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Ones to Watch in 2022: meet some of the West Midlands’ upcoming business stars

The past year has been a mightily strange one for the business world across the West Midlands region.

At times, once busy city centres were bereft of people but the crowds slowly returned as lockdown restrictions eased and excitement built as we headed into the Christmas season.

As we start another year this week, the West Midlands team on BusinessLive is looking ahead to the next 12 months and asking who are the business stars of the future?

We canvassed the opinions of experts in the region to bring you our Ones to Watch in 2022 – and you can read about last year’s Ones to Watch here

CarCloud

CarCloud solves the problem of how you can manage your car on your phone, just like you do with nearly every other aspect of your life.

Founded in 2018 by Paul Jewell and Geoff Turral, the Birmingham-based firm is transforming the car ownership experience within a sector synonymous with the West Midlands.

November saw the completion of a successful funding round on the leading crowdfunding platform Seedrs and 2022 will see the launch of CarCloud’s compliance solution for the 90 per cent of business journeys that are undertaken in the employee’s personal car. The team is also aiming to grow to 100,000 users.

Debbie Lewis, Midlands regional ecosystem manager at NatWest

Envisage

Innovation is key to the success of the UK’s leading engineering concept design and realisation company which pivoted during the pandemic to create a portable ventilator to support the NHS.

Envisage, based at five sites across Coventry, is a bespoke manufacturer which uses the latest technology, supplying a global client base and working with some of the world’s largest and most prestigious manufacturers.

The company applied its electro-mechanical capabilities, which are normally used to support product development for industries such as transportation, to answer the Government’s call to produce more ventilators during the pandemic.

The company was also one of the first businesses to implement a flexible workforce programme for employees and I’m anticipating it will go from strength-to-strength in 2022.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce

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Eskuta

Nuneaton company Eskuta has become the UK’s market-leading e-cargo vehicle manufacturer and supplier – working with the likes of Domino’s and Just Eat.

The company, which employs 14 people, designs and manufactures electric bikes and scooters which have proved to be a hit with fast-food delivery firms, chalking up more than 2,500 orders in 2020 and is on course for more after a series of new developments.

Started by managing director Ian O’Connor in 2015, it is now working in the grocery delivery sector and is close to announcing several large partnerships as well as exploring international opportunities having signed distributor deals in Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Eskuta has also signed an agreement to sell products through 24 UK and Irish Apple stores and is looking to raise up to £5 million over the next year.

Ian McFarlane-Toms, programme manager with Business Ready



Our Ones to Watch 2022 experts (from top left): David Bailey from Birmingham Business School, Louise Bennett from Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber, Anita Bhalla from GBS LEP, Henrietta Brealey from Greater Birmingham Chambers, Ajay Desai from Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber Training and Nic Erskine from Coventry & Warwickshire Champions
Our Ones to Watch 2022 experts (from top left): David Bailey from Birmingham Business School, Louise Bennett from Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber, Anita Bhalla from GBS LEP, Henrietta Brealey from Greater Birmingham Chambers, Ajay Desai from Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber Training and Nic Erskine from Coventry & Warwickshire Champions

Impression Technologies

Impression Technologies is a world leader in supplying cost-effective and sustainable lightweight aluminium technology for the automotive, aerospace and consumer markets, under the HFQ Technology brand.

Its team in Coventry has developed a range of lightweight structures for electric cars.

It is a rapidly growing company, having expanded by more than 300 per cent since it started commercial production in 2016 and now has offices and partners throughout the world, supplying the leading automotive manufacturers.

Impression Technologies has plans to further invest in its capabilities in the coming years.

Craig Humphrey, managing director of Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Hub

Nimbus Maps

Warwick-based Nimbus Maps has experienced a meteoric rise in demand for its services in recent years after being established by brothers Simon and Paul Davis.

The company, whose technology provides the property industry with unprecedented information on land and properties across the UK, is now used by many of the biggest names in the industry including developers, investors and property professionals.

2021 saw the company double its team, product range and user base including adding household names such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Co-op as customers and in November was named Proptech Business of the Year at BusinessLive’s West Midlands Tech Awards.

Nimbus is on target to double its team, sales and product offering again in 2022 and is planning to open up new offices in the UK and overseas.

Dirk Schafer, SME engagement lead at University of Warwick Science Park

Purple Planet Packaging

The rise of businesses delivering food and offering takeaway services during the pandemic are among the reasons why this packaging firm is seeing a major increase in sales.

Mark and Joanna Farr bought Devon-based Purple Planet Packaging in 2019 and moved its entire operation to Coventry. The business sells a range of environmentally friendly food and drink containers to schools and a range of sectors.

Its success during lockdown means it is on course to go from £120,000 a year turnover when the couple bought the business to around £1.6 million in 2022.

The firm is now hiring more staff, investing in technology and taking extra warehouse space at its base on the Seven Stars Industrial Estate in the city.

Nic Erskine, executive director at Coventry & Warwickshire Champions

RBW Electric Classic Cars

While Chinese-owned MG enjoys success with its electric vehicles, it has yet to produce anything like my favourite classic sports car – the iconic MGB – but one local company is doing just that.

The brainchild of Peter Swain, RBW, based in Shenstone near Lichfield, is making stunning battery electric MGBs using new body shells from British Motor Heritage and help from big players like Continental and Zytec.

What’s more, the technology RBW has developed is scalable and offers an exciting entrée into electric conversions of classic cars like an Austin Healey or a Ford Mustang. There is potentially a huge market for this.

