspiration or beliefs that I could get to where I am today, but now I can you say that nobody is going to tell me what I can’t achieve in another 17 years. It’s having that belief and drive and passion that can really get you anywhere.
“When I started out, there was no LEP, there was no Growth Hub but there was the equivalent, which was Business Link. I can honestly say that if if wasn’t for the support that Business Link did, how they really helped me on the first few months of the journey I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“There was nothing different about me or special about me and I don’t feel bad standing up here and saying that. I felt like the most ordinary person in the world doing the most normal thing ever. It wasn’t really until I was in my early twenties and I used to watch Dragons’ Den and would hang off their every word. I bought every one of those Dragons’ autobiographies and I thought that if I read those books, I would learn how to do business well.
“Can I remember how Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis talked about doing business? No. But I remember getting Duncan Bannatyne’s book. His book wasn’t about how to do business, it was just his story and it was called Anyone Can Do It. I remember reading that book and I had an epiphany where I thought: ‘He’s just a normal bloke’. He hadn’t grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, he didn’t get a leg up in life, but he was so ordinary and I read his book and he had these really big ambitions and it was just his drive and passion for what he did. I thought, if he can do it, I can do it because I’ve got the same drive and ambition as him.
“I thought you needed access to finance or a load of money to get started. But he didn’t and look how successful he was, maybe I could do that. That’s what really drove me in those early years. “
The event had previously heard from Ammar Mirza, chair of the North East LEP’s business and sector growth board, and Colin Bell, the LEP’s business and sector growth director, about the importance of increasing the number of people in the North East starting their own firms .
Mr Bell said hitting national levels of business start-ups could add £ 10bn to the local economy and help create 200,000 more jobs. He added that the companies that had been through the High Potential Startups program “represent the future” for the region’s economy.