11 female entrepreneurs who are building the digital high street
Startups, in conjunction with TechCrunch, has identified the female founders who are reworking traditional high street haunts into slick and innovative digital services
It’s safe to say that the future of the UK’s high streets is unclear. With smart devices that put entire shopping centres in our hands and subscription services that deliver directly to our homes, the retail world is undergoing seismic shifts.
But alongside the obvious innovation of online shopping, a handful of forward-thinking businesses are going even further to truly modernise restaurants, charity shops, estate agents, fashion boutiques, banks and more.
And in this revolution, the UK’s female entrepreneurs can be found firmly at the forefront.
We’ve spoken to the female founders behind 10 incredibly disruptive businesses, each of which is reworking a traditional high street haunt into a slick, convenient and innovative digital service.
So read on to meet the women whose businesses are digitising the high street for today’s tech-savvy shoppers; providing brilliantly unique solutions to all our traditional shopping woes…
The digital restaurant chain
Riya Grover and Lyz Swanton: Feedr
While team breakfasts and lunches can boost productivity, loyalty and bonding among employees, most of the meals on offer in local cafes and restaurants are expensive, unhealthy and lethargy-inducing.
Enter entrepreneurs Riya Grover and Lyz Swanton, who are digitising the team meal experience with their business Feedr. Active in London, Feedr is an online platform with which businesses can order healthy, energising team breakfasts and lunches.
Feedr’s intuitive platform enables businesses to search food options according to their postcode, team headcount and budget.
And as it partners with over 100 artisan food vendors, there’s all the variety of a buzzing high street – but available to browse from the comfort of your desk. Once ordered, the food is delivered directly to the office, negating the need for a time-sucking trip to the crowded outdoors.
On how Feedr is providing an alternative to the high street, Grover says:
“Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they eat and where their food comes from, but eating well at work is tricky and expensive; with high street options having limited healthy, high quality choices.
“At the company level, employers are increasingly looking for better ways to encourage a healthier workforce and drive productivity.
“Feedr provides a solution for both the consumer and the company by providing nutritious meals from the city’s best vendors to London’s workforce in a new way. We've brought the standard lunchtime trek to the same high street chains online.
“Feedr showcases healthy lunchtime meals from a set of unique, independent vendors which employees can order and have delivered straight to their desk. Employers can partly or fully subsidise these meals, making it an affordable and easy way for their staff to eat healthily every day.”
The digital bank
Anne Boden: Starling Bank
After the 2008 financial crisis, entrepreneur Anne Boden saw banks continue operate the way they always had. But she believed banking needed to adapt and modernise in order to thrive – so she founded Starling Bank.
A groundbreaker in fintech, Starling is a mobile-only bank: its services can be accessed via an app only, with no high street branches in sight.
Thanks to its slick, mobile-focused tech, Starling’s current account offers plenty of benefits new to the world of banking. Accounts update immediately when something is spent, meaning balances are always 100% accurate, and real-time notifications keep users abreast of their outgoings.
Other unique features include the ability to set and track savings goals, view insights on spending habits, instantly lock (and unlock) cards, and settle IOUs with friends and family in a new streamlined process.
On how Starling Bank is providing an alternative to the high street, Boden says:
“When the financial crisis hit ten years ago, regulation and customer expectations were transformed but banks remained rigid, restricted by old systems and old mindsets. I felt that changing an existing high street bank would not be enough; I had to start my own.
“In 2014, I founded Starling Bank to help customers manage their money through technology.
“Our current accounts can be set up in minutes, not weeks, without any paperwork or fees.
“The features included in our banking app are designed to take some of the stress out of banking so that customers can save for what matters, see exactly where their money is going and pay friends and family quickly and easily, all from the Starling app.
“Ultimately, we hope to use artificial intelligence to help customers see if they have sufficient money to last them to the end of the day, the week, the month, the year or their lives.”
The digital florist
Lana Elie: Floom
With top supermarkets and online behemoths like Interflora now mass-selling affordable bouquets, it’s fair to say that a lot of the high street’s independent florists have suffered.
But by founding Floom, the online marketplace specifically for independent florists, entrepreneur Lana Elie has given these small businesses a digital platform where they can sell to today’s convenience-craving audience.
The digitisation of independent floristry benefits customers too – as Floom says, the plants and bouquets available on the platform are high-quality, uniquely crafted pieces that look exactly like their photos on the site.
Now available in London, LA and New York, Floom aims to replicate the immediacy of high street shopping by offering same-day delivery. Customers simply search florists in their postcode, choose their bouquet and go!
