Moneymakers: airbag in a helmet is a lifesaver

Hövding “airbag” bike helmet demonstration

Helmets are an obviously sensible safety precaution for cyclists, yet there is a reluctance among some to wear them, says Katherine Denham in City AM. “It’s vanity,” Fredrik Carling, chief executive of Hövding, a Swedish maker of “airbag” helmets, tells Denham, and “a sense that you lose some freedom by having headgear clogged on your head” – or a reluctance to have to carry around a helmet all day.

The Hövding gets around such objections. Instead of sitting on the head, it is worn as a collar. When its sophisticated algorithm detects an accident, the airbag in the collar inflates into a hood around your head in a fraction of a second. The vital question is whether it will work at the critical moment. More than 110,000 cyclists use Hövding, says Carling, and of the 2,600 accidents registered since 2011, the £219 airbag has activated and done its job every time. It also provides eight times more protection than a conventional helmet, almost completely eliminating the risk of fracturing your skull, according to research from Stanford University.

The idea came in 2005 from two design students, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin. The following year, the Hövding won a competition for young entrepreneurs to turn their design into a business. Seven years later, the concept had become a certified product. In 2015, the Malmö-based firm was listed on the Nasdaq First North index in Stockholm. Revenues came to SEK69.6m (£6m) last year. “Some people have written letters thanking us for saving their lives,” says Carling. “Hövding is no longer just a concept – it’s a product that’s been proven to work.”

How a £1 bet at Christmas became a £542m fortune

On Christmas Eve 1999, a friend bet John Roberts £1 he wouldn’t follow through on his boast that he could use the internet to “flog gear”, says Andrew Hill in the Financial Times. So Roberts (pictured) set up website AO, short for Appliances Online. Together with his colleagues, Roberts brainstormed how to re-engineer the supply chain to deliver more quickly to online customers. In 2014, the business was listed on the London Stock Exchange. After the first 15 minutes of trading, Roberts and Steve Caunce (now CEO) left the trading floor following a surge in the share price. They returned to Bolton, where AO is based, in a daze – Roberts was worth £542m on paper. A profit warning a year later knocked confidence. “Who gives a s**t whether we make £16.5m or £17.5m,” said Roberts. “It makes no difference at all to what we’re doing.” But “it turns out, it does actually” –  the group made an operating loss of £16.2m in 2017 on revenues of £797m.

The data pipeline that funnels profits to Segment

While developing ideas for a tech business that ultimately failed, Peter Reinhardt, Calvin French-Owen, Ilya Volodarsky and Ian Storm Taylor wrote a small piece of computer code, says Tom Espiner on the BBC. The code acted as a pipeline connecting customer data from different websites. “We’d built it for ourselves to solve our own data pipeline problems,” says Reinhardt (pictured). The problem was the open-source code had been made available to other developers, and Reinhardt disagreed with the others that a business could be built around it. To prove his point, he made a website explaining the code and offering a product (that didn’t exist) based on it, believing it wouldn’t catch on. The “product”, however, proved a hit. So, over five sleepless days and nights, the team built it, selling it as a service that became Segment. Segment is popular because it lets companies untangle customer data coming from different pieces of analytics software, as well as data about what customers are buying. Forbes estimates revenue for last year at $45m.

A role model for bankers

Since Sam Smith created FinnCap in 2007 through a management buyout of the corporate division of wealth manager JM Finn, the stockbroker has grown to become the biggest on Aim, the London Stock Exchange’s junior market, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. Last week FinnCap announced a deal to buy the adviser Cavendish Corporate Finance and list the combined group on Aim, with a valuation of £47m. It would be a chance for FinnCap’s 90 staff, who between them own the majority of the business, to cash in their shares, says Smith.

Smith (pictured) was 23 when she joined JM Finn to help set up the corporate-finance unit. She built up the division over the next decade before leading the buyout with 17 staff. Initially, it was a joint venture with JM Finn, but after three years Smith bought out the wealth manager outright with help from venture capitalist Jon Moulton. At first the omens seemed bad. Weeks after Smith and her partners had raised £500,000 to buy their first stakes, the run on Northern Rock began.

“There was a branch opposite our office and we could see a queue out of the door,” says Smith. “We had to hold our nerve.” It turned out that the credit crunch was actually an opportunity. With so many bankers being laid off, “we could go out and hire everybody that we wanted”, says Smith. More than a third of FinnCap’s staff are women, and Smith says she sees herself as a role model for the industry: “It’s something that should be done”. Pre-tax profits came to £3m for the year to the end of April on sales of £22.1m.