The co-founder of online fitness brand Gymshark has been named the UK’s entrepreneur of the year.
Ben Francis, who launched the company with school friend Lewis Morgan in 2012, took home the top accolade at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2020 last night.
The 28 year old will now represent the United Kingdom at the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards next year.
Judges praised the impressive trajectory of Solihull-based Gymshark which has grown from a small start-up to what is now a well-recognised, global brand.
The company, which sells sports clothing and accessories, was founded in Mr Francis’ parents’ garage and relocated to Solihull in 2018 after outgrowing its previous headquarters in Redditch.
In August, it took on its first external investment after agreeing a deal with US private equity firm General Atlantic for a 21 per cent stake which valued the company at around £1 billion.
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Gymshark has grown its presence on the back of strong social media marketing, employing brand ambassadors and influencers with hefty online followings.
It has more than ten million followers across nine platforms with a global fan base of millennial customers, connecting with them online and via a worldwide tour of pop-up events including taking over a Digbeth warehouse for a weekend in 2018.
The firm now turns over around £170 million per year and employs 500 staff at its HQ on Blythe Valley Park.
Joanna Santinon, partner and leader of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year initiative, said: “Despite a truly challenging year, we’ve had a phenomenal calibre of entrepreneurs enter the programme this year, representing exceptional businesses across the country.
“They have instilled hope and optimism into their organisations, staying upbeat and positive, and identifying new avenues of business.
“These individuals are the epitome of UK entrepreneurs – resilient, unstoppable and embodying entrepreneurial spirit in everything they do.
“Ben reflects all these qualities. He has achieved remarkable business success and growth, transforming his bootstrap start-up to a major global brand.
“The rapid expansion over the last few years reflects the strides Gymshark has made to be market-leading, adapting to the changing business landscape and customer demand.”
Tom Addyman, associate partner and EY Entrepreneur of the Year leader in the Midlands, added: “Huge congratulations to Ben who thoroughly deserves the title of Entrepreneur of the Year.
“Under his direction, Gymshark has grown into a global, dynamic and inspiring business.
“Ben epitomises the fantastic entrepreneurial talent we have in the Midlands and his business is contributing to the continued economic growth of our region.”