My pregnant colleagues were “always annoyed they couldn’t find anything suitable to wear”, especially clothes smart enough for the office, French-born Cecile Reinaud tells Michael Caines in The Daily Telegraph. Her workmates in the advertising industry knew about her hobby in designing clothes, and urged Reinaud to come up with a solution. That’s when “I saw the potential of a maternity-wear business”, says Reinaud. “There was a well-developed brand in the US, but not a lot else.”
So, in 2002, she quit her job and set up Séraphine in the affluent London area of Kensington. Celebrity customers helped boost sales, and actress Anne Hathaway, supermodel Karolína Kurková, and the Duchess of Cambridge have all worn her clothes. Reinaud’s sights are now set on international expansion. The 80-employee-strong company now exports to 100 countries, with global sales accounting for 70% of its turnover – £15.8m last year. America, where Reinaud is rolling out two new stores, is shortly to overtake Britain as Séraphine’s biggest market.
A safety cage for the family jewels
One evening, French entrepreneur Arthur Menard was discussing his testicles with friends over dinner – specifically, the negative effect that electromagnetic radiation from wi-fi, smartphones and numerous other devices was having on male fertility, says Ben Chapman in The Independent. While the link has yet to be conclusively proven, research has shown “sperm are definitely dying”.
Faced with the reality that men weren’t about to give up their gadgets, Menard and co-founder Pierre-Louis Boyer came up with the Spartan boxer shorts, underwear that will allow “sperm and smartphone to live harmoniously”. The underwear is based on the principle of the “Faraday cage”, a concept discovered by British physicist Michael Faraday in 1836. It uses a mesh of conductive material, silver, to block electromagnetic fields, thus protecting the “precious goods” within. These underpants “are not a suit of armour”, Menard stresses. They “won’t protect you from a high-paced football to the gonads”, adds Chapman. Still, the founders have raised €500,000 through crowdfunding, and even turned up to the CES technology fair in Las Vegas without trousers – just the Spartan boxers. They’re not cheap, priced between £28 and £35. But given what’s at stake, says Chapman, they’re probably worth the investment.
From punk rebel to geeky mortgage broker
Even by the standards of tech entrepreneurs, Daniel Hegarty’s (pictured above) background is unconventional, says the BBC’s Rebecca Marston. A self-confessed “rebel”, Hegarty, now 35, left school with no qualifications, but managed to earn £100 a week touring with his punk rock band, Serum. He then settled down in LA to write and play for other acts, including Robbie Williams, S Club 7, Pink and the Sugababes.
After ten years, he’d had enough. “I was tired of staring at the back of teenage pop stars,” he says. Back in Britain in 2007, he rang a friend who had had a pop hit as Tina B, who put him in touch with the nucleus behind a new payday lender, Wonga. “It quite quickly emerged I was a massive geek,” says Hegarty. “Within a couple of months I was running a lot of the tech stuff.” But it was a bad experience while buying a house that gave Hegarty the idea to set up his own online mortgage broker. Habito, which has brokered deals worth £250m to 50,000 borrowers, is growing by 20% a week, says Hegarty. “Every week is our busiest ever.”
Combative hedge-fund manager goes down fighting
Hugh Hendry’s Eclectica fund, which was founded in 2002, posted a 31% return in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, when everybody else was losing their shirt, thanks to well-placed bets against the banks in Europe and the US. The first eight months of this year, however, have told a different story. Eclectica has lost 9.4%, while assets under management have shrunk from $1.3bn in April 2013 to just $30.6m as of last Thursday, reports the Financial Times.
“It is especially frustrating,” Hendry told investors in a letter, “as nothing much has gone wrong with the economy over the summer”. His investors, too, may well have been left scratching their heads. Last week, the oft-described “combative Scotsman” called time on his flagship fund, Eclectica. Hendry is also closing his firm, Eclectica Asset Management, and all remaining funds, with assets totalling roughly $150m.
“The last three months were harrowing,” Hendry confessed in a Bloomberg interview. Hendry’s strategy had relied on betting on “big-picture”, macroeconomic events, and Eclectica was on the wrong side of them. “Macro hedge funds have for years posted middling returns,” says Bloomberg, returning 2.9% this year on average against 6.6% for hedge funds in general.
The irony is, with higher interest rates on the cards, money is beginning to flow back towards macro hedge funds – $13.6bn in the first seven months of the year, according to data compiled by eVestment. But Hendry has few regrets. “It’s a function of economics. The costs of running a hedge fund today, both regulatory and with other commercial considerations, were just too great,” he said. “But I died in active combat.”