Ben Serves Up Sweet New Business with Virgin StartUp

A 19 year old from Whickham is hoping to make his new business a sweet success thanks to help from Virgin StartUp and Tedco Business Support as he launches confectionery business Sweet Surprise.       

Sweet Surprise-Ben-Smith-and-Bill-Hartshorne

Owner Ben Smith was successful in receiving a £20,000 business start-up loan from Virgin StartUp to help grow the new confectionary and event hire business as Sweet Surprise opens its first shop in Ryton, Gateshead.  

The idea for Sweet Surprise came out by accident after a 16 year old Ben made a selection of sweet cones for his four-year old sisters birthday party.   

Ben comments: “It’s hard to believe that creating some sweetie cones for my little sister three years ago would set wheels in motion that would lead to me opening my first shop and setting up a business as the confectionary party king in the North East.

“I’m a pastry chef by trade so I’ve always had a sweet tooth and I know better than anyone that kids don’t really want any of the silly cheap toys that come in party bags, they just want the sweets.  It just so happens that I always enjoyed making up sweet cones and when other parents saw what I’d put together for my sister, they started asking my family where to get them and three years later here I am – in my own shop with a growing order book and event hire diary!”

After an initial flurry of referrals from local parents, Ben started trading online on a more casual basis through facebook, supplying a range of fun and exciting sweet treats for birthday parties and events.  As the order book grew, so too did his confidence in the products as requests to attend fairs and markets began to lead to more demand for his speciality sweets in a range of delicious packages, from cones to cubes to traditional bags.

Ben continues: ‘I like to have fun designing our product range so can offer bespoke items depending on themes or seasonal products for Christmas, Valentines or any other time of the year which really stand out. As my orders continued to grow I knew the time had come to make a real go of the business and so I quit my job as a pastry chef and decided to officially launch Sweet Surprise as a fully fledged business venture.”

Ben approached Virgin StartUp to learn more about the government-backed start-up loans offered to new businesses and was put in touch with TEDCO Business Support, the official delivery partner of Virgin StartUp in the North East.    

Ben comments: “Bill Hartshorne was appointed as my TEDCO business advisor and was a huge help to me in all parts of getting the business up and running but more importantly, making sure Sweet Surprise was investment ready. I already work in the food sector so the hygiene and food safety side of the business was never really an issue for me but I did need some guidance on business planning and the more administrative side of self-employment. Bill was able to really help me with the whole process of applying for the Virgin StartUp loan and of course we were successful, receiving £20,000 to help fun the start-up costs of the new premises and expanding the business with new revenue streams and opportunities.” 

Ben was supported by TEDCO as part of the Start and Grow programme, which is delivered by TEDCO Business Support in the North East and supported by the Regional Growth Fund (RGF). The programme is delivered throughout England by Cavendish Enterprise in areas where there are lower levels of business start-up to help new enterprises get up and running and develop new employment opportunities in the private sector with a range of services, including one-to-one mentoring, business planning and helping new ventures get investment ready.  

Ben continues: “With the capital in place to open Sweet Surprise, I was able to invest in a range of popcorn, candy floss and snow cone machines which can be hired for parties and events across the region. As the confectionery side of the business is already flourishing, the event hire adds another revenue stream to our party offering in addition to the various decorations and party items we hold in store. It’s been a busy few months since we launched Sweet Surprise but I am absolutely delighted to have turned what was initially a hobby into a thriving business and am already looking ahead to how Sweet Surprise can grow further.”

Virgin StartUp is a not-for-profit organisation delivering government-backed business loans to new enterprises in the UK. To date, over 145 Virgin StartUp loans have been provided to North East businesses since the programme launched in the region in 2013.  

Bill Hartshorne, business advisor at TEDCO Business Support said: “Sweet Surprise is a real success story. Taking what was a coincidental hobby and allowing it to grow organically through referrals and client recommendations has brought Ben a new career and an exciting new business opportunity at the tender age of just 19. His drive, focus and talent means I have no doubt that he will make a success of Sweet Surprise and we look forward to working together further beyond the start-up stage to ensure he has the support he needs to expand and growth further.”