When Innocent Drinks first came to the Portobello Business Centre in 1999, they were three men with a good idea and little else apart from their own enthusiasm and commitment. When they started their juice business later that year, they had one shop stocking their product which was selling around twenty bottles a day. They now sell in over 10,000 outlets including major supermarkets and they have sold a minority stake in their business to Coca Cola.
Innocent have won a host of awards including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for London, Business Link for London best marketing campaign, National Business Awards best marketing campaign and Shell LiveWIRE regional winner and national runner up. Adam Balon, Richard Reed and Dan Germain (pictured in 2000) started the business which now employs over 250 people and is based in west London.
Adam takes up the story, ‘We’d been mates since university days and we’d often talked about setting up a business together but had never actually got round to doing anything concrete. Then, when we were on holiday snowboarding in Switzerland, we decided that the time had come to stop the talking and start some action. So we all took a sabbatical from our jobs and started looking seriously at the possibility of starting up a juice business.
‘Our basic idea was that we wanted to produce a product that would be completely pure, with no additives, in fact, no ingredients at all except fresh fruit. We felt that in today’s fast-moving world, although we all know what is good for us, we don’t always have time to eat or drink healthily. We wanted to make it easier to do just that, and to do it in a way that didn't smack of puritanism but was actually a pleasure”
‘Our first operation was at a small west London jazz festival. We bought five hundred quid?s worth of fruit and served juices from a stall. We put up a sign saying that we were on the verge of setting up a business and asked people to vote on whether they thought our product was good enough for us to risk packing in our day jobs. The punters voted by either throwing their empty bottle in a bin marked “yes” or a bin marked “no”. By the end of the day, the “yes” bin was overflowing and the “no” bin was all but empty. So we resigned and started up the business.’
‘We spent six months researching our products, suppliers and markets and during the planning and research phases, the Portobello Business Centre were brilliant. It was so useful to have somewhere we could go and talk over our ideas.’
‘When you are a young business, any advice and support you can get is always really appreciated. One key thing we remember is the PBC recommending we go for the Shell LiveWIRE award. Winning that has generated lots of great PR for us and even five years on the odd journalist will call because of that. Ever since then, we have continued to enter awards and seen great results from that. A good early lesson to learn.’
‘The Business Centre gave us practical help in the shape of recommendations to lawyers and accountants, and last, but hardly least, they helped us to get some of the finance that we needed in the shape of a loan from the bank at well below the normal commercial rate.’