On how Floom is providing an alternative to the high street, Elie says:
“What we do at Floom is unique in a few ways. We champion independent florists on the high street, but at the same time we're also a tech company. With high streets in decline, domestic growers and independent florists need to find new ways to reach customers, and the best way to do that is through tech.
“We offer a simple and fun online experience, with bouquets from our favourite artisanal florists all in one place for you to buy from.
“After you've placed your order, you'll receive automated order and delivery updates via email, customer service support whenever you need it – and, of course, a very grateful text from your recipient when they receive the exact replica of the bouquet you selected online.”
The digital charity shop
Francesca Hodgson: GoodBox
Rather than taking a high street experience and giving it new life online – like many of the entries on this list – entrepreneur Francesca Hodgson is instead helping high street-based charities to adapt, move with the times themselves and flourish.
How? Well, historically, charities have relied on taking donations in cash – meaning our increasingly cashless society has posed a threat to their success. However, Hodgson’s business GoodBox is helping charities meet this challenge by providing them with innovative hardware for accepting chip and pin and contactless payments.
So, instead of throwing a couple of pennies into a box, visitors (whether they’re at a charity cafe, shop, attraction or on the street) can simply tap their card at a GoodBox donation point and give a set amount within seconds.
On how GoodBox is digitising the high street, Hodgson says:
“As Britons carry less and less cash, there is a huge risk to our vital charity sector, which is heavily reliant on cash donations – often collected on our high streets in charity shops and through street fundraising.
“Since 2016, GoodBox has been dedicated to ensuring charities have best in class technology available to them which enables them to fundraise digitally. Through our contactless hardware, we’ve raised close to a million pounds for UK-based charities, and doubled some of our charities’ revenues.
“The UK’s thriving charity sector is the lifeblood of our society. Through digital innovation, we aim to protect charities from the sharp decline in cash donations, enabling them to focus on supporting those who need it most.”
The digital furniture shop
Debbie Williamson: Swoon Editions
With Swoon Editions, entrepreneur Debbie Williamson and co-founder Brian Harrison are streamlining the way we shop for furniture, while also infusing a much-needed degree of excitement into the process.
E-commerce platform Swoon operates on a design-to-market business model, selling high-quality, stylish furniture crafted by hand-picked designers.
There’s an undeniably appealing sense of exclusivity surrounding the platform. A handful of new designs is added each day, and the site’s followers – also known as ‘insiders’ – are the first to know. Plus, Swoon keeps its batch sizes small – meaning stock is rarely wasted – and only orders large quantities of what’s in high demand.
Not to mention that, while the business is big on efficiency, it’s also a purveyor of affordability: the majority of items on the site cost under £500.
The digital law firm
Alexandra Isenegger: Linkilaw
An industry that’s not traditionally known for efficiency and transparency, the legal sector is starting to see some much-needed technological shake-ups.
At the forefront of this, Alexandra Isenegger’s business Linkilaw is revolutionising the way start-ups and small businesses get expert legal assistance to help them launch and grow.
In a process enabled by Linkilaw’s tech; start-ups first book a free one-to-one strategy session with a Linkilaw lawyer. Following this, they receive a free report on the contracts and budgets they’ll need now and in the future.
Users can then either continue with Linkilaw’s solutions – connecting with a lawyer and ordering bespoke contracts – or walk away, having gained free personalised advice.
Providing expertise on issues from hiring to investment to intellectual property to GDPR, Linkilaw says it’s 80% more affordable than traditional law firms.
On how Linkilaw is providing an alternative to the high street, Isenegger says:
“Linkilaw is a tech-enabled legal consultancy. Our clients value the advantages of a long-term relationship with a legal advisor but equally appreciate the cost and time savings that our technology enables.
“Through our automated information gathering, digitized drafting and remote access to legal advice, clients receive a better level of service than they would from a high street law firm, from anywhere in the world.”
The digital bookshop
Alice Revel: Reading In Heels
Tired of spending hours reading book reviews, browsing high street bookshops and buying beautiful-looking novels that would turn out to be duds, Alice Revel decided that book shopping could be done differently.
In fact, as a subscription service, her business Reading In Heels does away with the shopping aspect entirely.
How? Well, Reading in Heels selects one top-rated contemporary novel per month, often female-authored (chick lit and tawdry crime thrillers are strictly forbidden), pairs it with premium beauty and lifestyle treats from independent businesses, and sends this box out to customers – all so they don’t have to search for their next quality read.
