Richard Bearman is the Managing Director of Start Up Loans, a government-backed programme that launched in 2012 to provide loans to new and early-stage businesses throughout the UK who may have struggled to access finance (up to £25k) elsewhere. This month, the programme announced its new Ambassadors for the year, hailing from every region in the UK.
Now in its sixth consecutive year, the Government-backed Start Up Loans Ambassador programme celebrates the UK’s unfaltering entrepreneurial spirit in the face of adversity, selecting 12 of the most inspirational businesses to represent the programme for the year ahead.
Our selected Ambassadors have prospered through what has been another challenging year for small businesses, reinforcing the importance of ambition, patience, and tenacity when it comes to business ownership.
Last month, they were honoured at a virtual event attended by Small Business Minister Paul Scully. Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s Chocolate delivered an inspiring keynote, sharing her experience as a business owner and lessons from her success, which was an empowering way to kick-off this year’s programme.
From camel milk drinks to bras for women who have had mastectomies, and bespoke furniture made from obsolete whisky barrels, this year’s Ambassadors reflect the broad diversity and ambition of the nation’s smaller businesses at grass roots level.
Our Ambassadors demonstrate that, with the right support and mentoring, aspiring business owners from all walks of life can thrive in the most challenging circumstances. I am proud that, since its inception, Start Up Loans has delivered over 89,000 loans, providing more than £800m of funding.
The stories of how these business owners successfully launched their enterprises are inspiring, and I hope that by sharing and celebrating their success, the next round of British entrepreneurs are motivated to do the same.
Jeremy May, NICE, London Ambassador
Jeremy May secured Start Up Loan funding through Virgin Start Ups in February 2020. He had worked in the food and drink industry and came up with the idea for NICE after discovering an American brand of canned wine on Instagram and became immediately obsessed with the concept. He wanted to make wine more approachable and fun, and less intimidating.
Since taking out a loan in 2020, I haven’t looked back. We sold close to half a million cans in the first year, despite Covid-19 disruption. Our wine is sourced from France and Argentina, and the cans are 100% recyclable and more sustainable than small plastic bottles and cups that would be used as alternatives. We want the business to be a force for good as it grows, and are committed to becoming carbon neutral in the next 12 months.
Rahma Ahmed Ali and Nura Nur: Tribal Milk, Yorkshire and the Humber Ambassadors (Sheffield)
Rahma Ahmed Ali and Nura Nur secured a £10,000 Start Up Loan in July 2021 through delivery partner Financing Sharia Enterprise to start alternative dairy brand Tribal Milk.
Tribal Milk drinks use camel milk, which is a staple product in Africa and has many health benefits including less lactose, more protein and less saturated fat than cow’s milk.
The loan was invaluable to our success and covered essential start-up costs, product development, marketing, and inventory. Innovation is at the heart of our brand and we’re already looking for creative ways we can use camel milk in our products. We are currently developing three key products to launch in early 2022 ‘ watch this space!
Eleanor Howie: Valiant Lingerie, East of England Ambassador (Kings Lynn, Norfolk)
Eleanor Howie secured a £6,500 Start Up Loan in Spring 2020 through Virgin Start Ups. Her business, Valiant Lingerie, provides empowering lingerie for women who have been impacted by breast cancer or risk-reducing mastectomies.
Her mother had breast cancer and struggled to find lingerie that wasn’t frumpy, beige, and clinical following her surgery. Eleanor had a risk-reducing mastectomy when she was just 24 years old and found that nothing had improved over time when it came to post-surgery underwear. This had a real impact on her self-esteem, so a few years later she decided to do something herself.
My loan allowed me to launch a business that is really close to my heart. Aside from the personal rationale behind the brand, I am also very conscious of the fashion industry being problematic in contributing to the climate crisis. Our collection is therefore made using yarn from recycled fishing nets. The fabric is soft and functional, but also sustainable and all products are produced by a small UK-based partner, cutting down our carbon footprint.