Rejuvenation of an entrepreneurial venture

18 December 2018 09:32
Kris Ingham

Kris Ingham (BSc Economics, 2007) left behind a well-paid job in banking to set up Rejuvenation Water, healthy soft drinks business selling spring water enriched with amino acids, in 2015.

But the dream didn’t materialise overnight. In the all-important first year of operations - the stage when any enterprise has to demonstrate proof of concept and build relationships with partners and clients - there were two product recalls; the business fell victim to a scam claiming to be able to get the drinks into Spanish supermarkets.

“It brought the business to its knees,” admits Kris. “I had to ride it out and learn from the negatives. There are 350 investors in the business, including my family and friends. I had to draw deep on my stores of resilience to turn things around.”

Rejuvenation Water is now flourishing, with the healthy soft drinks now available in Waitrose, Tesco, Morrisons, Ocado and Holland & Barrett; a stream of new product lines are coming through; the first full-time employee has been recruited. Kris’s determination and character led to him being shortlisted for New Entrepreneur of the Year in the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards UK 2018.

“There’s no amount of money in the world that would make me want to go back into being a trader. It just isn’t where my passion is.”

Kris points to his Lancaster experience as being an important chapter in the story of becoming an entrepreneur, in building spirit and resilience.

“I learnt the importance of making the most of the natural qualities you have, not worrying about those you don’t. I was never very academic - I have a short attention span. So if you put a problem in front of me I’ll solve it, but if I have to spend six months with just a bunch of textbooks I’ll struggle.

“With A-levels I managed to breeze through with some common sense and revision, but university study was a whole new level. I’d looked at the league tables for the highest ranked universities for Economics, what would look the strongest on my CV, and found Lancaster.

Being part of the Lancaster campus community was formative for Kris.

“I was in the first team for football throughout the three years and there was a brilliant camaraderie. There were no sports courses as such, the team was made of people from law, economics, a real mix. And yet we were travelling all around the UK to play against the sports specialists at places like Loughborough. We were always the underdogs and that only added to the team spirit we already had, making up for our relative lack of facilities.”

“This part of university life also taught me a lot about the importance of work/life balance. You have to have a social life and get involved with the campus community - and the football took up a lot of my time - but you need to stay committed to what needs doing work-wise. Being at Lancaster means I’ve built up a network of friendships that will last a lifetime - I was still living with Lancaster friends until a couple of years ago.”

The eureka moment for Rejuvenation Water came during his student days.

“I’d been training at the LA Fitness gym in town, looking more closely at my diet and nutrition and the role of amino acids. Protein on its own is useless, you need the right amino acids as the building blocks for absorbing it. They’re important for your immune, digestive and central nervous systems. I couldn’t understand why amino acids weren’t a mass market product.

“I’d always been suited to be an entrepreneur. I have my own strong, individual perspective on things - it means I don’t always take to authority that well! In banking I think they’d probably say I was a ‘difficult’ employee. Instead I have that streak to spot opportunities, as well as being one of the 1% who actually follows-up.

“Working in a professional environment was useful for developing softer skills, learning how to manage relationships and the right manner for professional situations. And in any case, if I’d launched the business 10 years ago it wouldn’t have lasted a year. The context has changed. Now we have the perfect storm of different attitudes to sugar, the sugar tax, the growth in the use of social media, more aware consumers. A decade ago the only way to reach consumers was through TV adverts and billboards that were prohibitive expensive for a business like mine. Now we can get as much attention from social media as Coca-Cola. Consumers are looking further beyond the messaging from big businesses and want to support smaller enterprises.”

Kris looks back on all the setbacks and challenges as the rewarding stages of the journey.

“If everything goes right first time, you have an instant mass market, what have you learnt? With Rejuvenation Water, I’ve learnt the full 360 degrees of setting up and running a business. How to get the right scientific evidence, how to work with consultants, doing a cap table, sorting the accounts. Whatever happens next, I can do it all.

“If you’re looking to apply for a university place as a student already, you should also be making the most of holidays. Take all those to explore what really interests you in business. Knock on the door of entrepreneurs and see what they’re doing. Even if it means packing boxes or doing some admin. You just need to be there finding out how it all works, and be part of a professional environment.”

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