Meet 30 of the UK’s most inspiring entrepreneurs
As part of our growth series, we will have profiled some of the UK’s most inspirational entrepreneurs.
David Alpert is the CEO of iiaa (International Institute for Anti-Ageing). He is also an intrepid marine photographer and a fierce advocate for sustainable business practices.
He has travelled the world to photograph marine creatures – and on his travels, David has had a front-row view of the impacts of pollution and climate change.
David has taken those insights to fuel his own business transformation, setting best practice for biodegradable packaging, for example, and highlighting the dangers of greenwashing.
Love Her Wild
Bex Band is an adventurer, conservationist and entrepreneur. Bex blogs about her own adventures – which have included hiking the length of Israel and kick-scooting the length of the USA – on her blog, The Ordinary Adventurer.
She also founded and runs Love Her Wild – an online community and tour operator which empowers women to pursue adventure.
Lorenzo Brewer opted out of university to co-found a business at the age of 20. nkoda, a sheet music streaming service, works with over 90 publishers and has more than 110,000 titles available.
It has been featured by Apple in over 100 countries, garnered £6.5m in funding, and counts a former Dragon and famous drummer amongst its shareholders. Music legends like Ludovico Einaudi have partnered with the platform. Lorenzo is at the fore of the latest music industry revolution.
Sylvia first came to the UK when she was considering joining the Spanish Diplomatic Service. Instead, Sylvia entered the finance sector, where she established a strong reputation in electronic trading.
Ten years ago, Sylvia followed her entrepreneurial bug to set up Alion Partners. Then last year, Sylvia Carrasco founded Goldex – the world’s first ethical gold trading platform. As one of the UK’s pioneering women in fintech, Sylvia is on a mission to make trading gold simple, accessible and transparent.
Tom Carrell became a vascular surgeon in the ‘90s – just before keyhole surgery took off. However, keyhole surgery relies on surgeons using low-quality video X-ray guidance to navigate the surgery.
Tom Carrell teamed up with Graeme Penney, an imaging scientist at King’s College London, to form Cydar in 2012. Cydar uses AI software to offer real-time, automated, 3D overlays of the patient’s anatomy to the surgeon – reducing risk and radiation and saving time.
Neil started Skin Analytics in 2012, with the goal of helping more people to survive skin cancer.
Skin Analytics uses AI algorithms which can take a dermascopic image of a skin lesion and help identify skin cancer. The company is developing advanced image processing techniques to map, analyse and manage skin lesions and provide an early warning for skin cancer.
Harry Dennis is a marine scientist from Cornwall who founded a social enterprise to reuse ocean waste. His company, Waterhaul, uses waste plastic dragged from the ocean to create high-quality adventure products.
Waterhaul also collaborates with community groups and Non Government Organisation (NGO) removing nets from Cornish beaches and seas to produce a sunglasses range.
Elena Dieckmann & Ryan Robinson
Elena started AEROPOWDER as part of a student project and is now working on a PhD on its focus: the materials potential of waste chicken feathers.
Feathers are made of keratin, a strong and chemically resistant protein. They are also one of the lightest natural fibres and highly efficient thermal insulators.
Dr Mary Gillie
Dr Mary Gillie is an applied physicist by training, an engineer, and Director of Energy Local. Energy Local is a social enterprise which aims to develop a new community-based market model for local energy.
Most renewable energy is sold at a low price away from its home area, then bought back by local consumers at a steep mark up. Energy Local aims to use smart meters and Local Energy Clubs to make the local energy market more efficient, sustainable, and affordable.
Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez & Pierre-Yves Paslier
Skipping Rocks Lab
Previously, Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez studied Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and Pierre-Yves Paslier worked for three years as an engineer in packaging design at L’Oréal.
More recently, the two founded Skipping Rocks Lab in 2013. The company designs and manufactures products made from ‘Notpla’ – the founders’ biodegradable plastic alternative made from seaweed and plants.
Joel Gibbard & Samantha Payne
Bristol-based Joel and Samantha co-founded Open Bionics in 2014 with the goal of making advanced prosthetics affordable and accessible.
Having won a slew of awards, Open Bionics creates lightweight and affordable bionic limbs for adults and children. Their 3D printed Hero Arm project has also partnered with Disney to create prosthetic covers for children inspired by favourite characters such as Iron Man.
Matt Hammond & Richard Hughes
Matt Hammond and Richard Hughes worked as Royal Marines for seven years before leaving the armed forces. They each bought and renovated their own houses before teaming up in 2013 to found Handy Heroes Construction.
Handy Heroes is based in London and primarily employs ex-military tradesmen. Londoners in need of construction work can tap into a talented, highly-disciplined pool of workers, and tradesmen leaving the military can transition smoothly into employment and keep a sense of community.
Global tech entrepreneur Jamal Hassim co-founded BOLT with Twitter’s former Head of Content, Christel Quek. The UK-Singapore company rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime in emerging markets.
BOLT targets first-time internet users who mainly access the internet via their mobile phones. The platform is tailored to provide a good streaming experience for mobile devices, and facilitates original content, empowering underprivileged creators.
Dr Stephen Hicks
Dr Stephen Hicks started OXSIGHT from his lab at the University of Oxford. OXSIGHT designs and creates smart glasses to improve the vision of people with peripheral vision loss.
OXSIGHT’s smart glasses can help people with a range of conditions, including glaucoma, degenerative eye diseases, and visual impairment caused by a stroke. OXSIGHT glasses are fitted with cameras which stream a live feed into HD video displays.
River Cycleway Consortium Ltd
Anna Hill is the Co-Founder and CEO of River Cycleway Consortium Ltd. (RCCL), a design innovation company that comes up with solutions to environmental and social challenges of urban areas.
