If there were more companies like Gripple, the Sheffield steel industry wouldn't be such a pale shadow of its former self. Gripple, initially an ingenious device for joining wire, has become the basis of a fast-growing industrial fastening system used in projects ranging from the Millennium Stadium to HM Treasury. Housed in a 19th-century former munitions factory, its eponymous maker is a worthy successor to the steel city's engineering tradition, exporting 85% of its production and growing 30% a year through a stream of seemingly simple but extremely sophisticated innovations.
Gripple grew out of a chat in 1984 between Hugh Facey, then chairman of a fencing company, and a Welsh farmer looking for a better way of joining fencing wire than pliers and a knot. In 1988 Facey sold the fencing company (still a customer) and invested the proceeds in the new product he had been developing.
The company initially thought it was in fencing. But the Gripple soon found wider agricultural applications, particularly in vineyards. This got the firm into tensioning and forced it to learn about international business (it is now a shining light of language learning amid the monolingual UK manufacturing desert).