Launching and scaling a business is an uphill battle for any entrepreneur, but it’s all the harder when you lack experience in the field. Our data indicates that there are currently 1,977 founders of high-growth UK companies under the age of 30. Of these, 395 are aged 25 or younger, and a small but impressive 32 of them are just 21 or younger.
Whilst many young entrepreneurs leave school or higher education to devote more time to their businesses, others opt to manage their companies alongside their studies. We’ve selected a handful of the UK’s most ambitious founders currently attending university, all of whom have raised announced equity funding for their startups.
Whilst there are numerous ways to define business success, especially in the early stages of a company’s growth, raising a funding round signals that a company is ready to scale and that investors have the confidence to back it. Convincing investors that your company will offer a significant return on investment is an even greater challenge when juggling a degree alongside it. That’s what makes these successful young founders all the more remarkable.
1. Yoyo Chang (KodyPay)
2. Alejandra de Brunner (ETHOS)
3. Vladimir Ignatyev (The Power of Music)
4. Harry Smith (HausBots)
5. George Bailey (Coral Eyewear)
6. Aimilios Hatzistamou (WisePricing)
7. Ryan Quigley & Henry Hollamby (Viscera Technologies)
8. Brent Oldfield (Voltric)
9. Ebrahem Sherwi & James Lee Hall (Communityy)
The founders in this list are attending universities across the country, studying a range of subjects, from law and PPE to engineering and statistics. One very noticeable trend, however, is the distinct gender disparity in the ranking. Just one female entrepreneur has entered this top-funded bracket, a fact that is unfortunately in keeping with wider trends in the startup space.
Our previous blog on ambitious founders under 25 also saw just one woman enter the list of top young entrepreneurs (ranked by estimated worth of shareholdings). In fact, there are currently only 28 female founders of high-growth UK companies under the age of 25, compared to 195 male founders. This is a major issue for the startup world, not least because diversity is known to fuel innovation and growth.
Take a look at our Female Entrepreneurs report for a more in-depth analysis of the high-growth ecosystem’s considerable gender gap.
The UK’s top student entrepreneurs
1. Yoyo Chang
Co-Founder & CEO
Chang (20) is an undergraduate at the University of York, currently studying for a BSc in Accounting, Finance & Management. In 2018, alongside co-founders Morgan Hammans, Jack Howell, and Josh Roel, Chang started KodyPay—a point of sale app enabling contact-free checkout and purchases. The platform saves time for customers by removing the need to queue, and cuts transaction fees for businesses. Users can choose their preferred payment method, whilst also collecting reward points to donate to a charity of their choice. The venture-stage company secured an announced equity fundraising in September 2020, worth £1.8m.
When asked what advice he’d give to aspiring student founders, Chang said that “multi-tasking my studies and my business is challenging but doable with the right mindset. I would tell anyone wanting to do the same that you must be resilient, determined, and prepared to work exceptionally hard as you balance the two aspects of your life.” Yet he emphasised that “the most important thing any young person starting a business can do is believe in themself. Being a young entrepreneur means you may doubt yourself, so surround yourself with people who support and encourage you.”
2. Alejandra de Brunner
Founder & CEO
@ The Ethos Network
UCL undergraduate de Brunner (20) founded The Ethos Network in February last year, offering a socially-responsible alternative to Facebook and Twitter. The ETHOS platform is a social network focused on social causes, and provides an online space that encourages its users to learn about and engage with a variety of social issues. The Ethos Network has already secured three announced equity funding rounds, worth £330k in total. The company’s most recent raise was in September 2020, totalling £245k, at a pre-money valuation of £2.74m. Meanwhile, de Brunner’s estimated shareholdings are worth more than any other founder on our list.
Discussing whether she’d faced any additional challenges as a female entrepreneur, de Brunner explained: “I’m very grateful to have met very supportive people from the beginnings of ETHOS. However, my colleague and I (who both identify as females) have had times where we wish we hadn’t disclosed our gender so that we’d be taken more seriously, particularly in outsourcing work. Perhaps part of the issue was that we were 19/20 years old as well. For now, I continue to initially reach out to most people as “Alex” rather than Alejandra – as this has repeatedly proven to be more successful. Fortunately there are many people out there working on these disparities, fighting against the many other exclusions too.”
3. Vladimir Ignatyev
Co-Founder & COO
@ The Power of Music
Ignatyev (21) is currently studying Law LLB at the University of London, having started The Power of Music (POM) in 2019, alongside recent Cardiff graduate and CEO Vihan Patel. POM is “the dating app for music lovers”, and seeks to form meaningful connections between people based on their shared tastes in music. It’s driven by the belief that music is one of the most accurate indicators of who we are.
In June 2020, the company secured an announced equity fundraising worth £245k, at a pre-money valuation of £682k. POM’s mobile app will soon be launching in London—but you can sign up now for its upcoming beta version.
4. Harry Smith
Co-Founder & CTO
HausBots co-founder Smith (22) is currently studying Product Design Engineering at Loughborough University. HausBots develops robotic technology with a range of construction and household applications, including wall painting and building inspection.
Founded in 2018, the company is based in Birmingham, and attended Pi Labs’ 15-week proptech accelerator programme between March and June 2020. HausBots has secured three rounds of announced equity fundraisings to date, totalling £224k. The company’s most recent announced raise took place in July 2020, and was valued at £10.7k.
