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Opinion > OakNorth

OakNorth: how some of the entrepreneurs we’ve lent to first got started

Valentina Kristensen, director of growth and communications at OakNorth | 07:27 Wednesday 23rd January 2019

For many, the new year brings with it new possibilities and the chance to explore new opportunities.

For many, the new year brings with it new possibilities and the chance to explore new opportunities.

Some are tempted by entrepreneurship and the challenge of setting up on their own, and one of my favourite things about my role at OakNorth is getting the opportunity to hear some of the amazing stories of how the entrepreneurs we’ve lent to first got started.

Their entrepreneurial origins are often unconventional, but always unique and inspirational. Here are a few of my favourites.

Roland Horne, founder and managing director of the Watch House, a group of award-winning and unique coffee bars in London

Roland studied economics at SOAS and then the LSE because he enjoyed it and felt it would provide a good basis for his future; he didn’t plan to pursue a career as an economist. He started his first business – an aquarium consultancy called Aquarium Architecture – while still a student during his second year at university. Following a short stint as a junior oil trader in the City, he devoted 100% of his time into the business he’d founded, mainly because he loved aquariums and the notion of having them within the home. After 10 years designing and installing aquaria into the houses of the rich and famous, he sold his controlling share to the management and started the Watch House, pursuing another of his passions – coffee.

Nicole Bremner, founder of East Eight, a property development and investment company

Before entering the property market, Nicole was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Nicole tried a whole host of entrepreneurial ventures that she could fit around her young family (she was a mum of three), including crafting, baking and Brittique, an online fashion retailer. It took years of trial and error for her to find her niche. Then – after almost doubling the value of her own home – she realised that she had a talent for property development and that her background in banking gave her insights into investments, so she took her first steps. Her inspiration came from a desire to create homes that people aspire to live in.

Gary Linton, founder and managing director of Linton Group, a company specialising in the acquisition and development of residential and mixed-use property in central London

Gary was just 25 when he began his entrepreneurial journey. He’d been exposed to the property industry from a young age through his family company – which had a background in investing in commercial property – and it always felt like a natural choice of career for him. He cut his teeth in the industry and built up his knowledge of the London property market by working for DTZ. During his time there, he decided that he had the necessary entrepreneurial enthusiasm to set up on his own. He undertook a real estate masters MSc and spent a year working for the family business to cement his qualifications to set up the company before founding Linton Group in 2010. Today, he’s got a portfolio of over £300m and has worked on numerous high-profile residential and commercial projects in the capital.

Prue Freeman, co-founder of Daisy Green Collection, the all-day restaurant, bar and coffee group

Australian-born Prue left her life as an investment banker in the City to pursue her passion (food) by selling smoothies at the bottom of the Gherkin out of a 1975 Ford Transit van. From there, she hustled her way to opening her first restaurant – a 60-cover site neat Marble Arch – and today, the group boasts 10 sites across London.

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