You would imagine it would be difficult to find 10 UK entrepreneurs aged 25 or under who are already running not just successful businesses, but businesses which are standing out in terms of innovation, ethics, social impact, or just plain ambition.
In fact, it’s difficult to select only 10 (or technically 12, including the three co-founders of BBOXX) from the dozens of teenagers and young people in their early twenties who are showing all the signs of becoming the entrepreneurial superstars of tomorrow.
Starting a business isn’t easy. It requires commitment, hard work, a great idea, the right support, and guts. These qualities can be found in people of any age, but there’s no denying that experience can make the entrepreneurial road a smoother one. It’s encouraging therefore that bright, driven young people, who could make a success of a whole variety of more traditional careers, are instead deciding to take charge of their own destinies.
The following selection of young entrepreneurs are all people who haven’t let age or inexperience hold them back, whether it’s from turning a passion into profit, solving social problems through innovative thinking, or using technology to help make people’s lives easier or safer.
They paint a bright picture of the future of UK enterprise and we’re looking forward to seeing their careers progress.
Name: Alyssa Smith
Company: Alyssa Smith Jewellery
Alyssa Smith's eponymous jewellery business is proving that following your passion can be both lucrative and rewarding
Alyssa Smith is sanguine about the challenges she has faced since launching her business in 2010: “If it were easy, I suppose everyone would be an entrepreneur.”
With her jewellery frequently seen adorning celebrities, and having been recently shortlisted for ‘best accessories designer of the year 2010’ by DRAPERS, it’s clear any challenges have failed to hold her back.
Her jewellery business is projected to turn over a healthy £200,000 in the next financial year, and she’s working on collaborations with celebrities, as well as getting the range into more prestigious outlets.
Having been shortlisted for various entrepreneurial awards, Alyssa is impressing the business community and her customers alike, and is full of enthusiasm for setting up a business at a young age: “Everything I had went into my jewellery business and I am so glad I took the plunge and decided to fight for something I was truly passionate about. I think it’s good to start a business at a young age if you can – it gives you more years to grow it!”
Name: Ben Atkinson-Willes
Company: Active Minds
A social enterprise based on mental agility products for dementia sufferers is displaying the potential of founder Ben Atkinson-Willes
Ben has proven that the most innovative ideas aren’t always those pushing technological boundaries. When his granddad was diagnosed with Alzheimers, Ben realised a gap in the market for products which would promote mental agility but were aimed at adults rather than children. Fast forward to today: Active Minds has just got past the 10,000 product mark, and has recently won a Level 2 award from UnLtd, the social enterprise organisation, to the value of £15,000.
Clients include the NHS, Age UK, and Bupa, and turnover has doubled in the last nine months. Furthermore, interest in the products has also been growing overseas, and the business now has distributors in the US, Ireland, Singapore and Australia. Ben says he is dedicated to Active Minds for the foreseeable future, but after that, who knows? With a confessed “appetite for social enterprise”, Ben looks set to be a name to watch in the space.
Name: Carly Ward
Company: Young Entrepreneur Society
Carly Ward's business, the Young Entrepreneur Society, helps young people to go it alone
Carly Ward, it’s safe to say, is something of an expert when it comes to the reality of setting up a business at a young age. Not only did she become self-employed at the age of 19, but she has made a huge success of her brainchild, the Young Entrepreneur Society (YES), which she set up with her mother and business partner, Penny Ward.
It was while looking for advice on setting up her own business that Carly realised there was a dearth of help and resources for young people in her position. She set about filling this gap in the market with a programme specifically designed for the under 35s, created with the aid of interviews with some of the country’s top entrepreneurs.
Three years later, the programme has just been accredited as an official enterprise qualification, and YES has secured government funding to teach the programme to 16-18-year-olds in schools and colleges across the UK.
On top of this, Carly runs the YES Network, targeted towards entrepreneurs aged 35 and under. She is also a governor at Oxford & Cherwell Valley College and an ambassador for the Princes Trust, which backed YES with a loan in 2009. Having picked up a plethora of awards so far, Carly is on her way to the top, and thanks to YES, looks set to take many more young people with her.
Names: Christopher Baker-Brian (left), Mansoor Mohammed Hamayun (right), and Laurent Van Houke
Ages: 24, 22 and 23
BBOXX is providing people across Africa with reliable electricity from solar power. Expect big things
BBOXX can be said, without exaggeration, to be changing people’s lives on a massive scale. The innovation, ambition, and sense of purpose that form the basis of the Cambridge University spin-off belie the tender years of founding partners Christopher Baker-Brian, Mansoor Mohammad Hamayun and Laurent Van Houke. Its products are aimed at providing individuals and businesses in the developing world with affordable renewable electricity, and the business has launched partnerships in Rwanda, DR Congo, Pakistan and Iraq.
Christopher says he’s particularly proud of launching in Uganda this year – the business’ biggest market to date. Now he and his co-founders are looking at growing BBOXX to become the number one small scale solar company in Africa and Asia over the next five years, through opening nearly 30 franchises through local partners by 2015. “We’re also very excited by some of the innovative technology we’ll start to roll out over the next 12 months,” says Christopher, “helping to make our products more affordable for people in our target markets.”
The founders also plan to grow turnover to $30m a year by the end of 2016. Given what they have achieved so far, it’s hard not to believe they’ll do it.
