National Business Awards Entrepreneur finalist focus: Jonathan Short, Founder ECO Plastics

Tell us about your business.
ECO Plastics Ltd is the UK’s leading and highest quality reprocessor of recyclable materials. We currently operate Europe’s largest and most technically advanced Mixed Plastic Bottle sorting facility. This plant sorts 140,000t of plastics each year, sourced primarily from Waste contractors and Local Authorities throughout the UK and Ireland, we are also increasing volumes sourced within Western Europe.

How did you fund your business?
Originally a scrap business, I founded the company to create a cutting edge 21st century technology company after I spotted a gap in the UK market. After first setting up the company in 2005, during 2007 I identified an opportunity to add further capacity to the firm. I took the idea to city investors, secured £9 million private equity and £4m bank finance and became the first British plastics re-processor to receive food accreditation for recycled plastic. In July 2011, the company secured a solid injection of capital to fund its ambitious expansion plans, including the construction of facility for the Company’s joint venture with Coca Cola Enterprises. £24 million was raised and included equity investment from Ludgate Environmental Fund and Close Brothers.

What is the biggest challenge entrepreneurs are facing?
Raising capital remains a major challenge for new or existing entrepreneurial businesses; the likelihood of raising bank debt has reduced to almost zero despite what we read about the Government putting ‘pressure’ on banks to lend more money to SME’s.

Can you give any advice to others starting up businesses?
Stick to your guns and follow the vision. If raising capital, always raise more than you think is necessary as execution of the business plan will inevitably cost more and take longer; an entrepreneur will be mindful of ‘giving away’ equity in the business and will be reluctant to do so, which may mean not raising enough. However, the first dilution is typically the cheapest. As you grow, accept that other people are better than you at certain things – by their nature entrepreneurs are generalists with a large mix of skills; there will come a time when specialists (a commercial representative, a finance representative, an operations representative, etc) are needed. Embrace the change.

How do you think we can encourage entrepreneurialism in young people to create a generation of entrepreneurs?
We should continue to raise the profile of entrepreneurship and business; great strides have been taken over recent years with programmes like Dragons Den and the Apprentice (although both have evolved from business programmes into entertainment television and therefore the message has been diluted). We should be less concerned about failure in business and not embarrassed to chase success.