Ben Francis, founder of Gymshark, a leading UK fitness brand, will represent the UK at EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year next year, after being crowned the UK country winner at a virtual awards ceremony.
The independent judging panel acknowledged the impressive trajectory of his business, which has grown from a small start-up to what is now a well-recognised global brand. Ben’s entrepreneurial ventures began when he was a young teenager selling car licence plates and later launching two fitness tracking apps. The idea for Gymshark followed, and soon he found himself making athleisure wear in his parents’ garage.
Founded in 2012 by Ben, Gymshark turned over £170 million-a-year just seven years later. With over two million customers and over 500 employees at its Solihull headquarters, the firm has leveraged the power of social media and influencers to innovate, improve and scale-up.
Always at the cutting edge whilst being meticulous in its approach, Gymshark is renowned for its acumen in the world of social media. As well as working with prominent fitness industry influencers, Ben has worked hard to ensure Gymshark’s social media accounts are as interesting and visual as possible. He was also a pioneer in engaging consumers through social media and influencers, a strategy which resonates with millennials around the world. Gymshark has over 10 million followers across nine platforms with a global fan base of millennial customers, connecting with them online and via a worldwide tour of pop-up events that have included; LA, NYC, London, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney.
In August this year, Gymshark became the first direct-to-consumer brand in the UK to achieve ‘unicorn’ status with no external capital funding.
Joanna Santinon, Partner and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year leader, UK, said: “Despite a truly challenging year, we’ve had a phenomenal calibre of entrepreneurs enter the programme this year, representing exceptional businesses across the country. They have instilled hope and optimism into their organisations, staying upbeat and positive, and identifying new avenues of business. These individuals are the epitome of UK entrepreneurs; resilient, unstoppable, and embodying entrepreneurial spirit in everything they do.
“Our UK winner Ben Francis reflects all these qualities. He has achieved remarkable business success and growth, transforming his bootstrap start-up to a major global brand. The rapid expansion over the last few years reflects the strides Gymshark has made to be market-leading, adapting to the changing business landscape and customer demand.”
One To Watch
In addition to the overall UK EY Entrepreneur Of The Year winner, the judges celebrated Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland, Chief Executive and Chief Experience Officer of Ooni Ltd, as the ‘One to Watch’. They recognised the company’s step-change in growth and their positive impact on their industry and broader economy. As pioneers of the first portable outdoor wood-fire pizza oven, and with sales in over 100 countries already, the pair show strong prospects of scaling up and reaching their global aspirations.
A focus on people, culture and customer experience has also been key. Kristian and Darina have incorporated reinvestment in the team and future growth into their business model. Their culture is critical to business success, enabling them to attract and retain a close-knit, dynamic team which believes in having a positive impact on the wider community. At the same time, they are continuing to develop and improve their products based on customer feedback.
EY Lifetime Achievement award
Serial entrepreneur, angel investor and non-executive director Sherry Coutu CBE was also honoured at the event. After Sherry had founded, floated and sold her own company, she took to angel investing and has directly supported more than 60 entrepreneurs.
Sherry is a strong advocate for entrepreneurs in the UK, penning the Digital Economy Council-commissioned ‘Scale-Up Report’ in 2014, which outlined why the UK government needs to support both scale-ups and start-up, and led to her co-founding the Scale-Up Institute which supports entrepreneurs who are growing their business. In 2015, her focus shifted towards investing in philanthropic causes, and she has worked with a number of charities, including Founders4Schools which she co-founded with Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, which aims to improve the employability of young people by creating encounters with entrepreneurs and business.
Sherry’s recognition spans a number of high-profile lists and awards, which include being appointed CBE in the 2013 New Year Honours for her services to entrepreneurship and being named Top Entrepreneur contributing to ‘Queen and Country’ by Sunday Times magazine.
UK judging panel
The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 UK judging panel was chaired by Simon Rogerson, CEO of Octopus Group, who was joined by:
- Emma Griffin, Non-Executive Director and investor
- Sahar Hashemi OBE, co-founder of Coffee Republic & Skinny Candy
- Ambarish Mitra, Co-founder of Blippar and Greyparrot
- Jon Wright, Partner, JamJar Investments
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year’s national headline sponsor is global wealth management firm LGT Vestra.
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About EY Entrepreneur Of The Year
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. It has been running for 20 years in the UK. The award makes a difference through the unique way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential and recognises the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement.
As the first and only truly global award of its kind, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognising them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 145 cities in 60 countries.
About LGT Vestra LLP
LGT Vestra is one of the few global wealth management firms in private ownership. Founded in 2008, it is a UK-based partnership between LGT, wholly owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, and the executive partners. The firm's private ownership ensures financial stability, enabling it to take a long-term approach to client relationships and investment decisions. Run by entrepreneurs, LGT Vestra is best placed to understand the issues and the investment perspective of fellow entrepreneurs, guiding them through their financial requirements both before and after exit.
Their fresh approach to wealth management has enabled them to build a strong reputation for openness and transparency, placing the client at the heart of all they do. This has led to a growth in assets under management to £15.7bn as at the end of August 2020. The firm employs 362 staff, of which 58 are partners.