The disruption of the past year has impacted us all, and the emergence of the Indian variant of Covid-19 in the UK has sustained some of the worries among businesses that the struggle isn’t yet over.
Start Up Loans offers groups most impacted by the pandemic the opportunity for a fresh start
Richard Bearman is Managing Director of Start Up Loans, a government-backed programme launched in 2012 to provide loans to early stage businesses throughout the UK who might otherwise have struggled to secure backing from high street lenders. At a time when many groups in society are struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic, Richard reflects on how the scheme has helped some of these people start again by offering them the chance to open a business.
The disruption of the past year has impacted us all, and the emergence of the Indian variant of Covid-19 in the UK has sustained some of the worries among businesses that the struggle isn’t yet over. It’s also true the degree to which individuals have been impacted economically varies enormously.
Young people have reported being worried about how the pandemic will impact their future work, with 21% of 16–29-year-olds concerned about reduced hours, while reports show women have been more likely to be furloughed than men in the UK. In addition, 27% of people from black backgrounds have reported finding it difficult to meet ends meet (compared with fewer than 10% among white groups) and the number of payroll employees remains 772,000 below pre-pandemic levels according to recent ONS data.
Fundamentally the above shows that there is currently a bigger pool than ever of people in the UK who are, through choice or circumstance, considering alternative career options or looking to get back into work. It’s these conditions which frequently catalyse into people becoming more entrepreneurial, and I’m a strong believer that when any individual – regardless of their financial background or security – has a good business idea, there should be support to help them turn that ambition into a reality.
Our Start Up Loans offering has always supported budding entrepreneurs from all walks of life. It’s our responsibility and guiding principle to make what can seem a daunting process, particularly during the current environment, as accessible as possible. That’s why we offer free ongoing support and guidance to all applicants, in addition to our low-interest loans of between £5,000 and £25,000.
As a result of this support, which sets us apart from traditional providers, two fifths (40%) of all Start Up Loans issued since 2012 have gone to female entrepreneurs, and 31% to unemployed applicants. One in five (20%) have gone to loan recipients who are Asian, Black or from other ethnic minorities and 15% have gone to young entrepreneurs aged 18–24.
I’d like to share the inspiring stories of three businesses that launched last year, after their founders turned to an alternative route into employment during the pandemic:
Jamal Ramsay & Jamal Aton-Brown, from London, Co-Founders of BOX’D London
Jamal Ramsay and Jamal Ayton-Brown took out two loans of £24,988 in June 2020 to launch BOXD Health, a business selling sustainable protein and wellness shakes specifically designed for women.
After a ten-year career in recruitment, Jamal A-B found himself unemployed in February 2020. His business partner, Jamal Ramsay, had a background in sports science and nutrition, and had noticed that women were often struggling to get enough nutrients in their diets, especially protein.
Together, the pair decided to launch a business that catered to this gap in the market and have now been successfully trading for five months.
“Unemployment and the pandemic gave me an opportunity to think about what made me tick, something I might not have done otherwise. From the start, the focus for BOXD has been to listen to our customers and respond to their needs. This is the best way of really bringing value to people’s lives and is the most meaningful part of the job.
“I have taught myself a lot since starting BOXD – a real 360 view of starting a business. It has also pushed me to learn about myself on a personal level too, on the importance of self-confidence, and ignoring negative self-talk.”
Aoife Doherty, from Cardiff, Founder of Floris
Aoife Doherty set up her business in November 2020 after graduating from the University of Reading with a BA Honours in Graphic Design. After noticing a gap in the market for eco-friendly stationery, she decided to take out a Start Up Loan of £9,000 to launch Floris – her own zero waste stationary company.
“When I was studying in university it was difficult to find eco-friendly stationary that wasn’t boring or super simple in design. I have a flair for creativity and having studied Graphic Design, I realised that I could harness my skills and turn them into a business. So, with the help from my £9,000 Start Up Loan – and lots of time spend designing – Floris was born!
“Starting my business during the Covid-19 pandemic was without a doubt a challenge. In the initial phase of the business I had a stall at a market, but because of the restrictions and lockdowns I had to think on my feet about how I could keep growing my business in other ways. So, I decided to host an ‘online market’ through my website and it was a true success!
“Although things hadn’t gone to plan, it gave me a chance to re-focus my attention on developing my online presence – which completely worked in my favour.”
Matthew Martin, from Stafford, Founder of Cod of Duty
Matthew Martin and his wife, Corina Martin, launched Cod of Duty, a mobile Fish and Chips food truck, in December 2020 using two £17,000 Start Up Loans. Having both worked in hospitality and been made redundant the previous month, they decided to make their dream of owning a food business together a reality. The demand for the business offering was immediate, with product selling out within 30 minutes on their first day of opening.
“After years of working in the hospitality industry we didn’t want to put our years of experience in the industry to waste. As a previous Chef and Front of House Supervisor, together we made a pretty good duo!
“We’d always thought about starting our own business, so when we were faced with redundancy, it seemed like the perfect time to do it. We launched our own mobile fish and chip shop – Cod of Duty with the financial support from Start Up Loans, which helped us to grow in a matter of months, and we haven’t stopped learning since.”