Top 50 Rising Stars

Phenomenal sales growth, healthy profits and service excellence are some of the qualities that make a rising star. Celebrating enterprise and innovation, Business XL’s annual survey brings you the UK’s 50 hottest mid-sized ventures to watch

Phenomenal sales growth, healthy profits and service excellence are some of the qualities that make a rising star. Celebrating enterprise and innovation, Business XL’s annual survey brings you the UK’s 50 hottest mid-sized ventures to watch

Phenomenal sales growth, healthy profits and service excellence are some of the qualities that make a rising star. Celebrating enterprise and innovation, Business XL’s annual survey brings you the UK’s 50 hottest mid-sized ventures to watch

1. Icon Live

Turnover: £45 million
Pre-tax profits: £4.3 million
Location: West Sussex

In the space of five years, Icon Live, which designs and sources fashion and costume jewellery on behalf of retailers, has reinvented itself to such an extent that heads are starting to turn and wonder at its commercial swagger.

It currently employs more than 1,500 staff and trades in close to 2,000 stores across the UK. For the year-end 2006, Icon swelled revenue 83 per cent to £45 million – that’s organic – and paraded profits of £4.3 million. At the end of last year it opened a 38,000 sq ft distribution centre in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, and took its first international steps by partnering with 50 high street stores in Holland.

With the fiercely committed duo of MD Carly Read and FD Valerie Scott (pictured above) running the show, their passion for Icon stems, in part, from them turning the company around after it went into receivership in 2001. Disappointed by what they
saw as mismanagement, they remortgaged and took control of Icon, which is split 50-50 between them. While growing outrageously since 2002, when the company
had just 230 employees, Scott notes that a good number of the original staff remain.

Neither Read nor Scott are interested in an exit in the near future. ‘We have a responsibility to our staff to continue growing. After all, they’ve got mortgages to pay,’ says Scott earnestly.

2. Ashley House

Turnover: £25.6 million
Pre-tax profits: £4.1 million
Location: Buckinghamshire

Working with the public sector in the form of primary healthcare (general practitioners and community care organisations) has proved good business for infrastructure specialist Ashley House.

The company, which moved from PLUS to AIM with a £5 million funding in January, is scoring from state sector outsourcing and took a big step forward by forming a strategic alliance with Babcock & Brown, an Australian finance group already involved in UK Private Finance Initiative projects.

This gave Ashley, steered by chief executive Jonathan Holmes and finance director Bruce Walker, access to the Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT), with a key public/private healthcare role.

The company is involved in a 50,000 sq ft build with a GP consortium in the North East
and a health park on the site of Scarborough Rugby Club’s old stadium, comprising a medical centre, private hospital, care home and other facilities.

Ashley, which increased pre-tax profits 84 per cent before exceptional items to £4.1 million in the year to April on turnover up 11 per cent to £25.6 million, has operating cash flow of £2 million to £3 million and £6 million in the bank.

3. Immunodiagnostic Systems

Turnover: £9.9 million
Pre-tax profits: £2.2 million
Location: Tyne & Wear

The product of a management buy-out in 1996, Tyneside-based diagnostic kits supplier Immunodiagnostic Systems doubled profits last year to £2.2 million after a prosperous run since it broke even three years earlier.

Managing director Roger Duggan, a former biochemist and expert on sea snakes, is more excited about entering the $28 billion (£13.8 billion) fully automated test sector, which it has done via an exclusive worldwide deal with a Belgian manufacturer. It recently bought up a Nordic rival too.

The kits it designs, produces and sells can range from assessing the amount of vitamin D in the blood to identifying diabetes.

4. Independent Forgings and Alloys

Turnover: £20.1 million
Pre-tax profits: £2.0 million
Location: Sheffield

Self-styled as ‘the world’s largest blacksmith’, South Yorkshire-based Independent Forgings and Alloys (IFA) is living proof that, if properly managed, companies in this sector can be successful. Chief executive Martin Burnham led a management buy-in (MBI) with his team in 2001, purchasing a run-down plant at Victoria Forge in Sheffield. The site had a century of history behind it but was facing closure in an industry many thought was heading the same way. IFA manufactures heavy parts for machines and has carved itself out a niche by forging modern materials such as superalloys and titanium alloys. Before the MBI, the company had a single international client. Now it looks overseas for much of its business, exporting as far afield as East Asia and the US.

