Woodwork by Will in Comber, Northern Ireland, a bespoke furniture company, is among 12 small businesses to be selected as champions of UK start-ups by Start Up Loans, part of the British Business Bank.
Start Up Loans Ambassador for Northern Ireland, Will Smith, received support from the British Business Bank which has enabled him to increase his capacity and take on larger projects earlier than expected.
The annual Start Up Loans Ambassadors programme, now in its sixth consecutive year, celebrates exceptional business owners who have followed the ambition of becoming their own boss after receiving support from the Government-backed Start Up Loans programme. Woodwork by Will is just one of 1,367 Northern Ireland-based businesses that have received a loan since 2012, representing a total value of over £11m.
Through a network of Delivery Partner organisations, the Start Up Loans programme provides pre-and-post loan support to help applicants develop a business plan, a fixed-interest loan of up to £25,000 to start or develop their business and mentoring and other support to help loan recipients with everything from cash flow to marketing.
Drawn from communities throughout the UK, the 2021 Start Up Loans ambassadors reflect the broad diversity and ambition of the nation’s small business sector at a grass roots level. A full summary of the businesses selected from the Devolved Nations and English regions can be found below.
The 2021/22 Start Up Loans Ambassadors will be honoured at a virtual event today hosted by Start Up Loans and attended by Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business; Lord Smith, Chair of the British Business Bank, Catherine Lewis Le Torre, CEO of British Business Bank; Richard Bearman, Managing Director, Start Up Loans and delivery partners from across each of the UK’s 12 regions and Nations. They will also receive a keynote address from leading UK entrepreneur Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s Chocolate.
Since 2012, the programme has delivered more than 88,000 loans to business owners across the UK, amounting to more than £790 million. Of those who received a loan, 35,156 (40%) were women; more than 17,700 (20%) were people from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority communities (excluding White minorities); and more than 4,500 (35% of 18-24 age group) were previously unemployed.
Paul Scully, Small Business Minister, said: “Start Up Loans are a vital pillar in our efforts to level up every part of the country and offer opportunities to hard-working, dynamic people regardless of their background.
“From canned wine to woodwork, bridalwear to camel milk, this year’s Start Up Loans Ambassadors reflect the incredible diversity and creativity of entrepreneurship across the UK and will spearhead our mission to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.”
Richard Bearman, Managing Director, Start Up Loans, said: “The small business community has been through a disrupted and challenging year, making it all the more important that we celebrate and champion the sector.
“The breadth and diversity of this year’s Start Up Loans ambassadors demonstrates that, with the right support and mentoring, aspiring business owners from all walks of life can thrive in the most challenging circumstances.
“I want to congratulate our 2021 ambassadors on the tenacity and determination they have shown over the past year, which has resulted in hugely impressive achievements. I look forward to working with them and sharing their stories to inspire others in their communities.”
Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s, said: “When you’re starting a business, it really helps to have “champions” – in the forms of mentors and skill support – who can not only help keep your passion blazing, but bring their wisdom and financial insights to helping you power your business forward. It’s so great to see the British Business Bank formalise this in a positive way, via the team of 2021/2022 Ambassadors who can use the lessons from their success to empower and inspire the next round of great British start-ups.”
Breakdown of loans by region
|UK Region||Loans Made||Amount Lent (£)||Average Loan Amount (£)|
|East of England||6,170||56,259,023||9,118|
|Yorkshire and The Humber||7,576||69,784,367||9,211|
|Region not obtained||194||2,295,021||11,830|
Source: Start Up Loans, 30 September 2021
Start Up Loans ambassadors 2021/22
Proud Inverclyde local, Rory MacDonald, received a Start Up Loan of £13,000 through British Business Bank delivery partner Transmit, in August 2018. This provided the essential tooling, materials, rent and insurances for Rory to open The Whisky Chairmen.
The Whisky Chairmen is a social enterprise making bespoke furniture from obsolete whisky barrels. Committed to tackling the spectres of poverty and social isolation within Inverclyde, they provide living wage employment for the local community in Greenock.
Each piece is hand carved from a whisky barrel – some of which are over 100 years old when they are finally ‘retired’. Unique and tailored to fit each customer, The Whisky Chairmen takes ‘bespoke’ to a new level of luxury, being able to source barrels that made a customer’s favourite malt, from the year they were born.
Aoife Doherty– Floris
Aoife Doherty set up her business in November 2020 after graduating from the University of Reading with a BA Hons 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 stationery company based in Cardiff. She used the funding to help support the manufacturing of her products and design tools.
With a natural flair for creativity, she wanted to harness the skills she learnt at university and turn them into a business. In the initial phase of developing her business, she had a stall at a local market, but because of the restrictions and lockdowns she had to think on her feet about how she could keep growing her business in other ways. So, she decided to host an ‘online market’ through her website, which was a huge success.
Will Smith – Woodwork by Will
Comber, Northern Ireland
Will Smith, from County Down, took out two loans totalling £6,000 to launch Woodwork by Will, in January 2020 to follow an ambition of making his bespoke creations available for others to buy.
The support Will received from the British Business Bank has enabled the company to increase its capacity and take on larger projects earlier than expected. He used the money to invest in essential machinery, including a table saw.
Jeremy May – NICE! Drinks
Jeremy May secured Start Up Loans 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 becoming immediately obsessed with the concept. He wanted to make wine more approachable and fun, and less intimidating.
The idea was a good one. NICE sold close to half a million cans in its first year. This was achieved despite Covid-19 disruption, which meant that many orders for the products for festivals were cancelled.