Most famously, the RCCL has envisioned water-based floating access ways – such as the hypothetical Thames Deckway project.
Dr Shakardokht Jafari
After growing up in Afghanistan, Shakardokht worked as assistant lecturer in the Kabul Medical University and as a Radiology Department Supervisor in the French Medical Institute for Children (FMIC) in Kabul. Shakardokht came to the UK in 2010 on an International Atomic Energy Agency scholarship to be trained as a clinical scientist (Medical Physicist).
Shakardokht is now the Founder and CTO of Trueinvivo Limited – a company which uses strings of simple glass beads to save the lives of cancer patients.
Gynelle Leon founded London’s first-ever shop dedicated to cacti and succulents. Easily confused with an art installation due to its minimalist design and individually displayed plants, the shop has become a cult hit with visitors travelling from miles around.
Gynelle is not just jumping on a trend, however. Having first had the idea for PRICK whilst working in a florists, she sold her flat, gave up her job and conducted a year of research before opening the shop in July 2016.
A standard plastic water bottle will take an estimated 450 years to degrade. That essentially means that all the plastic that has ever been produced – whether recycled or not – is still in existence on the planet.
Scottish inventor James Longcroft has invented a disposable water bottle that biodegrades in saltwater within three weeks.
Steve McCulley served as a Major in the Royal Marines for 17 years before an IED in Afghanistan left him in a coma in 2011. During the three-year recovery and rehab process, Steve came up with the idea for LIOS Bikes.
With LIOS Bikes, Steve uses a 3D motion-capture fitting system to measure each client while they cycle on a static machine in front of him. This results in tailor-made bikes specific to each individual.
Cecily Mills left a high-powered City job to found a vegan ice cream brand in Cornwall. After cracking Dragons’ Den, Cecily walked away from the investment to crowdfund a far larger sum – and to supply over 600 Tesco stores across the UK.
Cecily aims to make Coconuts Organics a household name – and her ice creams have already won several foodie awards. She has also commissioned a university study into options for sustainable ice cream packaging.
Footballer Danny Mills played for Leeds and England, racking up 19 senior international caps including the 2002 World Cup.
Since leaving football, Danny Mills has worked with Endless LLP & Enact Private Equity as a Board Advisory Member. He was key in saving the West Cornwall Pasty Company from administration, in a deal which provided more than five times the return to investors.
Ella Mills started her food blog, Deliciously Ella, when she was still in university. It was 2012, and a year earlier Ella had been diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome.
Ella turned to a plant-based diet to get her life back on track. By overhauling her diet and lifestyle – as documented in the recipes on her blog – Ella was able to manage her illness and lead a normal life.
Pae Natwilai Utoomprurkporn
Pae is an innovator, technologist, designer, engineer, and CEO and founder of Gettrik.
With Gettrik, Pae has created an enterprise software solution, TRIK, that allows efficient use of drone photography for structural inspection. TRIK can be used to survey some of the hardest to reach structures, including bridges, pylons, wind turbines, roofing, rail, and construction sites.
Another circular economist and marine entrepreneur, Helen Newcombe is founder and director of Davy J. The company manufactures and sells high-performance swimwear crafted from repurposed marine waste.
Davy J estimates that an average of 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets are left in the oceans every year (c.10% of all marine litter) – and every tonne of waste nets can create more than 10,000 swimsuits.
Ayesha Ofori had a successful career in banking before she set up her own property business, Axion Property Partners. Whilst juggling a new business and a two-year-old, Ayesha also founded two community networks – Black Property Network and PropElle.
Ayesha’s networks aim to empower women and the black community to build wealth and financial independence through property investment.
Tom Pell & Jeanette Wong
The Clean Kilo
Tom Pell and Jeanette Wong did not come from business backgrounds but were driven by passion for environmental conservation to open Birmingham’s first plastic-free, zero waste supermarket. Their crowdfunding campaign launched just after Blue Planet II aired, and increased public awareness of plastic pollution meant they smashed their £14,607 target to raise £20,459.
Since opening in 2018, The Clean Kilo has gone from strength to strength, and recently won a FedEx Small Business £20,000 grant.
Charlie Rotheram & Alex Rawlins
Soldier in Blue
After leaving the Armed Forces, Charlie Rotheram and Alex Rawlins appeared in Les Misérables as soldiers. The pair quickly realised that the other extras on set had no idea about military life and practice – and they saw an opportunity.
Alex and Charlie founded Soldier in Blue to supply the film and television industries with extras who’d previously served in the military. The ex-servicemen and women are given a route into a creative career, and production companies get authentic military experience and advice.
Gabi Santosa & Henrik Hagemann
Gabi and Henrik studied together at Imperial College London before co-founding CustoMem. CustoMem uses a unique biochemical engineering process to create biomaterials optimised to capture pollutants from water.
Global freshwater reserves are increasingly polluted due to persistent hazardous chemicals that remain in wastewater after treatment methods. This leads to increasing water stress, predicted to affect 47% of the world’s population by 2030.
Hiroki Takeuchi co-founded GoCardless with Tom Blomfield and Matt Robinson in 2011. Over time, the founders parted ways and Hiroki became CEO in 2015.
Hiroki had only been married for three weeks when he suffered a cycling accident in September 2016. He collided with a car, crushing his spinal cord and leaving him paralysed from the waist down.
Hiroki did not let his accident set him back. He was back at work within three months – and has been growing the company ever since.
Steve White-Cooper played professional rugby for five years, both for the Harlequins and for the England national squad. Steve left sport and entered the corporate world before founding a recruitment agency in 2012.
add-victor specialises in connecting employers with sports people looking to re-enter the workforce, helping employers to find top talent and sports retirees to find good jobs despite their unusual resumes.