5. Electric Word

Turnover: £10.7 million
Pre-tax profits: £920,000
Location: London

Electric Word, the specialist publisher to the sports and education markets, has distinguished itself these past few years by rapidly growing not just top-line sales, but its profits and cash resources.

Its last set of results (for the six months to May 2007) saw turnover jump almost 50 per cent to £6.6 million, profits soar to £750,000 and the cash on its balance sheet grow to £1.2 million.

This has come about via a mixture of solid organic growth, clever acquisitions and the spreading of its publishing wings. The group is led by the affable Julian Turner who maintains that the outfit will push on because ‘we’ve ensured that we not only cross-sell content, but sell access to our high-value customers’.

It’s the education side that is providing the most excitement. The company supplies professional development and guides to teachers and senior managers in schools, exploiting the Government’s increased funding to this sector. It’s even starting to sell to parents.

6. TDX Group

Turnover: £15 million
Pre-tax profits: Undisclosed
Location: Nottingham

With turnover up 200 per cent over the past year, TDX Group is certainly one to watch. The company helps institutional creditors manage non-performing debt, whether by repackaging it and selling it on, or by writing some of it off in order to collect the rest.
TDX claims to have an impressive share of the market, selling on nearly 50 per cent of all debt sold on in the UK, as well as dealing with more than 70 per cent of all individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs). Its blue-chip clients include Halifax Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Alliance & Leicester.

Mark Onyett, co-founder and chief executive (pictured), boasts: ‘Our goal is to make the business ten times bigger by 2010, which is a reasonably aggressive growth strategy. We’re spending time growing the management team so we can cope with that growth.’

7. Claimar Care

Turnover: £13.2 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.4 million
Location: Birmingham

Deal-hungry domiciliary care provider Claimar has acquired 12 companies (the latest only last week for £300,000 cash) since its AIM float last year – netting it the Business XL Acquirer of the Year Award. Chief executive Mark Hales intends to strive onwards, commenting, ‘One would hope that [the award] has raised our profile among potential vendors and further deals could come out of that.’ Analysts predict pre-tax profits of £2.1 million this year, and for 2008 this is set to grow to £3.3 million.

8. Blue Oar Securities

Turnover: £16.6 million
Pre-tax profits: £779,000
Location: London

After walking away from his job as CEO of Oriel Securities with a fortune, Andrew Monk (pictured) was lured to investment bank Blue Oar Securities as group CEO in March this year (changing the name immediately from Corporate Synergy Group).

He accepted, on the basis that he had full control and that led to 12 employees departing. He’s confident he can take the AIM-listed concern from its market cap of £30 million up to £200 million or £300 million over the next three to five years.

‘You need to focus on the simple things,’ he says, noting that he’s brought in faces from Oriel, including seven of his sales team. Going forward, larger clients will be sought and its wealth management business will be strengthened as, he says, it tended ‘to have a golf club approach’.

Interim figures for June 2007 show a cash-rich company (£19.4 million) with profits before tax of £1 million on turnover of £8.9 million.

9. Vitaflo

Turnover: £6.1 million
Pre-tax profits: £2.3 million
Location: Liverpool

The key to the success of drug developer Vitaflo, according to its founder Bill MacNab, is spotting a niche too small for the pharmaceutical giants to bother taking an interest in.

Vitaflo’s main product, a protein substitute, is designed for people unable to digest a particular amino acid found in protein. ‘Large companies take a long time to react,’ he explains. ‘We’re talking about a really small disease group – the total market is worth less than £300 million worldwide. As the big pharmaceutical companies amalgamate, they might not look at developing products unless the market is worth, say, £1 billion
or more.’

MacNab, now 68, founded Vitaflo in Scotland in the early 1990s after leaving a large pharmaceutical company. He’s never looked back. The company is now trading throughout most of Europe, Australia, the US, Canada and parts of South America. Turnover is up 57 per cent to £6.1 million over the past year, with profits of £2.3 million.

10. Hat Pin

Turnover: £14.5 million
Pre-tax profits: £3.8 million
Location: London

Taking ‘big bets on sector leaders’ is the winning mantra adopted by Angela Campbell-Noe, an investment banker who became head of executive search group Hat Pin three years ago.

