Pass it on: the secret of my huge success

These Maserati 100 entrepreneurs have given something back by helping a new generation of start-ups

At 6.30 every morning, Alicia Navarro is up and ready to face the day as the chief executive of a fast-growing technology company. But her diary holds more than a string of meetings for Skimlinks, her business that finds ways for publishers to make money online. Navarro, 38, also spends time mentoring fledgling entrepreneurs and hosts events for young business people at her London offices.

“When I started, so many great people gave their time and advice. Those early, encouraging conversations kept me sane, connected and inspired. It is important to pass that on with whatever time I can spare,” said Navarro, who has 80 staff in London, New York and San Francisco.

In 2013, Skimlinks had revenues of £13m and last year it featured in The Sunday Times Tech Track 100 as one of the fastest-growing private technology companies. It recently raised £10m in an investment round led by Frog Capital. “Those early connections have become deep friendships over the years as we have supported each other through highs and lows,” she said.

Navarro’s support for fledgling entrepreneurs has earned her a place among the businessmen and women who are doing most for the next generation. In a list compiled by the Centre for Entrepreneurs in partnership with the luxury car maker Maserati, 100 names have been voted the country’s biggest champions of their fellow entrepreneurs.

From campaigners influencing government policies to business leaders running fast-growing companies and investors pumping millions into start-ups, the list showcases those who give their time and expertise willingly to support new businesses.

Sir Charles Dunstone, the co- founder of Carphone Warehouse and chairman of TalkTalk, and Brent Hoberman, co-founder of, are obvious members of the list, having invested their fortunes into a number of start-ups. They join big names such as Sherry Coutu, Dale Murray and Lara Morgan, who have also enjoyed success with their own companies and now dedicate time and money to inspiring and nurturing those who are following in their footsteps.

 But it’s not just long-serving business people who have made the Maserati 100.

Younger entrepreneurs such as Skimlinks’ Navarro join the likes of Mind Candy’s Michael Acton Smith, Andy McLoughlin of Huddle, Decoded’s Kathryn Parsons and Sokratis Papafloratos of social network Togethera.

They prove that the culture of giving back fostered by their business forebears is also important for the rising stars.

“Among the most powerful in–fluences on budding entrepreneurs are strong role models, setting examples of how to succeed and how to recover from failure,” said Luke Johnson, chairman of Risk Capital Partners and the Centre for Entrepreneurs.

Johnson shot to prominence when he bought and built up the Pizza Express chain and took it to the stock market in 1993. He has since founded chains such as Strada and Belgo, backed companies such as Patisserie Valerie and Gail’s Bakery and co-founded StartUp Britain, a small business campaign..

He justifies his support for entrepreneurs simply: “Entrepreneurs generate most of the new jobs, provide much of the innovation and pay a disproportionate amount of tax. In years to come, prosperity will depend on the entrepreneurial efforts of our young people.

“Traditionally, wealthy Britons believed that they contributed to good causes via higher levels of tax. But in recent years there has been more interest among the self-made in charitable causes — donating both time and money,” he added.

The culture of giving back has developed greatly over the years, Johnson said. “I had very few established entrepreneurial contacts in the early 1980s when I started. There are now many more mentors and supporters. This is one of the reasons why now is a brilliant time to become an entrepreneur.”

The help Sherry Coutu received when starting out inspired her to devote time and money to support those who followed.

“It made a world of difference to me, and now that I’m a bit more experienced it is an absolute pleasure to take a bit of time to lend a helping hand,” said Coutu, who took her financial services platform, Interactive Investor International, to the stock market in 2000.

She has since invested in more than 40 British start-ups, and has joined the boards of LinkedIn and the London Stock Exchange. Coutu also leads a campaign to help the country’s “scale-ups” to flourish, producing reports that highlight the gaps in support for fast-growing companies and press government on what needs to be done.

Her Founders4Schools initiative gets business leaders into class- rooms to inspire children, and through Silicon Valley Comes to the UK she brings American business chiefs to Britain so they can share their lessons.

“The things that today’s entrepreneurs are working on are fascinating and solve some really intractable problems, so it is in everyone’s interest that they are successful,” said Coutu. “We all have a part to play and we will be stronger if we all play those parts.”

For Maserati, support for the Centre for Entrepreneurs’ list was fitting. “Maserati emerged from the entrepreneurial spirit of five brothers 100 years ago,” said Peter Denton, regional manager for Maserati in northern Europe. “Today, the Centre for Entrepreneurs actively encourages and supports that same drive and determination to succeed.

“It is important to recognise the valuable contribution Britain’s entrepreneurs make to the economic and social well-being of the country as a whole, which is why the Maserati 100 acknowledges those established names who are now generously giving their time and resources to support the next generation of young entrepreneurs.”