As co-founder and editor-in-chief of online women’s magazine Running In Heels, Revel isn’t new to championing women’s voices. But she’s now looking to appeal to men too, with freshly launched sister service Books Plus Beer.
On how Reading In Heels is providing an alternative to the high street, Revel says:
“At Reading in Heels, we sell more than just books. In today's swipe, scroll, like society, people find focusing on reading a challenge – we create the perfect curated context for them to connect with books.
“It's a far cry from Waterstones – packed with confusing displays and a multitude of books, curated to correspond to sales targets not current human desires. And even further removed from ethically-dubious Amazon, with products and prices skewed to connect with AI-generated algorithms. And one thing's certain – they care about very little other than your cash.
“Of course, independent book shops still have a crucial place on the high street. Curated, stocked and staffed by experts, they're a place to ask questions – and browse, of course.
“What Reading in Heels provides is a curated experience, trusted and loved by thousands of members every month. As a feminist company, we also stand for something – at least 50% of the brands featured in any box are female-founded.
“We also support Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which boosts early literacy. People are very much part of our profits and will always be at the heart of what we do.”
The digital estate agents
Gemma Young: Settled
Selling a home can be complicated and emotionally draining. And with high street estate agents charging thousands in fees, it can also be expensive.
Fortunately, entrepreneur Gemma Young – along with with her brother Paul Young – has created Settled: a business that aims to streamline and reduce the cost of selling… by taking the entire process online.
Firstly, Settled photographs and markets the property for the seller, posting it to hundreds of online property sites including Rightmove and Zoopla. The seller is then able to arrange viewings easily through Settled’s ‘Home Companion’ app.
But sellers won’t miss out on the expertise of an estate agent, as Settled provides personal support managers who can guide and advise. For this entire process, the business asks for a one-time fee of £499.
Alongside this, buyers can also browse for and buy properties through Settled’s online platform.
On how Settled is providing an alternative to the high street, Young says:
“Buying and selling homes has been a clumsy process for many years. We believe it's time people got the chance to feel a lot more empowered.
“Step by step, we're making that possible by creating a digital experience which allows people to feel more settled.”
The digital clothes shop
Sophie Hill: Threads Styling
Clothes shopping is many a high street’s bread and butter. But it’s not always a fun and rewarding experience, with customers often spending hours scouring the shelves yet finding nothing that’s right for them.
But, with her business Threads Styling, entrepreneur Sophie Hill is pioneering a unique solution for millenials who are looking for luxury clothing that meets their exacting tastes.
In a dazzlingly modern approach that operates solely through social media, Threads uses social channels to attract shoppers, encouraging them to message the team via WhatsApp. Customers are then connected with a personal shopper, who’ll find and recommend clothes to them through their own online chat.
With a business model designed for young people and the capability to reach customers around the world, Threads says its process heralds “the future of shopping”.
The digital beauty salon
Emma Montague: Tipsity
A high street is not complete without a nail salon – and our digital high street is no different!
Of course, getting your nails done requires a face-to-face (read: non-digital) appointment. But it’s the arrangement and execution of this that Emma Montague, with her business Tipsity, is revolutionising.
Serving companies including ITV, Facebook and Unilever, Tipsity visits workplaces and gives manicures to the company’s employees.
For the employees, this makes getting manicures convenient – whether during a lunch break or a quiet 30 minutes. For the companies, this is a perk to offer staff that comes at no cost (companies can opt to pay for the manicures as an employee benefit, or let their employees pay themselves).
Importantly, Tipsity hosts an intuitively easy online booking system, through which employees can quickly check available slots and reserve one that suits them.
On how Tipsity is providing an alternative to the high street, Montague says:
“Tipsity is the digital and mobile alternative for a busy employee looking to book a manicure while in the office – they no longer need to rush during a lunch break with huge queues, or squeeze it in after work at a high street salon in central London.
“We are transforming the way busy employees have a manicure during the work week by providing in-office manicures. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of staff wellbeing and as the employees pay Tipsity directly for each treatment, there is no cost to the company. We visit the office either weekly, fortnightly or monthly on a fixed day, a meeting room gets booked and treatments are provided.
“With lower overheads we are able to pass down good prices to clients and attract the best manicurists with working conditions favourable to working in a high street salon.
“Providing over 1,200 treatments per month to busy employees in London, Tipsity currently services 120 corporates including Amazon, Facebook, Global Radio, Disney and Virgin.”