The internationally focused recruitment specialist operates in marketing, finance, technology and top-level government and non-profit fields through autonomously run subsidiaries. ‘We have made one big acquisition and one add-on each year,’ says Campbell-Noe. ‘The business is cyclical, but we want to be exposed to as many cycles as possible.’

She may be on to something.

11. Polar Capital

Turnover: £41 million
Pre-tax profits: £26.8 million
Location: London

The culture of investment house Polar Capital is crucial to its success, claims CEO Mark Kary (pictured). He describes it as ‘a balance of teamwork and healthy competition’.

Polar has more than $3.6 billion (£1.8 billion) under management and 55 staff, who are rewarded with a lucrative equity scheme to encourage a longer-term view. Its track record has enabled Polar to launch new funds for its institutional clients, leading to turnover growth of 119 per cent to almost £41 million in a year, with profits up â“ look, rub your eyes â“ 465 per cent to £26.8 million.

12. Adventis

Turnover: £35 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.8 million
Location: London

Focused on property, healthcare and financial services, marketing and advertising agency Adventis has seen turnover rise more than 60 per cent to £32 million during the past year. Recent acquisitions, such as healthcare agency Roundhouse and financial services media buyer Coltman, account for half of that growth. However, FD Peter Linnell says the remainder is all organic and that healthy mix is set to continue into 2008. Linnell expects more acquisitions, although he observes that, as Adventis’s profile rises, it needs to watch out for paying over the odds.

13. Cozart

Turnover: £11.1 million
Pre-tax profits: £300,000
Location: Oxfordshire

Medical diagnostics company Cozart, which specialises in producing and marketing devices for detecting drug abuse, has had a busy 12 months.

In the first quarter of 2007, it spread its wings with the £1.1 million acquisition of Nemesis Scientific, which operates in the workplace drug-testing market. In May, it won a three-year, £500,000 contract to provide drug and alcohol testing services to Emirates Airlines.

Cozart also has a handsome contract to provide drug-testing products to the Home Office Drug Interventions Programme (DIP) until March 2008. The DIP tests people arrested for offences like property crime, robbery and burglary for heroin or crack cocaine.

Whispers over the summer of Cozart being subject to a takeover have proved founded, with drug and alcohol tester Concateno recently launching a bid for the company.

14. Hy-Pro International

Turnover: £32 million
Pre-tax profits: £816,000
Location: Bedfordshire

A familiar name in the world of sports retail, Hy-Pro International has licences with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea to make their branded shin pads, footballs and other footie-related wares.

Twelve years ago, CEO Atul Shah decided to quit working as a tax accountant at PKF and start up Hy-Pro. Shah says that last year’s World Cup provided a sales boost of 114 per cent, and the same can be expected during the 2008 European Championships, to be held in Austria and Switzerland. ‘That’s if we qualify,’ quips Shah.

The goods are manufactured in the Asia-Pacific region, and Hy-Pro is a light operation, with 30 employees at its office in Dunstable and 15 in Hong Kong. The company distributes through established names like JJB sports and Sports Direct.

Shah says that growth for the year-end 2007 will be slower, attributing this in part to the lack of a major football event and the non-existent British summer. That said, Hy-Pro’s lower growth should be put in the context of investment in new markets, including Scandinavia and Australia.

15. Pressure Technologies

Turnover: £7.3 million
(Six-month interims)
Pre-tax profits: £800,000
(Six-month interims)
Location: Sheffield

High-pressure cylinder manufacturer Pressure Technologies has been around, in one form or another, since 1897. Four years ago, though, one would have been forgiven for thinking its days were numbered.

In 2003, a German company bought the business but neglected to purchase the land it was based on. Pressure was rescued by an MBO and then relocated from Chesterfield to Sheffield. Having secured its future, management concentrated on the rapid growth in the oil and gas market, doubling the business’s turnover and profits in less than two years. Recent interim figures to March 2007 show pre-tax profits of £800,000. ‘In some respects, we’re a traditional business: an old English metal-basher,’ says group FD Jonathan Clark. ‘But in this difficult market, European companies only succeed if they can maintain decent margins. We’ve retained an edge in our design and technical abilities.’