David Bailey, professor of business economics at Birmingham Business School



Our Ones to Watch in the West Midlands business world this year (from top left): Melissa Snover from Rem3dy Health, Rob and Marcus Gerrard from Safetyflex Barriers, senior team at SF Recruitment, Darren Jones from Sonihull, Sam Boulton from Vanguard Bars and Shaun Sookoo from Winny's Kitchen
Our Ones to Watch in the West Midlands business world this year (from top left): Melissa Snover from Rem3dy Health, Rob and Marcus Gerrard from Safetyflex Barriers, senior team at SF Recruitment, Darren Jones from Sonihull, Sam Boulton from Vanguard Bars and Shaun Sookoo from Winny’s Kitchen

Rem3dy Health

Birmingham-based health tech start-up Rem3dy Health launched personalised vitamin brand Get Nourished in 2019, offering an innovative way to get our vitamin intake, and has since grown from a team of five to more than 70.

Its patented 3D printers create a personalised gummy stack of daily vitamins tailored to a person’s own requirements through AI-driven software. The business model is driven by sustainability and is 100 per cent vegan.

Rem3dy raised £7.9 million in funding last May, valuing the business at more than £50 million and has won an exclusive deal with Selfridges as it looks to move into the B2B sector.

2022 starts with a move into new premises in Nechells as the company’s expansion continues.

Anita Bhalla, interim chairwoman of Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership

Safetyflex Barriers

Safetyflex Barriers is a manufacturer of anti-terrorism bollards, barriers and crash-rated street furniture in Coventry.

The company works around the world to protect key sites, city centres and stadiums in order to prevent hostile vehicle situations after diversifying into a new industry.

It has developed a strong export book after striking deals in Australia and Germany in the last 12 months. Safetyflex’s products are designed to fit in with the environment, providing protection which sits well within the surroundings.

Closer to home, it has teamed up with two local artists who have transformed bollards across the city into works of art as part of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture.

I anticipate that Safetyflex’s success both locally and overseas will continue throughout 2022 as more and more places see the benefit its innovative products bring.

Ajay Desai, international trade director at Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber Training

SF Recruitment

Birmingham-based SF Recruitment is a leading specialist recruiter and, thanks to the current battle for talent, has come into its own in recent months with its people-focused approach.

In September, the agency became employee-led, with a £1.2 million investment which saw both its management team become owners in the business and every employee given a stake in the future profits.

The business is currently pursuing rapid expansion centred around giving talented individuals an autonomous environment where they can play to their natural strengths.

It was also listed as 18th in the UK’s ‘Top 100 Small Companies to Work For’, securing a place in the Top 20 for the second year running, 28th best company in the ‘Midlands Top 75 Companies to Work For’.

Henrietta Brealey, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce



Our Ones to Watch 2022 experts (from top left): Sharn Haywood-Higgs from Manufacturing Growth Programme, Craig Humphrey from Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, Debbie Lewis from NatWest, Ian McFarlane-Toms from Business Ready, Alex Nicholson-Evans from Living For The Weekend and Dirk Schafer from University of Warwick Science Park
Our Ones to Watch 2022 experts (from top left): Sharn Haywood-Higgs from Manufacturing Growth Programme, Craig Humphrey from Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, Debbie Lewis from NatWest, Ian McFarlane-Toms from Business Ready, Alex Nicholson-Evans from Living For The Weekend and Dirk Schafer from University of Warwick Science Park

Sonihull

2021 saw the West Midlands become a destination for emerging industries, especially low-carbon goods, which is now the fastest-growing sector in the local £105 billion economy.

We have an exciting cohort of green tech companies on our doorstep, which this year’s COP 26 brought into focus, notably Coventry-headquartered Sonihull, whose technology is helping to reduce emissions in the maritime industry.

The region’s universities, skills base and ease of connectivity have been instrumental in the company’s success to date and we are eager to see how these will continue to support their growth journey and expansion into new markets within the West Midlands.

Dan Storer, chief investment officer at the West Midlands Growth Company

Vanguard Bars

Perhaps best known for The Pineapple Club in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade, Vanguard Bars is most certainly one to watch for 2022.

Partnership working has been an important part of its success over the last couple of years and managing director Sam Boulton puts this at the heart of its operations.

Most recently, The Pineapple Club’s creative collaborations have included everyone from national retailer Lush and Birmingham Royal Ballet to Miss Macaroon, Land and Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

Vanguard’s latest venture opens in 2022. Called Shibuya, it will be an intimate Japanese cocktail and sake bar and I will most certainly be first in the queue to try it out.

Alex Nicholson-Evans, founder and director of Living For The Weekend

Winny’s Kitchen

2021 was a breakthrough year for one of Birmingham’s fastest-growing food businesses.

Winny’s Kitchen produces nearly 30 Caribbean-inspired ready meals and sauces and launched its jerk sauce marinade into more than 320 Morrisons stores – the first time it has supplied a mainstream retailer.

Formed in 2017 by Shaun Sookoo after he was inspired by his mother Winny’s thirst for a ‘good life’ through her culinary skills, the company is expecting this to lead to interest from other supermarkets and believes turnover could double over the coming year.

This will lead to the creation of ten new jobs at its facility in Birmingham where all of its delicious dishes are designed, developed and produced.

Shaun is a former personal trainer, who also appeared on Channel 4 show The Money Maker, and has pledged further investment into training and new machinery, not to mention the introduction of a new hot sauce for 2022.

Sharn Haywood-Higgs, manufacturing growth manager for the Manufacturing Growth Programme



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