Name: Jayesh Hirani
Company: Safer Minicabs
Safer Minicabs could transform the way we all order taxis, making it safer, cheaper and easier
While some mobile apps exist merely to allow users the pleasure of firing disgruntled feathered critters into various obstacles, Jayesh has developed an app which is as useful as it is entrepreneurial. Safer Minicabs is an app through which customers can send a request for a taxi, and within a minute will receive bids from taxi companies. They can then choose the cheapest price or quickest arrival time. They are sent driver and vehicle details, and the app includes a panic button which connects to Safer Minicabs and the taxi company.
The idea came to Jayesh while studying for his dissertation during his final year at Kingston university, and the business was launched in London earlier this year. Since then he cites his biggest achievement as partnering with Camden Council, which in turn has led to discussions with other London boroughs. “We’re looking to be finishing rolling out in London by the end of the year and then start looking at the rest of the UK.”
Name: Lizzie Fane
Spotting an opportunity at university, and having the commitment and talent to see it through, is making Lizzie Fane a name to remember
It’s a common complaint among employers that graduates leave university with a shed-load of debt and not much else. Not Lizzie Fane, whose experiences studying Modern Languages led to the creation of her brainchild ThirdYearAbroad.com: a website designed to help the large number of students who spend part of their degree course abroad. The revenue model is based on a complementary product range developed to solve these students’ key problems – the first, YearAbroadInsurance.com, was created in collaboration with insurance broker company RMCI and international insurers QBE, and launched last summer.
There’s a line of further projects in the pipeline, the latest of which is the development of a jobs board. Lizzie is passionate about helping as many students as possible take up the opportunity to study and learn languages outside the UK, and is currently working on a report to prove the value of a year abroad, with the aim of safeguarding future government funding for students to find it out for themselves. Her ambition to make ThirdYearAbroad an influential platform which will “push the UK to accept the importance of Modern Languages” seems eminently within her grasp.
Name: Louis Barnett
The young chocolatier, who was the youngest ever supplier at Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Selfridges, has big ambitions for Chokolit
Getting your products stocked in any supermarket is a massive challenge, and a massive achievement. Louis achieved it when he was only 13, when he became the youngest supplier to Waitrose. He promptly followed it up by becoming the youngest supplier to Sainsbury’s (when he was 14) and Selfridges (15). His chocolate business (named in a nod to Louis’ achievements despite dyslexia) has made a name for itself in terms of quality and ethics. Louis explains: “In the early stages of setting up and researching ingredients and products for my business, I came across palm oil, farming it causes massive destruction of animal habitats and the planet through deforestation. This is the reason why palm oil is not used in any Chokolit products.”
Having recently been awarded an Ambassadorship by Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, he is now well on the road to realising his ambition to make Chokolit a household name, and one that’s “a shining beacon for quality, innovation and responsible business”.
Name: Nick D’Aloisio
App developer Nick D’Aloisio has come to the attention of the world’s wealthiest, and he’s only 16
When the world’s 11th richest person flies you across the world in order meet you before investing in your business, it’s surely a good sign. Nick D’Aloisio, who developed the technology for Summly (an app which helps people searching for information online, by distilling the text from a webpage into bullet points) while researching GCSE homework, was only 16 when he met with Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing. The billionaire, who has previously supported tech companies such as Spotify and Facebook, subsequently invested $250,000 in the business.
Furthermore, this isn’t Nick’s first taste of entrepreneurial success, having previously developed apps Song Stumblr and Facemood. The whizzkid has a sensible head on his shoulders though, and has appointed an experienced director to hold the reins at Summly while he finishes his studies. It seems a foregone conclusion that this won’t be the last we hear of him.
Name: Oliver Morgan
Company: Universal fuels
Having raised £200,000 for his oil supply business Universal Fuels, 20-year-old Oliver Morgan has big ambitions
Oliver Morgan was a teenager when he founded Universal Fuels in 2009; today the firm supplies petrol, diesel, gas and kerosene to businesses and homes direct from refineries. Oliver has recently become the youngest entrepreneur to raise finance through crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, after securing £100,000 in equity funding.
This finance will help him realise his ambition to make Universal Fuels, which is on track to turn over more than £600,000 this year, the recognised “market leader in customer service across the downstream oil, gas and electricity industries,” as well as to take the business past the £100m turnover mark within the next few years. By which time, he adds, “I’d hope that I have a few million myself and will be ready to risk it all in a new venture”.
Name: Suleman Sacranie
The Midlands Young Entrepreneur of the Year has struck gold with a business set to revolutionise the wholesale sector
99pwholesaler was set up after founder Suleman Sacranie dropped out of a Chemistry degree at Leicester University, a decision that’s so far proved a wise one. His online discount retailer was launched in 2010, with the £500 he had in his bank account. Within a year he had raised investment from private equity firm Equity Plus Partners – something he today cites as one of his biggest achievements.
And now Suleman is projecting a £5m turnover within the next few years, helped by the comparison search engine “for the cash and carry and wholesale food and drink marketplace” he’s launching imminently, after which 99p Wholesaler will be launched as Wholesaler Supermarket. He credits his “excellent” team for his being selected as the Midlands Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012, and together thinks they can “revolutionise the wholesaler sector, which has been my aim since day one”.