16. Mattioli Woods

Turnover: £9 million
Pre-tax profits: £3.15 million
Location: Leicester

‘Retirement wealth management is the game we’re in, and we’re seeing increasing demand for our services,’ says Bob Woods, the chairman of Leicester-based Mattioli Woods, one of the fastest-growing consultancies in the UK pensions arena.

This rising AIM star, bossed by Woods and chief executive Ian Mattioli, provides pension and wealth-management services for controlling directors, professionals and smaller businesses, and specialises in the provision of small self-administered schemes (SSASs) and self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs).

The company reported 19 per cent growth to £9 million at the top line for the year to May, from which it rewarded investors with a 45 per cent-plus surge in pre-tax profits to £3.15 million.

17. Griffin Mining

Turnover: £21.3 million
Pre-tax profits: £14.0 million
Location: London

Profitable mining companies are something of a rarity on AIM. Griffin Mining, headed by Australian financier Mladen Ninkov, is an exception to the rule.

Ninkov intends to boost annual production of zinc concentrate from its Caijiaying project in China to 26,000 tonnes by the end of this year. With estimated costs of US$53 a tonne and Chinese zinc prices stable, FD Roger Goodwin says ‘the money is rolling in’.

18. Hasgrove

Turnover: £15.3 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.7 million
Location: Manchester

Three of Hasgrove’s subsidiary companies operate in different areas. In Manchester, The Chase is a design agency while Connectpoint focuses on advertising and marketing. Interel offers corporate PR from Brussels, Paris, Prague and Antwerp. Hasgrove increased pre-tax profits 156 per cent to £1.8 million last year on turnover up 200 per cent to £15.3 million. Chief executive Rod Hyde says that Interel and the other Hasgrove companies are pursuing a strategy which includes ‘buy and build’ acquisitions.

19. Powerlase

Turnover: £10 million
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: West Sussex

It’s not making a bean as yet, but since MD Tony King joined in 2005 this spin-out from Imperial College has seen turnover soar 400 per cent in the past year to just under £10 million. King stripped 25 research and development projects down to a handful and brought costs down at its factory in Crawley 40 per cent.

The result has been contract wins with the Korean giants LG and Samsung. A Japanese multinational is reckoned to be signing up shortly, says King. Growth for this year will be flat, but the VC backers should be pleased to hear that the company ought to have a bumper 2008, with the public in China expected to go on a TV buying spree for the forthcoming Olympics in Beijing. Profits too, are expected shortly.

20. DCD Media

Turnover: £13.3 million
Pre-tax loss: £1.2 million
Location: London

About nine years ago, Chris Hunt’s company, then called Online Classics, had the brilliant idea of filming classical concerts and streaming them live over the internet.

The problem was a lack or broadband. Undaunted during the noughties, Hunt kept his venture afloat by raising more cash and diversifying by moving into rock and pop music programming, distribution and live events.

Further diversification occurred in 2005 with the purchase of NBD Television and Box TV, all of which enabled the group to post revenues of £13.3 million in 2006, although Hunt’s venture remained loss making.

All that could change this year, however, following three acquisitions this summer. For a total consideration of £19.1 million, DCD bought Prospect Pictures, September Holdings and West Park Pictures.

Its annual revenues are now around £25 million and its commentators reckon it could make £1.5 million this year. ‘We are more balanced, well financed and better able to exploit all our assets than at any point in our history,’ says Hunt.

21. Debt Free Direct

Turnover: £27.9 million
Pre-tax profits: £9.1 million
Location: London

With perfect timing and foresight, Latham Chartered Accountants set up Debt Free Direct in 1997. It offers advice and suggested solutions to what has become the teeming mass of people with solvency issues. Figures for the year-end 2007 show turnover growth of 77 per cent to £28 million and pre-tax profits up 108 per cent to a whopping £9.1 million.

CEO Andy Redmond says that Debt Free Direct has proprietary software that means its advisers are entirely unbiased. ‘This approach was the only way to ensure that advisers in a call centre weren’t tempted to offer particular solutions motivated by a sales bonus,’ he says.

22. Nucleus

Turnover: £5.7 million
Pre-tax profits: £524,000
Location: Surrey

This internet consultancy isn’t happy, despite doubling profits. MD Peter Matthews says: ‘We don’t want to continue to grow through consultancy, because we don’t like the business model.’

