Earlier this month, we celebrated 12 inspiring individuals from across the UK who dared to take the plunge and start their own businesses.
This was a momentous occasion as not on was it our first-in person Ambassadors event since 2019, it also marked the 10-year anniversary of the Start Up Loans programme.
Lord Young launched the £10m Start Up Loans pilot scheme in 2012 in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis. He was determined to support young people achieve their business dreams with both funding and mentoring.
Since then, Start Up Loans has delivered over 98,000 loans and provided over £913m of funding to business owners across the UK. More than 11,000 loans, worth more than £82m were delivered to black business owners, and over 38,000 worth £333m went to female business owners.
Our brilliant new Ambassadors truly reflect this diversity, including an ex-Hollywood stunt double turned online martial arts instructor, and a student turned Dragons Den contestant who now owns a multimillion-pound business.
I was incredibly moved by the individual stories which they told during the event. Through perseverance and sheer determination, they each navigated challenging economic times to launch successful businesses that hail from every corner of the UK.
Below are some of their stories, which I hope inspires more would be entrepreneurs.
Dhruvin Patel, Ocushield, London Ambassador
Dhruvin Patel took out the smallest loan available through the programme – £500 – via Virgin StartUp in 2015. He wanted to make the most of the mentoring support available via the programme and relied heavily on it when getting the idea off the ground in the early stages. His screen protectors support healthy eye function, as people increasingly rely on backlit screens and digital devices in their day-to-day lives. Dhruvin used his loan to set up and design the website for Ocushield.
Dhruvin said “Before starting Ocushield, I was studying to become an optometrist at City University, London and working at Vision Express. I produced a research paper looking at how blue light can be detrimental to people’s health, mainly how it impacts our eyes with a knock on effect on our sleep. I began trading whilst still at university and Ocushield turned over £55,000 in its first year. The mentoring programme was really important in the early days of the business, as it helped me take all the right steps.
“Our success has continued to grow ever since. Last year I secured a deal with Peter Jones and Tej Lalvani from Dragon’s Den, which I had to turn down as the business had grown and in turn raised £1m from private investors. The business is now worth £6.6m and we produce products like eye supplements and eye masks too.”
Hannah Saunders, Toddle Born Wild, South West Ambassador
Hannah Saunders took out a £14,700 loan in 2020 to launch Toddle Born Wild, a natural vegan children’s skincare brand. She then went on to win funding from Deborah Meaden and Steven Bartlett on Dragon’s Den and the business has been going from strength to strength.
Hannah said: “I was in the RAF for nine years and loved the travel and adventure. I then became a Mum in 2014 and couldn’t find products that would protect my son’s skin when he came on adventures with me.”
Spotting a gap in the market, Hannah left the RAF in 2017 and spent the next 18 months doing market research and developing the company’s products – mixing ingredients such as jojoba oil and beeswax in her kitchen.
She later worked with biochemists and manufacturers in Britain and America to perfect the products; she decided to ethically source the ingredients from British manufacturers rather than cheaper options in Asia to ensure each ingredient is traceable. All the products are made in the UK to minimise their carbon footprint and are Peta-approved as vegan and cruelty-free.
Emma Airley and Sebastian Bacewicz, Pastéis Lisboa, Scotland Ambassadors
In April 2022, Emma and Sebastian took out a loan of £20,000 each to set up Pastéis Lisboa, Scotland’s first specialist Pastel de Nata bakery, in the heart of Glasgow’s buzzing West End.
The couple were inspired by the new-wave of modern pastelarias in Portugal and having fallen in love with the delicacy themselves, the pair sought out the very best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon and persuaded the 5th-generation Portuguese patisserie chef to teach them his secrets and help them train their bakery team. They opened the bakery after perfecting his award-winning recipe.
Emma said, “While Pastel de Nata is a familiar product to many people in the UK, it’s nigh on impossible to find one handmade from scratch daily using the highest-quality natural ingredients, to an authentic, traditional recipe. Glaswegians are known for having a sweet tooth, and they can indulge themselves (almost) guilt-free at Pastéis Lisboa.
“The loans Sebastian and I received were instrumental in getting the business off the ground – after five years of meticulous planning and training, we used the funding to help us secure premises in the prime location we needed to launch from and towards our fit-out and equipment costs.”