After the gold rush

Ambition abounds in this year’s Power Top 50, our round up of the most influential entrepreneurs and investors in the growth company space during a testing 2009.

The past 12 months will be remembered as the year when the value of money became real again, which is no bad thing. That isn’t the same as saying all the money has dried up. Far from it. The investors in the Power Top 50 have literally billions to give to entrepreneurs who are pushing the envelope of innovation.

So which sectors make investors rub their hands in anticipation? E-commerce remains as intriguing as ever. The valuations for online companies may finally be approximating reality, but low start-up costs and the potential for a worldwide audience make this an irresistible mix for entrepreneurs and investors. Similarly, an ageing population means that the healthcare sector is as close as you can get to a sure thing in business these days.

Renewable energy and cleantech are an altogether riskier proposition. Whether it’s solar, wind or wave power, or technology that aides energy efficiency, this sector is evolving into a global, latter-day Klondike Gold Rush. Plenty of new-energy prospectors are going to be left high and dry like their hapless, gold-panning forebears, unless commitments to climate change are made sooner rather than later from the world’s new superpowers. You sense there will most definitely be blood in the near future given the vast sums of money being invested and the slow rate of progress (see our piece on the Copenhagen Summit).

As for the wider economy, the attitude of many in the Top 50 is that conditions have stabilised and pragmatism is the order of the day. Growth may be harder to come by as markets have shrunk, but expansion is still possible and the priority is to invest wisely in businesses so that they can push on during the recovery. We may technically be out of recession, but whether we are genuinely heading for recovery is open to debate. The general view is that all bets are off until the new government begins to look under the bonnet of the economy.

What is evident is that good businesses often take time to create. Hotel Chocolat, steered by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, is a prime example of a company that is only now finding its feet after being in existence for 20 years. The company, in many ways, may become a model for other retailers. So far, it’s balancing a distinctive high street presence with strong online growth. First and foremost, it’s a fine example of how a solid business can be given an added dimension by a brand makeover.

Marc Barber

Raven Connelly

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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