He says medium-sized consultancies are inherently vulnerable to the ‘peaks and troughs of project work’. The solution, he hopes, lies with devising an operating business.

‘We decided to practise what we preached through our consulting work,’ he says. This has led Nucleus to launch a web-portal that directs traffic to the sites of travel providers, and a cash card that can be swiped – as opposed to keying in a PIN – for transactions under £10.

23. Character World

Turnover: £13.2 million
Pre-tax profits: Undisclosed
Location: Cheshire

This family-run company designs, produces and distributes a range of licensed household textiles aimed at children featuring characters from popular films and television series including Spiderman and Thomas the Tank Engine. A deal with Disney for a Manchester-based children’s bedding manufacturer meant a significant
boost to turnover over the past year, leaping from £7.3 million in 2006 to more than £13 million this year. Sales are predicted to be around £16 million for 2008.

‘The win of the Disney licence is a massive addition to our portfolio,’ says sales director Mark Schweiger.


Turnover: £35 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.8 million
Location: Norwich

Established in 1997, sells photographic equipment to professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. Last year’s results show turnover growth of 54 per cent to £35 million and profits up 44 per cent to £1.8 million.

This performance is shored up by a strong corporate sales arm, with the company counting the NHS, police authorities, the National Trust and the BBC among its customers.

25. The Engineering Business

Turnover: £16 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.02 million
Location: Northumberland

The Engineering Business designs hardware for the oil and gas industry. MD Tony Trapp says its systems are increasingly sought as ‘people are trying to get oil and gas in more and more difficult conditions’. It’s also active in the offshore renewables and marine defences sectors.

Trapp says the company’s performance can be simply put: ‘We have the capability and know-how to produce big, complex engineering systems, on time and to budget.’ Turnover has almost quadrupled to £16 million in the past two years, with an order book worth £40 million.

26. Digital Window

Turnover: £9.7 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.1 million
Location: London

Online affiliate marketing has only been around for about eight years, says Digital Window’s communications director, David Hall. ‘It’s part of the zeitgeist,’ he says. ‘We’re lucky to be in the right game at the right time.’ Digital Window has developed software that enables affiliates to protect their brands, combat spyware or add price comparison tools to their website. Both turnover and pre-tax profits have more than doubled over the past year, with the former now approaching £10 million and the latter £2 million.

27. City Information Services

Turnover: £17 million
Pre-tax profits: £345,000
Location: Livingston

Scottish video conferencing specialist City Information Services (CityIS) has a very brave heart indeed, going so far as to expand in the US. Focusing on providing video, audio and web meeting services, the company has grown sales 38 per cent to around £17 million this year.

MD John Thompson (pictured) says: ‘As long as we’re making five per cent profit growth, that’s sufficient. We’ve had pure organic growth this year, we’re cash generative and over the past three years the profits we‘ve made have allowed us to buy-out our VCs.’

28. Focus Solutions

Turnover: £7.9 million
Pre-tax profits: £1 million
Location: Warwickshire

Focus Solutions supplies software to the financial services industry, assisting in the sales process for products such as mortgages and life insurance. When chief executive Richard Stevenson joined the company to take over from the founder in March last year, he decided to concentrate solely on selling software solutions to the financial services market.

‘We then won a contract with HSBC, the single biggest contract the company has ever won,’ he says, confident that the concern will strive onwards in this hugely competitive space.

29. Dillistone

Turnover: £3.3 million
Pre-tax profits: £923,000
Location: London

Dillistone develops software for recruitment consultants and headhunters. It’s sold into 50 countries and the company had a recent win with an executive search outfit in Saudi Arabia. CEO Jason Starr (pictured) certainly believes the only way is up. Encouragingly, order levels were some 20 per cent higher in the first five months of this year compared to the same period of 2006, he says.

30. A.W. Lymn

Turnover: £7.5 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.2 million
Location: Nottingham

Currently in its centenary year, you’d be forgiven for thinking this family funeral services business is stuck in its ways, but A.W. Lymn has shown itself to be adaptable in changing times. For example, the company meets the funeral requirements of the Afro-Caribbean and Asian Communities. It’s able to provide eco-friendly coffins in tulipwood, bamboo and recycled paper, as well as having florist and stonemason services. And it is active in the community too, offering free transport and shopping trips to nursing and residential homes. Lymn also claims to have the largest fleet of Rolls-Royce funeral cars in the world.

