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Balanced approach gives Donnie slice of the action

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from an entrepreneurial fitness enthusiast who has developed an innovative take on the pizza, after tapping into support from public and private sector players.

Name: Donnie Maclean

Age: 33

What is your business called?

Eat Balanced Ltd

Where is it based?

Glasgow

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We have produced a range of pizzas that provide you with a complete, nutritionally balanced meal. Essentially, each one provides all of the nutrients you need at the right levels, about 30% of the guideline daily amounts.

To whom does it sell?

We are currently selling our pizzas across Scotland through Asda and Sainsbury's.

What is its turnover?

We only launched at the start of October, so the turnover is too small to brag about at the moment, but it's increasing fairly well.

How many employees?

Two full-time, including myself.

When was it formed?

I registered the business in September 2010, so it's been a fairly long road to bring the products to market.

Why did you take the plunge?

I had been trying to sort out my own diet to improve my sports performance (triathlons) and applied some of my analytical skills to help me ensure that I was getting the proper nutritionally balanced diet that I knew I should be getting.

It wasn't easy.

This led me to identify a few opportunities that I thought I could develop into a business.

I made contact with several experts in that space (professors and doctors of nutrition) and a few of the early ideas were shot down in flames.

However, I got on very well with one of the professors (Mike Lean of Glasgow University) and we threw a few ideas around. I suggested trying to make a pizza a complete balanced meal, and he liked it, so we investigated it further and struck it lucky.

We liked the double irony of an item that is usually seen as "junk food" actually being good for you, as well as it being invented in the home of the "deep-fried pizza".

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I have been around. I graduated from Strathclyde Business School in economics and marketing, while working in retail and a stint of running the university radio station.

In 2002, I moved to Edinburgh and worked in banking, then spent three years in London, doing a graduate programme with Marsh, the world's largest insurance brokerage.

It was great, but I realised that my entrepreneurial flair wasn't really appreciated in such a big company, so I made sure that I added value in small businesses, until I felt ready to start my own.

My most recent role was sales director in my family company, Business Cost Consultants. I honed my sales skills there and made some great contacts, which have stood me in good stead since then.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I've put everything I have into this – remortgaged the flat to release equity, sold my car (borrowed one for a while) and even sold my bike. My parents have also taken an equity stake in the business, so that cash injection was a huge lifeline.

Recently, I've been able to demonstrate to the bank that I am a worthwhile risk, so I've been given an overdraft and I secured a loan with West of Scotland Loan Fund.

Scottish Enterprise has also been helpful offering financial support.

We have been hugely fortunate to be involved with Entrepreneurial Spark (the business incubator and accelerator), which has kept our costs down as well as being a source of inspiration, energy and a community of brilliant minds.

What was your biggest break?

Winning Best New Idea at the UK's largest food and drink trade show, Food & Drink Expo. It helped to raise our profile and demonstrate the potential of the brand.

We have had interest from all over the world, and I've closed a few deals as a result.

What was your worst moment?

The past six months have been a real roller-coaster with equal highs and lows. It's been a pretty tough learning curve dealing with the supermarkets.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

No day is the same in the Eat Balanced office. With a start up business you are the manager of every department.

I'm a bit of a "jack of all trades", so I love being creative, analytical, financial, and whatever I need to turn my hand to.

What do you least enjoy?

The hardest part has probably been the bureaucracy around funding, but I've gritted my teeth and got through it.

Subsequently, I've been able to drive a fair bit of value into the business from public sector grants. It's possible, if you have the tenacity.

What are your ambitions for the company?

Eat Balanced will be an international brand, which is known for helping you achieve a balanced diet.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Cut red tape. Be more positive. It's too easy for politicians to criticise: we need them to listen to the suggestions of the people on the ground to create realistic solutions.

Take action: "Go Do" is the motto at Entrepreneurial Spark and it works very well.

What are your top priorities?

Continue to make more sales – sales fix everything; push into the rest of the UK; bring out our next range of products; make use of feedback from our fans and customers; continue to build my passionate team with people who love what we do, and love what they do.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

"People buy from people" – business is so much about relationships. You have to have a good rapport with someone you want to sell to; otherwise it's a real uphill struggle.

If you treat people as you would want to be treated yourself, it makes a big difference.

How do you relax?

I have to exercise, or I get very frustrated. I also often need to get creative (painting, sculpture, cooking, DIY or similar). These things are very therapeutic for me.

My girlfriend is great at identifying when I need to switch off and we get some fresh air together.

I also love spending time with my family and my sister's two children. They're a light in my life and I love watching them develop. I look forward to having children in the future, when things calm down a bit.

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