5. George Bailey
Co-Founder & CEO
@ Coral Eyewear
Alongside studying Philosophy, Politics & Economics at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Bailey (21) is CEO of Coral Eyewear. Founded in 2019, Coral Eyewear creates glasses and sunglasses made from recycled materials. Not just a sustainable business, but a ‘planet-positive’ one, every pair of Coral Eyewear frames removes marine waste like abandoned fishing nets from the ocean, and are themselves recyclable. The company secured one round of announced equity fundraising in April 2020, worth £125k, at a pre-money valuation of £502k.
Reflecting on his experience of being a student entrepreneur, Bailey highlighted how “over half of young people in the UK are opting to stay on into some form of higher education and as a result the number of individuals applying for dream jobs or internships is getting even more intense. Starting your own business, regardless of its eventual success, provides you with experience across lots of different fields and often pushes you out of your comfort zone. There’s still a perception that you have to have a brand-new technology or product, but improving something already on the market from an efficiency or sustainability perspective can be just as effective.”
6. Aimilios Hatzistamou
Hatzistamou (21) is currently studying Electrical and Electronics Engineering with Management at Imperial College London. The WisePricing founder first developed the company in 2018, with the idea to improve and automate the retail pricing process using AI. WisePricing’s cloud-based software provides pricing recommendations for retailers and brands, by monitoring competitor prices and past data. It recently secured £30.5k in announced equity funding, in October 2019.
Hatzistamou advises future entrepreneurs to “start building things for fun. You never know which project will turn into a startup, and will learn a ton in the process.” Meanwhile, discussing some of the greatest barriers to the startup world as a student founder, he said: “WisePricing is in the enterprise software space, where being young (and committed part-time) can certainly make client/investor interactions more challenging. You should be prepared to answer questions like “How do we know that you’ll still support our business when university gets tough?”. Beyond that, just let your actions speak for themselves and you will build trust over time.”
7. Ryan Quigley &
@ Viscera Technologies
Viscera Technologies CFO Quigley (22) completed his Accounting and Finance BSc last year, and is now studying for a MSc in Statistics, both at the London School of Economics (LSE). Meanwhile, CEO Hollamby (22) is studying for a MSc in Bioscience and Entrepreneurship at UCL, where he completed his undergraduate degree alongside fellow co-founder Jan von Stein. Viscera aims to prevent chronic illnesses through predictive diagnosis, by breaking down barriers to testing. The medtech company’s first project, Helico, is an innovative test for H. Pylori with long-term chronic illness screening capabilities. Viscera secured an announced equity fundraising in July 2019, worth £29k, at a pre-money valuation of £488k.
Explaining his motivation for starting Viscera, Quigley said: “we saw that there was a need for a significant improvement in the diagnostic area we are targeting. Specifically, Henry and I both lost relatives to gastro-intestinal complications and we believed that we could improve the diagnostic pathway.” Reflecting on this past year, Quigley told us that “COVID has delayed our development by about 6 months, as all lab time had to be suspended. However, I do believe that COVID has illuminated (especially to the public) the need for efficient diagnostics.”
8. Brent Oldfield
Co-Founder & Head of Operations
Whilst working on Voltric, Oldfield (20) is studying Team Entrepreneurship at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). Meanwhile, fellow co-founder Julian Mensah graduated from the university in 2018. Together, they’re developing an electric vehicle (EV) rental subscription service. Founded in 2019, Voltric is currently based in Bristol, and will be launching in early 2021. Its mission is to make mobility more accessible, sustainable, and efficient. In April 2020, the company secured an announced equity fundraising worth £26.2k, at a pre-money valuation of £880k.
When asked about the difficulties of being a young founder, Oldfield said: “when I started my business almost two years ago I would’ve said yes, it is harder being a student entrepreneur, especially when it comes to speaking to large partners in the business economy. However, now I’ve grown confidence and reputation within my industry, I don’t believe I am viewed any differently.” He emphasises that “managing a business overseas whilst undertaking an undergraduate degree is no easy feat”, and so his “best advice to those looking to be young entrepreneurs would be to surround yourself with experienced and wise mentors” to support you along the way.
9. Ebrahem Sherwi &
James Lee Hall
Communityy CEO Sherwi (20) and COO Hall (22) are both studying Engineering degrees at Imperial College London. Since founding the business in 2019, they’ve created a digital noticeboard for students in higher education. Communityy applies machine learning and data analytics to connect students to the right people, opportunities, and services via its personalised platform. The company secured its first round of announced equity fundraising in July 2020, worth £25k, at a pre-money valuation of £450k.
Sherwi highlighted how COVID had “further accentuated the need for Communityy, as university students have had to adapt to the unique challenges associated with remote learning, including limited academic support and difficulty growing one’s student network.” When asked about his experience as a young founder, he said: “launching and scaling Communityy, while simultaneously balancing our degrees and our extracurriculars, definitely came with a fair share of struggle and stress at the outset. Careful time management and task prioritisation have been key… Most importantly, James and myself launched Communityy out of genuine interest and when you’re enjoying the process the work gets that much easier.”
So there you have it, 11 of the UK’s most ambitious student founders. Having achieved so much already, these young entrepreneurs are certainly ones to watch in 2021. And we hope their success stories might motivate more young people to take the leap into the entrepreneurial world for themselves (or at least make it to that dreaded 9am lecture).
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