31. Tardis Environmental

Turnover: £3 million
Pre-tax profits: £730,000
Location: London

Where there’s muck there’s brass – that saying has never been truer than for Tardis, which started out as a portaloo hire business. Tardis now manufactures, hires, delivers and empties waste tanks, in addition to unblocking drains and clearing up spillages. Sales director David Furlong explains that rapid growth in the construction industry, together with a high-octane marketing campaign, has allowed Tardis to double both turnover and profits over the past two years.

‘The only thing that holds us back is manpower,’ says Furlong enthusiastically. ‘We employ constantly and aggressively. There’s tonnes of work out there.’

32. BrainJuicer

Turnover: £4.6 million
Pre-tax profits: £448,000
Location: London

Quirky online market researcher BrainJuicer, led by ‘head juicer’ John Kearon (pictured left, with CFO James Geddes), formerly of Publicis, relies on a twist of innovation to squeeze market share out of an entrenched sector. Clients such as Nestlé and Nike have been won over by its novel products, and the company has also claimed to have invented a test to ‘measure creativity’.

33. Greatfleet

Turnover: £11.3 million
Pre-tax profits: £3 million
Location: London

Chief executive Stuart Blake has driven an impressive turnaround at professional recruitment group Greatfleet.

Following the company’s reverse takeover of bombed-out legal recruitment agency Longbridge International in late 2005, Greatfleet has increased group turnover from £1.6 million to £11.3 million and turned annual losses of £1.7 million into a profit. Its clients number top UK and US law firms and most of the major banks.

34. Essentially

Turnover: £1.85 million
Pre-tax profits: £540,000
Location: Jersey

Specialising in motor racing and rugby, marketing group Essentially has recently bought its way into the gentlemanly world of cricket. Since listing last May, Essentially has hooked three acquisitions for £14.8m and is still debt free. As well as being a players’ agent, Essentially makes more money by orchestrating deals such as the one for All-Blacks rugby idol Dan Carter to advertise underwear for the Jockey brand.

35. Tangent Communications

Turnover: £8.6 million
Pre-tax profits: £300,000
Location: London

‘For the first one and a half years, it was an absolute disaster,’ says Nick Green, joint CEO of targeted marketing specialist Tangent. ‘We would have been better off trying to sell ice to Eskimos. But in 2004 we got our first break.’ That bit of luck was winning a project for Sainsbury’s, which enabled the supermarket to use customer data from the Nectar loyalty scheme to target its marketing at individual customers.

Three acquisitions followed, helping to build on the expertise that Tangent already possessed. ‘Organic and acquisitive growth naturally remain part of the roadmap,’ says Green.

36. Belgravium

Turnover: £10.9 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.84 million
Location: London

Institutional favourite Belgravium Technologies designs and makes data capture systems for the logistics, oil and petrochemical, airline and railway industries, with clients such as Heinz and Calor.

Recent new contracts include a £500,000 order to supply Virgin Atlantic with in-flight data capture technology.

37. Plastic Logic

Turnover: None
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: Cambridge

Pre-profit may be forgivable, but pre-revenue? Well the sages at the likes of technology-focused venture capitalist Amadeus – plus the private equity arms of Intel, Siemens and Bank of America – certainly think that the US$100 million (£49.4 million) that they, and others, put into flexible screen specialist Plastic Logic earlier this year is money well spent.

38. Winder Power

Turnover: £8.2 million
Pre-tax profits: £557,000
Location: Leeds

Following an MBO in 2005, the new team set about transforming this 118-year-old business. Today, Winder provides installation services to utility and power suppliers around the world. Most of the business, explains FC Joe Evans, comes through word of mouth: ‘The electricity supply grapevine is strong so, let me put it this way, we don’t have a salesman in a Ford Mondeo driving up and down the country knocking on doors – a lot of our business comes through existing customers.’

