Ben Holgate speaks to a business owner to find out what it’s like to start from scratch

Eric Rogers embarked on a long-held ambition on the auspicious date of New Year’s Eve last year when he launched his own small business.

Since then, Dash Witness, which sells and installs cameras mounted on the dashboards of cars and commercial vehicles, has generated about 400 sales.

Mr Rogers, 26, who has a background in IT, said: “I always thought I’d like to work for myself.”

His timing was opportune in light of Oxford’s improving economic conditions and the city’s capacity to nurture small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Various recent studies say Oxford is one of the best cities in the UK for SMEs to grow, and that with a better economic outlook the number of local SMEs under financial stress is falling.

Mr Rogers is co-owner of Dash Witness, which is based in Long Hanborough, with a silent investor.

The investor, who does not wish to be named, came to him with the idea for the business after being involved in a multi-car crash on a motorway and discovering how difficult it was to prove to insurers that he was not at fault. Mr Rogers said: “He thought, how much easier it would be if he had a dash camera.”

But after making inquiries, it seemed there was a gap in the UK market for drivers to purchase a camera and have it installed by the same company, he added.

Mr Rogers, who lives in Faringdon and previously worked for Oxford-based Chris Lewis Fire & Security and its sister company, Lewis Building Technology, said most of Dash Witness’ customers bought its cameras in order to defend their innocence in case of an accident caused by another driver.

“They were either in an accident or a near miss and they weren’t able to prove it wasn’t their fault,” he said.

Dash Witness sells its products online across the UK. The majority of its orders to date have come from as far afield as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wales and London.

The company sources the cameras from South Korean manufacturers or UK importers, and contracts Surrey-based Avian Mobile to install the cameras, which are usually mounted in the front and rear of cars. Mr Rogers said that while prices started for as low as £60, the average cost for orders was between £400 and £450, including installation.

He said the advantages of basing a small business in Oxfordshire included its central geographic location in the UK, proximity to London and reputation. “When you speak to customers and say you’re working from Oxfordshire, they’re pleased with that. It provides a level of comfort.”

The think tank Centre for Cities’ Small Business Outlook 2015 report found that Oxford was ranked number five among all UK’s cities in terms of SMEs from the digital (such as software and computer graphics), creative (like advertising, publishing and PR) and professional (including legal and accountancy) sectors.

The study, which was released this month, said that 47 per cent of SMEs in Oxford were involved in the digital, creative and professional industries, well above the UK average of 34 per cent.

Naomi Clayton, a senior analyst for Centre for Cities, said these three sectors generated the highest productivity and jobs growth, which in turn stimulated economic growth. “They have a knock-on effect for other services,” she said.

The report found that Oxford was placed tenth in regards to productivity, and eighth in terms of average weekly earnings (£555 in 2014 versus the UK average of £501).

However, Oxford also fared the worst out of the 63 cities examined for housing affordability, with a residential house price to income ratio of 16 times.

Miss Clayton said: “Rising costs and congestion in places like Oxford is actually limiting growth.”

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) said Oxford was rated the 17th best city in the UK, among 64 studied, in which to start a business (Brighton came first). The AAT survey investigated factors such as the density of SMEs in the area, the quality of broadband connectivity, the number of small business closures, property prices and pollution levels.

AAT chief executive Mark Farrar said: “The opportunities available in Oxford make it an extremely attractive place to invest in.”

Business recovery firm Begbies Traynor said the number of businesses in Oxford suffering significant financial distress in the nine months to September 2015 had fallen eight per cent year-on-year to 667. A business is said to be under financial distress if it faces County Court judgements initiated by creditors of less than £5,000, as well as deteriorating capital and profits.

Julie Palmer, Begbies Traynor regional managing partner for the South West, said: “The trend is declining in terms of distress across the region.”