After winning gold in the lightweight fours at the world rowing championships in 1979, Ian Wilson began selling the Concept2 rowing machine, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. By 2000, he wanted to repeat the success for cycling. So Wilson ploughed £1.5m in savings from his Concept2 days into his new venture, Wattbike, which he co-founded with Milan Bacanovic, a former rowing coach; Dusan Adamovic, a physiologist; and John Wilson (no relation).
After years of painstaking design work, the bikes went on sale just after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, from which British cyclists brought home eight gold medals, sparking a cycling craze in Britain. Since then, Wattbikes have become a hit with the New Zealand rugby-union team, and British sports stars Andy Murray (tennis) and Jessica Ennis-Hill (athletics). Over 40,000 of the bikes have been sold by the Nottingham-based company, which made £900,000 in pre-tax profits last year – the same year it released the £1,500 Atom, aimed at the wider market. With 2,000 Atoms sold since September and a similar number ordered, it already looks set to be another success, says Wilson – “we can’t make enough of them”.
Citymapper: the future of public transport
Azmat Yusuf grew up in Pakistan and Kuwait and has lived in New York, Singapore, and Washington without ever owning a car, says Arianne Cohen in Businessweek. But when he moved to London eight years ago to work at Google, “the maze of buses in particular” left him “flummoxed”. So, he built an app, BusMapper, to calculate the most efficient routes, expanding to include trains, taxis and bikes. Today about 20 million commuters in 39 cities around the world use the app, renamed Citymapper in 2011.
In that time, about a billion journeys have been mapped generating data that Yusuf is using to improve public transport, starting with buses. “Right now,” he says, “they’re not really tied to demand. This is not the future.” Last summer, Citymapper began testing its own fleet of on-demand minibuses in London, followed by its carpool service, Smart Ride, in March. So far, Citymapper has raised $50m in funding. “Cities are a bit slow to change,” Yusuf explains. “We think it’s good for us to do this ourselves and actually make the whole thing work.”
Delivering a sprinkling of stardust
Emma Usher had become disillusioned with working as a television talent producer, says Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. “I worked on some great shows, booking names such as [singers] Kanye West and Lady Gaga”, she explains. “I was at the top of my game, but I fell out of love with an industry that changed quite a lot.” Then a friend in PR phoned to ask for help with a Virgin Media promotion.
Usher used her years of experience and contacts to arrange to have Virgin founder Richard Branson placed in a Perspex box in the middle of Covent Garden for 12 hours. She booked some famous names to pop in and keep the entrepreneur company, including former tennis player Greg Rusedski. It was such a success that Usher kept getting called back whenever Virgin required a sprinkling of stardust. “I slowly phased out the TV work to the point that I had to launch RunRagged [the talent-booking agency that she co-founded with Simon Addy in 2010]”, she says. The firm is now growing quickly as business turn to celebrities to boost their brands. Turnover was £700,000 last year, up by 40% from 2016.
The rise of the artpreneur
Buying art has long been an investment of time as well as money, requiring visits to galleries, says the BBC’s Carolyn Rice. Technology is changing that and “there’s never been a better time to be an artist”, adds American painter Ashley Longshore. Her artwork graces the walls of Hollywood celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz and Blake Lively.
“Galleries told me that I would never make it so I started to think: how could I build my own empire?” says Longshore. Social media allowed her to showcase her work without the need to pay a gallery. Longshore has since sold multiple works online, including one for $50,000, while paying subscribers get access to her limited-edition artworks as well. “I want artists to see themselves as entrepreneurs – ‘artpreneurs’ – who have control over what they’re putting out,” she says.
For some, that is easier said than done, says Amy Zipkin in The New York Times. Suzanne Massion, 72, from Chicago, has been making art her whole life. But after going for nearly two years without a sale, Massion ditched the traditional gallery route and instead headed online in October. It wasn’t easy. “Going online and selling online was for me hitting a brick wall,” she says. “The technological aspect of selling art online was foreign to me.” Happily, her efforts paid off. She sold four pieces through Ugallery.com in December alone.