Future 50 List
Paul Hill
Archant Anglia Business Editor

Twitter @paulhill_biz

Entrepreneurs "zag when others zig."

So said Will King, East Anglian entrepreneur and founder of the King of Shaves brand, at the launch of the inaugural Future50 in 2009.

Norfolk has long had the reputation as a place where people "do different" - fertile ground, you might think, for innovation and businesses that challenge the conventional wisdom.

But when the EDP began the search for the first Future50 three years ago it was in the belief that businesses with an entrepreneurial spark often hid that light under a bushel.

Indeed, some seemed averse to publicity and rarely took part in the regular circuit of business breakfasts or networking events.

After a thorough search, our judges found 50 entrepreneurial businesses operating across different sectors, but with certain key characteristics in common.

They all had an appetite for risk.

They all could demonstrate a passion that created a dynamic business culture.

Virtually all were self-sufficient, self-funding, building growth by reinvesting profits.

But our first edition was not without controversy.Of our inaugural 50, only two of the entrepreneurs were women. Too few women had applied to take part; more concerted effort was needed on our part to broaden participation.

Through networking events and panel discussions in the months that followed, a positive message was spread about the benefits of participating in the project.

Year two of the project saw 15 new faces enter the class of 2010 - five of whom were women - 14 per cent of our entrepreneurs, closer to the proportion of women-owned enterprises in our region. To some, this was still too few - and the challenge of broadening participation remains.

But the Future50 has also coincided with some of the most testing and uncertain economic times in living memory.

Remarkably, many of the businesses featured in 2009 have recorded successive years of turnover and profit growth, despite the recession and fragile recovery. Some have grown their workforce from barely a dozen to approaching 200 people.

Year three of the project has coincided with a new emphasis on networking. Put like-minded entrepreneurs in a room and you will see ideas and collaboration flower. You will see sharing of expertise and experience. More events to bring our entrepreneurs together are planned for 2012.

Discussions are under way to deliver practical benefits to our Future50 entrepreneurs - extending mentoring, training and business support opportunities to help these fast-growing businesses extend their operations in a sustainable way.

Finally, not everyone is an entrepreneur. Not everyone has an appetite for risk or willingness to take a punt on an unproven idea.

There are good businesses, solid businesses that have managed to grow in recent times. But true entrepreneurial businesses embrace change and have the capacity and intent to disrupt traditional markets.

Entrepreneurs zag when others zig