Posted: Thu 24th Dec 2020
Who'd start a business during a pandemic? Tens of thousands of you, that's who.
For some, COVID has sparked entirely new, and entirely necessary, ideas. For others, it's prompted some eye-popping pivots. And, for a fortunate few, it's somehow passed them by.
We've been lucky enough to hear some truly inspirational start-up stories this year, and we'd like to share 10 of our favourites. Their journeys may be very different, but they all have one thing in common: they're going places in 2021.
10. Munchy Play
Falling firmly into the bracket of "Wow, why didn't I think of that?" is Munchy Play, a start-up that brings fun to the dinner table with plates featuring built-in racetracks and railways. Not only are these superb ideas that have gone down fantastically well, but said plates are manufactured right here in Britain. Sophia Procter, Munchy Play's founder, recently told us that "it's important I can visit the factory and know that they have best practices in place. It also means I can support the UK economy, something close to my heart." Sophia added that, now she's firmly on the right tracks, ahem, some "exciting new releases" are planned for 2021.
9. That Works For Me
People don't just want greater flexibility in terms of how and where they work, but whom they work for and when - which is what makes That Works For Me such a zeitgeisty start-up going into 2021. It matches businesses with skilled professionals who, because of other commitments, only want to work two or three days a week - a model that feels perfect in these fast-moving times. "When you describe the issues - that there are so many people good at what they do who can't find work, and so many small businesses that need help with their social media or Google Analytics, or whatever - it really lands," founder Jess Heagren explained.
8. Data Duopoly
Its technology for helping visitor attractions manage queues could not be timelier. Launched before COVID-19 as a pilot with the Eden Project in Cornwall, tech start-up Data Duopoly has now added new features to help universities and other venues manage the safety of those using their spaces. "[Our idea] stemmed from our own experiences of how annoying it is when you get to a visitor attraction and then you follow the same set of people around the same route," co-founder Tanuvi Ethunandan said. "We thought there must be a way to send people on personalised routes to alleviate that frustration."
7. The Woolf's Kitchen
Dominique Woolf has quite the start-up story. For one, she launched her business - Thai-inspired sauce brand The Woolf's Kitchen - just as the pandemic was taking hold. With three young kids. And no childcare. Before long, though, she had sold almost 2,000 bottles of her jalapeño & lime, hot & sour, and tamarind ketchup sauces into 30+ stockists across the UK. Having recently secured her first overseas order - from an upmarket supermarket chain in Slovakia - 2021 looks set to be a big year for Dominique and her flourishing business.
6. Kohl Kreatives
Beauty entrepreneur (and recent Dragons' Den participant) Trishna Daswaney had to wait a couple of years for her inclusive make-up brushes to receive the recognition they deserve, and she was very honest with us as to why this may have been the case. With 2020 accelerating conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion, Kohl Kreatives' products - which are genderless, colourless, cruelty-free and sustainable - will in 2021 surely get the take-up they warrant. Indeed, since we spoke to Trishna they're now stocked in Boots.
When you launch a food start-up and get stocked in Selfridges almost immediately, you know you're on to something. Plant-based snacks brand Superfoodio, founded by husband-and-wife pair Nirali and Jag Mankodi, were already tapping into key food trends before COVID, but when the pandemic struck they were forced to look at not only their products, but how they were selling them. With its new peanut butter chocolate range and a boosted online presence, Superfoodio has undoubtedly emerged stronger, which bodes well for 2021 - a year when convenience-championing consumers will look even more closely at the food they're eating.
Physical retail has been on its knees in 2020, but if anyone knows how it can recover, it's Rebecca Saunders. The beauty entrepreneur's start-up, Seekology, connects beauty consumers with small, innovative brands by championing community, intimacy, experience and expertise. Like many small businesses, it's had to move online - but its real home, where it's assuredly at its best, is the store environment. Hearing Rebecca talk (watch out for our interview with her in the new year, especially if you have, or aspire to have, a physical retail presence), you get the impression that it won't be long until Seekology is back where it belongs.
3. Chai Guys
They could have lost everything when their revenue dried up and they couldn't access financial help. But, within five days of shutting up shop, Abhilash Jobanputra and Gabriel Unger - the Chai Guys - were selling tea and spice blends online. They did so well that, a few weeks later, they secured a grant that allowed them to develop a unique flask to safely transport hot chai, thus facilitating their entry on to Deliveroo, and an entirely new revenue stream. With more strings to their bow, the Chai Guys' mission to challenge coffee as people's takeout drink of choice will continue in earnest in 2021.
2. Little Beau Sheep
The trouble with laundry balls is that they're all made of plastic. At least they were until Sarah Turner came along. Her start-up, Little Beau Sheep, makes wool laundry balls, which aside from actually working are far better for the environment. Over the last couple of years Sarah has received a Small Business Sunday Award, been interviewed by Anita Rani on Countryfile and, thanks to a little help from Theo Paphitis, been stocked in outlets across the country. "In the long term," she told us, "I want Little Beau Sheep to be the leading supplier of British-made wool laundry balls and the first port of call for anyone seeking laundry advice and expertise."
In 2019, Lauren O'Donnell attended our Next Generation programme and, pretty much right after, left her high-flying Canary Wharf job to launch overnight oats business Oatsu. It was a leap of faith, but one cushioned by a superstar ingredient - amazake - and the tapping of a particularly prescient trend: widespread interest in gut health. Because of this, Lauren's start-up has been largely unaffected by the chaos of 2020. "I don't think the pandemic has been too much of a hindrance," she told us, "because people are focusing on their health and immunity. Because they want convenience as well, we tick a lot of the boxes. I set up an online store in April, and month-to-month sales have been increasing." Next up for Lauren? Securing a manufacturer and a big buyer, which is definitely only a matter of time. Keep your eyes peeled for our interview with her in the new year.
2020 has been the strangest year most of us have lived through. We've tried to make sense of its impact on the small business landscape by identifying six trends you may wish to act on in 2021. Consider it essential reading heading into the new year.