The world’s fastest zip line
As a Royal Marines commando, Sean Taylor spent 22 years jumping out of planes and throwing himself down zip lines. And when he retired from Britain’s armed forces in 2004, a desk job was never going to be a satisfactory substitute. That’s one reason why Taylor decided to replicate the thrill-seeking aspects of his career in a safe and fun environment for everyone — from the ages of three to 99 — to enjoy .
“I’d been all around the world going on zip lines,” he says. “I wanted to translate those experiences into something that everyone could do.” That vision materialised in the form of Zip World. Offering “the closest experience a human being can get to skydiving without actually leaping out of a plane”, Zip World Velocity opened in Bethesda, Snowdonia, in March 2013. Having built several other sites across North Wales since then, Zip World has grown from just eight staff to around 250 and during peak periods the locations handle up to 3,500 visitors a day. Zip World attractions now include the fastest zip line in the world and the longest in Europe. Plans are also being hatched to open zip wire attractions all over the world.
Meanwhile, the business is on course to report a turnover of £10m in the current year, with net profit of about £5.5m. Taylor says he has been impressed by the quality and commitment of the local workforce. “We pay well and we have got fantastic ambassadors for our business,” he says. “Also, we don’t have a lot of people leaving us, so we save on training costs. “We received Welsh Government grants for the first two sites, but we’ve also had help from the government with business plans. The Welsh Government has been very approachable. It tells me I’m not in this by myself here.” Taylor is convinced Wales’ small size can also be a huge advantage. “It is a small country, so most people know who we are,” he says. “Proportionally, we have become an important part of the local economy and our ambition is to have a positive impact for future generations.” Ultimately, the former Royal Marine takes pride from the difference his burgeoning business has made to the communities where it operates. He concludes: “People are proud to say, ‘I live in Bethesda. We’ve got the fastest zip line in the world’.”
Pioneering medical tech
With expansion plans to the US already underway, the success of Cardiff-based medical technology firm TrakCel shows that with Welsh Government support, Wales is an ideal springboard for ambitious companies keen to establish themselves in a global market. When TrakCel started in January 2013, it already had the informal backing of one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical groups.
TrakCel helps companies to monitor and record key events in clinical programmes for pioneering regenerative medicine, which uses a patient’s own cells to help combat life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. The technology manages the complex chain of custody involved from sample collection through logistics, manufacturing and final treatment. Every step is meticulously tracked and recorded.
Within six months of TrakCel’s launch, a large pharmaceutical company had entered into a more formal agreement to adopt the technology. Dr Akshay Peer, founder of TrakCel, explains: “Luckily for us, Welsh Government really understood what we do and that we would be critical players in this industry. We are really grateful to them for that. “They fully believe in our ability to generate jobs and wealth for the economy. We now have 30 employees — these are well-paid jobs too.” Just as important as political goodwill has been the links TrakCel has developed with universities.
“I did my PhD at Swansea University and have close links with the Institute of Life Sciences,” Peer says. He adds that employees who have joined TrakCel from outside Wales are “pleasantly surprised” at the quality of life when they join the business. “They love it. Cardiff especially is a great city,” Peer says. “There are great sporting events, and music events, and you are not far away from London. The standard of living is really good. “I enjoy climbing in Snowdonia, as well as visits to Tenby in Pembrokeshire, and the Gower for water sports.”
As for the future, Peer believes the sky is the limit for TrakCel. “I believe we will be the technology platform of choice for most of the industry,” he claims. “Within the next five years I can see us growing to 300-500 people.” A lot of this growth will be in the overseas markets, but Peer adds: “Wales will always be our hub.”
Putting local goods in the box seat
Orangebox, an expanding office furniture business, is a great example of high-quality Welsh-made goods with global appeal. The firm, which has received a total of £1.65m of support from Welsh Government, has invested £6m in its Treforest factory to meet the demands of a growing export market. The 2014 expansion in Treforest included a new design centre, and took the firm’s total South Wales workforce to 250 at the time.
Orangebox now employs 420 people across sites in Treforest, Hengoed, Huddersfield, London, UAE and America. A design-led brand with a focus on helping clients create inspirational work environments, Orangebox also prides itself on product development. The company employs more than its development team, typically investing more than £1m in new products each year.
The coffee makers inspired by Welsh heritage
Economic regeneration can take its inspiration from unusual sources. Coaltown Coffee owes its name and its ambition to the mining heritage of Ammanford in West Wales. The company’s founders are planning for a bright future thanks to this new kind of black gold.
When Scott James and his father Gordon set up their coffee roasting business in the garage of their family home in rural Carmarthenshire, few could have predicted the success they would enjoy. Two years on, Coaltown Coffee Roasters now supplies 160 cafés, restaurants and shops across South Wales and beyond. The father-and-son team are also grabbing the attention of national retailers, and you can even buy their toasted Arabica beans in Selfridges. “It’s been amazing and we are really lucky to have such loyal customers,” says 23-year-old Scott, as the business prepares to move into a 3,000 sq ft warehouse in Ammanford.
There has been a lot of hard work to get to this stage, but Scott warmly praises the helping hand they have had from the Welsh Government. “They have been absolutely amazing, both with financial help and business support,” he says. “Food and Drink Wales has been brilliant by inviting us along to various events. I met Selfridges at a Food and Drink Wales event and through that we picked up its business. Government funding also helped us to buy equipment.”
The young entrepreneur also has no doubts that Coaltown has benefited hugely from dealing with a devolved government in Cardiff. “It brings the chain of command closer to you. It’s easier to speak to key decision makers in Wales, rather than having to go to somebody in Westminster,” he says.
‘The happiest workplace in the UK’
A £15m telephone company headquarters, claiming to be the happiest workplace in the UK, continues to thrive in Wrexham thanks to funding from Welsh Government. The 91,000-sq ft Moneypenny development at Western Gateway includes a treehouse meeting room, above, its own village pub and a sun terrace. Outside there are nature trails, a duck pond and orchards.
Launched in 2000, Moneypenny leads the UK telephone answering service and outsourced switchboard and live chat market in terms of its size, quality of service and technology, looking after more calls and conversations for more businesses than any other company. The telephone answering service plans to create 500 new jobs over the next few years and hopes to double its client base by 2018. Moneypenny, which has gone from a £10,000 startup to the biggest business of its kind in the world, has also recently opened its first US office.
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