39. The Mission Marketing Group

Turnover: £37.4 million
Pre-tax profits: £2.2 million
Location: London

Chaired by Tory politician Francis Maude, The Mission Marketing Group (TMMG) is acquiring in the field of integrated marketing and corporate communications. Chief Executive Iain Ferguson says the new low-cost broadband era has enhanced the prospects of many good companies with relatively low overheads outside London, ‘which have been ignored in the present sector consolidation’.

40. CareTech

Turnover: £33.45 million
Pre-tax profits: £3.35 million
Location: Hertfordshire

CareTech provides specialist care to adults with learning difficulties through residential care homes and day centres. Interims to March illustrated a business in emphatic growth mode, with CareTech nurturing a ‘clean’ pre-tax profits surge to £2.7m (£1.3m) on turnover up 86 per cent to £24.8 million. Twenty per cent of that growth has been organic.

41. Esterform Packaging

Turnover: £32 million
Pre-tax profits: £1.8 million
Location: Tenbury Wells

The company was formed by three entrepreneurs in 1998 with the aim to corner the growing market for 38mm plastic bottles for juices and juice drinks. Esterform has also made inroads into household products, supplying bottles for trigger sprays and disinfectants.

42. Moixa

Turnover: £29,000
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: London

The designer and manufacturer of AA batteries that can be recharged from a computer’s USB port, Moixa is a company that restores your faith in the British capacity for invention. With the batteries already retailing in Currys, PC World and John Lewis, engineering director Christopher Wright says they are due to power up in the US by the New Year.

43. OB10

Turnover: £3.4 million
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: London

OB10 helps companies improve their invoice processes, creating an online platform that allows clients to send invoices directly from their billing system to customers, in their chosen format. Most recently, OB10 has agreed a partnership with Abbey UK corporate banking to offer working capital management and accounting cost savings through a new business service called Supplier Payments.

44. Ceres Power

Turnover: £756,000
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: Crawley

A well-connected fuel cell provider with an eye on the global picture, Ceres has contracts with British Gas and BOC. The group has been investing heavily in its manufacturing capabilities and intends to maintain control over its core technologies. For year-end 2006, Ceres showed impressive liquidity of £14 million in cash.

45. Optos

Turnover: £36 million
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: Fife

Retinal screening specialist Optos was established after founder Douglas Anderson’s five-year-old son went blind in one eye when a retinal detachment was detected too late. Optos’s non-invasive scanner captures a high-resolution digital image of more than 80 per cent of the retina, compared to routine examination methods, which, says Anderson, typically show less than five per cent. The US remains the company’s primary market.

46. InfoBasis

Turnover: £1.9 million
Pre-tax profits: £12,000
Location: Oxfordshire

InfoBasis provides software for organisations to oversee their employees and business, allowing organisations to manage many diverse processes, from appraisals to compliance issues. A raft of big-name clients such as Microsoft and BAE Systems
has helped improve performance, as well as smaller organisations, including charities and institutes.

47. Turnover: £2.4 million
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: Winchester

Imaginatik has databases that enable clients like Yahoo, Pfizer and Coca-Cola to drill down into the collective genius of employees, supply chains, customers or the general public, in order to extract and refine commercial ideas. Founder Mark Turrell claims that one client turned a suggestion from a truck driver into a £22.5 million revenue stream.

48. Intelligent Environments

Turnover: £3.1 million
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: Surrey

Intelligent Environments (IE) designs and sells software that enables banking customers to apply for products such as loans online. Whereas two years ago larger banks would conduct around ten per cent of their business online, that figure is more like 40 per cent today. IE’s customers include HSBC, Barclays, HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland.

49. The Pure Package

Turnover: £593,378
Pre-tax profits: £95,838
Location: London

From Chelsea to Cheshire, yummy-mummies are falling over themselves to sign up to The Pure Package, Jennifer Irvine’s home-delivery meals service. The Pure Package delivered 70,000 meals and had turnover of £200,000 in its first year. Irvine has a team of nutritional and dietary therapists to provide perfect, bespoke meals to aid customers’ healthy lifestyle. She predicts turnover to be in the ‘multi-millions’ shortly.

50. SovGEM

Turnover: None
Pre-tax profits: None
Location: Jersey

This AIM-listed minnow is a provider of “step change” finance to profitable emerging market companies (predominantly Chinese), either unquoted or listed on Western markets.

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Marc Barber

Marc Barber

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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