15 tales of triumph – the most inspiring entrepreneurs of 2013

What a year 2013 has been for SMEs. The federal election and countless company collapses made optimism rocky, but at SmartCompany we’ve also seen the upside.

The team have interviewed many of Australia’s top entrepreneurs and chief executives about the good things. Growth, international expansion, hiring staff, winning clients and merging successfully – the list of incredible events is vast.

These business owners and leaders are inspiring, passionate and in many cases have created enviable lives – but not without brave leaps of faith and pure hard work.

Here are 15 of the most inspiring business owner’s we’ve spoken to this year. From wine to furniture, yoghurt to gyms, their industries are vast, but they’ll be sure to leave you motivated and positive about 2014.

1. James and Tamara Lohan, Mr & Mrs Smith

James and Tamara Lohan lead a pretty enviable life, but it hasn’t been without taking a giant risk. The couple launched boutique travel business Mr & Mrs Smith as a coffee table book 10 years ago, and now they run an online booking and review site that is turning over around 40 million pounds each year. 

2. Aimee Marks, TOM Organic

Aimee Marks was in high school when she realised there was a market for women’s feminine hygiene products that were organic with non-garish designs. This year, at just 26 years old, she hit the 3000 stockist point, and looks set for international expansion in 2013.

3. David Zhou, Oriental Teahouse

David Zhou’s love for tea and dumplings was the seed for one of Melbourne’s most successful restaurants, Davids, which has been awarded many Chefs Hats, and more casual venue the Oriental Teahouse. Zhou, who starts his day with a spot of boxing, told Yolanda Redrup that work never ends, but neither does his passion for his business. 

4. Marion Grasby, Marion’s Kitchen

She started as a journalist, then entered TV cooking show Masterchef, and then along with her husband jumped into running a business. Marion Grasby is now at the helm of Marion’s Kitchen, has moved to Thailand and has over 3000 stockists for her cook-at-home Asian meal kits. She tells Melinda Oliver it is just the beginning.

5. Georgia Beattie, Lupe Wines

Fancy a glass of wine at the races or a sporting event? Thanks to Georgia Beattie, it is easily done, after launching her business Lupe Wines. Georgia grew up in the wine industry, as her father was a winemaker, and the twenty-something came up with the idea of selling wine in plastic glasses suitable and safe for big events. She ruined her housemate’s iron while experimenting with sealing foil onto plastic wine glasses, but no doubt she’s been able to repay the favour tenfold.

6. David Prior, five:am Organic

He used to work in packaging, but after selling his business a number of years ago, David Prior was looking for an idea that was a bit more holistic to match his healthy lifestyle. Prior invested everything he had into establishing a yoghurt manufacturing plant, and before long five:am Organic was born. It’s now stocked in supermarkets across the country, and he’s looking to launch in India in 2014.

7. Abigail Forsyth, KeepCup

Melbourne-based entrepreneur Abigail Forsyth not only fostered a business, but an escalating trend that has people all over the world following suit. Her company, KeepCup, is renowned for its reusable plastic cups that consumers can take to their local cafes to get their daily coffee. She told Yolanda Redrup about maintaining work/life balance while running a multimillion dollar company.

8. Brendon Levenson, Jetts Fitness

Gym king Brendon Levenson is at the helm of 24/7 fitness chain Jetts Fitness Australia and practises what he preaches. He starts the day with exercise, before overseeing the successful franchise model that now has 206 gyms across Australia and New Zealand and 750 staff and franchise partners. Last financial year, Jetts had a turnover of $74 million and at the time of interview, it was on track to make $90 million this year.

9. Steven Harvey and Christopher Kelly, Jobfit Health Group

If you are ready to either sell or integrate your business, it would be a dream to have 20 international companies jostling to get on board. This exact scenario happened to the founders of Jobfit Health Group, Steven Harvey and Christopher Kelly, who had global health power players wanting in. They told Melinda Oliver how they struck success.

10. Sam Prince, Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill

Being a full-time doctor must be a tough career, but for Sam Prince it is just half of his immense workload. As the founder of Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill, he oversees a 36-strong Mexican food chain, with aims to make it to 100 outlets by the end of 2014. If that doesn’t sound enough, he’s also got his mind on Aboriginal health too.

11. Costa Anastasiadis, Crust

It’s an age-old fast food, but the popularity of pizza is booming and Crust is right in on the action. Founder Costa Anastasiadis launched the company in 2001 with no strategy, no growth aspirations and, self-professedly, no idea what he was doing. It is safe to say, things are remarkably different now since he sold the business for $41 million.

12. Adrian Ballintine, NewSat

Some people think big, with no goal too obscure. Adrian Ballantine is one of them, as the chief executive of NewSat, he’s set to launch a satellite, raising $600 million to make it happen. He told Myriam Robin about the tough process of generating funds for such an ambitious project. If the launch is successful, NewSat will be well on track to become one of Australia’s largest, most profitable companies.

13. Karson Stimson, WeAreDigital

WeAreDigital was awarded best digital services company at the B&T Awards 2013 this year, from a shortlist that included big names such as Big Mobile Group, Reprise Media and TubeMogul. Founder Karson Stimson told Dan Moss about his 20 years of experience in the digital world, and how the four-year-old business has built so quickly. Being nimble, forging good relationships and investing in senior staff are just some of the winning tickets.

14. Patrick Llewellyn, 99designs

On a pitstop back to Melbourne from his new home in San Francisco, 99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn told Melinda Oliver how the burgeoning online design business is on the expansion trail around the globe. From the US to Europe and Asia, it seems there will be no stopping Llewellyn and his team in 2014.

15. Dean Ramler, Milan Direct

Dean Ramler did what may have once seemed ludicrous – he took furniture into the ecommerce world and made it work. As the co-founder of Milan Direct with high school friend Ruslan Kogan, Ramler drew on his family history in the furniture trade but took it to new heights. In the 2012-13 financial year the business turned over $15 million and it has now sold over 700,000 pieces in 40 countries. In 2014, Ramler is anticipating it will exceed $20 million in turnover.


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