International Business Festival 2018




Ian Hughes
10 April 2017

Business can be truly magical. It can transform people's lives, give life to wondrous new inventions and create unforgettable experiences.

Don't think of the world of business as a stiff, boring handshake from a man in a grey suit. Think of it as a kaleidoscopic blast of colour from a portal that leads to a new world of possibilities.

Everyone needs a little inspiration now and then and, like a lovable Disney sidekick, we're here to help. Check out these incredible origin stories from some of the world's biggest brands. They're true Cinderella tales. In fact, when you think about it, they're even better.

Nobody rescued these businesses. Nobody just gave them their heart's desire. They made their own dreams come true. Not by wishing on a star, singing to birds or waiting for some fairy godmother to magically appear, but through determination, innovation and a fair bit of elbow grease.

Dreaming of greater business success? Read our selection of classic business ‘fairy tales' below and let them inspire you to make your own dreams come true.

Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin…




The people of earth loved to text. It was a quick and easy way to chat with friends and family, when they were far, far away. Big, bad corporations loved texting too because it made them lots of money, gobbling up people's credit and costing them their hard earned pennies, each time they sent messages to their loved ones. This made the people sad. A poor Ukrainian boy came to the rescue, rising up against the big corporations, giving free messaging to people all over the world…

When Jan Koum arrived in the USA from the Ukraine, he was a 16-year-old penniless immigrant. He lived off food stamps, struggled to make ends meet and worked as a cleaner at a grocery store. But between price checks on loo role and clean-ups on aisle 3, Jan dreamt about the power of computer programming. 

But he didn't just daydream, he enrolled at San Hose University, whilst simultaneously working at Ernst and Young as a security tester, where he met Brian Acton. Jan and Brian were both turned down for roles in Facebook but instead of giving up, they developed an idea for an app that had all the benefits of text messaging with none of the cost.

WhatsApp was born and people loved it. It now has more than 600 million global users and was recently bought for $19bn, by – you guess it – Facebook, saving people lots of money and making Jan a very happy, multi-billionaire.



Estee Lauder

Eight little children tirelessly helped in their father's tiny store, in a big bustling city. One of the children was fascinated with beauty. She believed that all the women of the world could feel beautiful, with a little touch of magic. The young girl couldn't afford the expensive French beauty products, sold in luxurious department stores. Instead, she learned how to make her own with the help of her uncle, she created a special ‘magical' face cream and a bath oil that doubled as a perfume. The girl went on to change the world of beauty forever. Making millions of women all over the world feel beautiful…

The young Estée Lauder was also the daughter of American immigrants, with Hungarian-Czech parentage. She gained her strong entrepreneurial spirit by working in her father's hardware store. When she was when a teenager, she worked with her uncle, a pharmacist, to develop a range of beauty products, which she sold in salons. She believed in her products so much, so she gave out free samples and pioneered the ‘free gift with purchase' sales tactic - unheard of at the time.

The tenacious young businesswomen wanted her products to be sold in high-end department stores but was often turned away. Undeterred, she would sometimes "drop" a vial of her perfume on the shop floor, knowing that eager customers would be entranced by the aroma and enquire about what perfume it was and where they could get their hands on it.

As a result of her intense drive and ambition, Lauder became one of the richest self-made women in the world and her company continues to be one of the biggest names in the global cosmetics industry to this day.




Once upon a time, there was a young farm boy who dreamt of escaping his little rural town and becoming a real businessman. He sold wooden matches to his neighbours and would peer into the homes of his customers, whilst selling door to door. He was enchanted by their furniture, noting their designs and age. He noticed that furniture in the poorer homes was old and tired whilst furniture in the more prosperous homes was colourful, fresh and new. The little boy had an idea. Could he breathe new life into the furniture industry, giving vibrant designs at affordable prices to the world?

From the age of seven, Ingvar Kamprad realised he could buy matchboxes in bulk very cheaply and sell them individually, at a low price and still make a profit. This lead to greater and greater ambitions. IKEA was founded on Ingvar's uncle's kitchen table, as a small mail order company. It's now the world's largest furniture retail business, offering Scandinavian chic at economical prices and turning everyday houses into fabulous homes, the world over. 





A long, long time ago, in a small town in Germany, a little baby became ill. The baby's mother and father were very worried and prayed for a recovery. All the doctors in the land came to see the child, but there was nothing they could do to help. But luckily, the baby was blessed. She grew up to become a talented seamstress, who loved to make toys for all the children in her village. She created the world's first ‘teddy bear' giving children all over the world one of its most treasured toys…

At 18 months old, Margarete Steiff became ill, with a high fever. Her legs were paralyzed, she became confined to a wheelchair and it hurt to use her right arm. Three years later a doctor diagnosed her with polio.

Margarete's parents feared for her future. What life could their daughter have now that she would be dependent on the care of others? But Margarete fought for her place in the world. In spite of the pain in her right hand, she learned to sew. She went on to found her own sewing business, making soft toys. 

These toys began as elephants, which were originally sold as pincushions. But, children loved playing with them, and in the years that followed Margarete went on to design many other successful animal-themed toys for such as dogs, cats, and pigs. Margarete coined the motto ‘only the best is good enough for children' and insisted on quality craftsmanship, setting her toys apart from cheaper competitors.

One fortuitous day, Margarete Steiff designed a stuffed toy in the shape of a bear, which would go on to cement her company's future. She exhibited the bear at the Leipzig Toy Fair in March 1903. An important buyer from New York ordered 3000 bears to be sent to the United States.

After Theodore Roosevelt refused to kill a bear on a hunting trip, the bears became wildly popular in America and earned the name ‘teddy Bear'. To this day, Steiff bears are synonymous with quality and durability and some special, rare Steiff teddies even fetch millions in auction. 



Happily ever after is no certainty in business. But fantastic things can happen with a few magic ingredients. Don't get stuck in a small business mind-set. Every business has to start somewhere. From little acorns mighty oaks grow and globally recognised brands can arise from very little. 

The International Festival for Business is about seizing opportunity, rewarding perseverance and realising ambition. If you really had three wishes for your business you could wish for nothing better. We want to give you the keys to the kingdom and we're here to make happy endings happen.

Sign-up below and start the next chapter of your business adventure with us. We see your business's true potential and we want to make your business a fairy-tale success.

The End.

Read More about our Festival

Related stories


    01 March 2017 Ian Hughes

    30 March 2017 By Nathan Alemany, Head of Marketing, 2018 International Business Festival


Festival Partners