NICE’s wine is sourced from France and Argentina, and founder Jeremy is environmentally conscious. Their cans are 100% recyclable and more sustainable when compared to small plastic bottles and cups that would be used as alternatives. He wants to use the business as a force for good as it continues to grow and has made a commitment to become carbon neutral within the next 12 months.
Lamar Griffiths and Reece Walker – 21st Century Repairs
Nottingham, East Midlands
Lamar Griffiths and Reece Walker took out a Start Up Loan of £4,000 in November 2018 to launch 21st Century Repairs, a van-based phone repair service in Nottingham. They promise to repair client’s devices from their location in their customised van in 30 minutes or less.
Ever since they first met at school when they were 10 years old, the pair had wanted to create a business that was doing something completely different.
Having kept an eye on consumer trends while Reece was working in phone repairs and Lamar was playing football for Peterborough, they noticed ‘convenience’ was becoming an increasingly big industry. They decided to combine this insight with their expertise to create a business that brought this same convenience to the mobile repair services market.
Eleanor Howie – Valiant Lingerie
King’s Lynn, East of England
Eleanor Howie took secured finance of £6,500 through Start Up Loans delivery partner Virgin StartUp in Spring 2020. 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 when Eleanor was very small and following surgery struggled to find lingerie that wasn’t frumpy, beige, and clinical. After discovering she has a genetic mutation that significantly increases her risk of a diagnosis of breast cancer, Eleanor had a risk-reducing mastectomy when she was just 24 years old and found that nothing had improved over time in terms of the availability of contemporary post-surgery underwear. This had a real impact on her self-esteem, so a few years later she decided to do something herself.
Eleanor is very conscious of the fashion industry being problematic in contributing to the climate crisis and does not want to be a part of the problem. Valiant Lingerie’s collection is made using yarn from recycled fishing nets. The fabric is soft and functional, but also sustainable and recyclable. All products in the line are produced by a small UK-based partner, cutting down on their carbon footprint.
Caroline Potts – Ellison Gray Bridal
Durham, North East
Caroline took out a Start Up Loan in May 2020 to realise her dream of opening a luxury bridal boutique. Ellison Gray Bridal was born after Caroline took the decision to leave her well-paid job in communications and engagement after becoming disillusioned with corporate life.
Named after Caroline’s two sons, Ellison Gray Bridal offers brides in the North East and beyond a high-end retail experience with bridal gowns to match. Caroline carries some of the biggest names in bridal, holding exclusivity stockist status for Suzanne Neville and Lyn Ashworth for the region. Exceptional service is at the core of the Ellison Gray Bridal experience and Caroline currently conducts all appointments herself. The boutique holds only 5* reviews to date!
The boutique was impacted by Covid-19 and was only able to open for seven and a half months in its first year due to lockdowns. Nonetheless, it has not stopped Ellison Gray Bridal making an impact. Currently nominated for a Best Newcomer Award in its first year. Caroline has big plans for the future, to continue to bring the biggest and best bridal designers to the North East and grow the Ellison Gray Bridal brand.
Rahma Ahmed Ali and Nura Nur – Tribal Milk
Sheffield, Yorkshire & The Humber
Rahma Ahmed Ali and Nura Nur secured a loan of £10,000 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, higher protein and less saturated fat compared to cow’s milk.
The loan was used to cover start-up costs, product development, marketing, and inventory. Rahma and Nura plan to launch the three products that they have developed to market in early 2022 and continue to develop innovative products with a dairy twist.
Sustainability is at the heart of the Tribal Milk brand; they want to start as they mean to go on using Tetra Pak packaging so that they will not need to pivot further down the line.
Matthew Martin – Cod of Duty
Stafford, West Midlands
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. After dedicating a lot of time to coming up with a name for the business, the name they landed on sprang to mind while playing video games!
The demand for the business’ offering was immediate, with product selling out within 30 minutes on their first day of opening. Now, with three spots secured to park their food truck and several street markets booked in, Matthew is keen to keep expanding the business’ portfolio and obtain bookings for weddings, parties and corporate events.
Kayleigh Cooper – POP Pressed
Manchester, North West
Kayleigh Cooper took out a £15,000 Start Up Loan in December 2020 to launch POP Pressed – an organic and plant-based cold-pressed juice brand.
Before launching her own business, Kayleigh split her time between teaching yoga and working in a local health food café. However, when the pandemic hit, she was placed on furlough so couldn’t do either job.
Despite these challenges, Kayleigh decided to move to Manchester and began working in a local deli that was providing a local takeaway service. After teaming up with them to launch a juice menu, she was inspired to use the experience to launch her own juice shop – and POP Pressed was born.
Originally, Kayleigh had planned to launch an online store, but her customer base quickly grew larger than expected resulting in the need to move into her own shop as a permanent home for the organic juice bar.
Sophie Reardon – Tide Climbing Centre
Cornwall, South West
Sophie had visited, built, and worked in climbing facilities and centres all over the world and distilled her favourite parts from each to create the Tide Climbing Centre.
After Sophie and her partner Sam secured loans of £20,000 each through delivery partner SWIG, they put all they had into creating a space that Cornwall would love. The inclusive space is the biggest indoor climbing centre in Cornwall and features areas for people of all abilities from ages 4+ to try climbing.
The Tide Climbing Centre has been designed to ensure that it gives back to the community. Sophie has a great awareness of the environment and the facilities are run entirely using wind power and using sustainable products and services. She hopes this will reduce their environmental impact and inspire others to do the same.