Published: 08:00, 09 May 2016
Anwen Cooper knew it was a shrewd move to launch her company at the West Kent B2B show in March last year.
She officially started Get Fruitful Marketing, based in Maidstone, at the event in Tonbridge. She decided to launch her own business after becoming a mum, following 15 years working in London.
She has gone from having no clients to working with about 20 businesses.
Ms Cooper said: “The exhibitions have helped me make so many connections.
“Through my networking I’ve gone from having nothing to 500 connections on LinkedIn and a Facebook group with 50 people.
“I have grown my business massively in a year and I only work part time because I’m a mum.”
Last month, she was winning more clients at the Kent B2B, the county’s longest running business to business exhibition, which celebrated its 30th birthday on Tuesday, April 26.
“I have seen first hand how over the years this event has really transformed,” said Jo James, chief executive of organisers Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce.
Of the 30 which have taken place, Mrs James has been involved in organising 27. Held at the Ashford International Hotel every year, more than 100 businesses took stands at the latest event, which was attended by more than 1,000 people.
“Regardless of your business’ size or sector, there is something here for everyone,” added Mrs James.
That includes the exhibition’s range of speakers and experts, which included Dragons’ Den sauce entrepreneur Levi Roots.
The Caribbean celebrity businessman talked about his transformation since earning an investment on the show in 2007 from 6ft 7in TV giant Peter Jones.
He told how his Jamaican grandmother had passed on her recipe for making cooking sauce with allspice to him as a boy and even treated his audience to a rendition of his Reggae Reggae Sauce song, which made him an instant star.
“That is what enterprise is: being new,” he said. “Music was the reason I went into Dragons’ Den because I never had a business plan. I was inspired by Bob Marley.
“Peter did not invest in me because of Reggae Reggae Sauce. Peter Jones was my knight in shining armour because he invested in this thing my grandmother made and me.
“I didn’t become the Levi Roots I am now because of Dragons’ Den. I was always me but I grew up in a time when people were looking for inspiration. We all need a little inspiration.”
Today, he has more than 50 products, has written eight books, visits his native Jamaica four or five times a year and even has aspirations to get into acting.
He told the audience: “I said to Peter afterwards, ‘how should I play this?’ I was coming from a place where when you said ‘enterprise’ I started talking to you about Captain Kirk.
“Is this the place for a Rasta man from Brixton with three-foot dreadlocks? Peter said ‘just be yourself. That is what I invested in. That is what people will be buying’.
“If Levi can do it, anyone can do it. I don’t have special skills but what I did do was get the best of me.”
Si Root, digital director at design and digital agency The Hideout, based in Maidstone, was among the companies with a stand at Kent B2B.
He said: “Success is all about what you put into a business.
“With an exhibition, you see what you get out of it. I had got three or four positive leads within a few hours of the event opening. It is about being proactive all the time.
“With shows you have to make the best of it and get yourself our there.”