UK’s most exciting early-stage tech companies revealed

Regional winners of Rising Stars contest for tech start-ups unveiled

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From AI to pharma, farming to fintech, a nationwide initiative is casting a spotlight on the hottest tech startups.

Now in its fourth edition, Tech Nation’s Rising Stars competition aims to identify and support the UK’s most disruptive tech upstarts.

And after months of entries and judging, it’s begun announcing the regional winners for the latest contest.

Top innovators in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North West have already been announced, with the rest unveiled in a “12 days of scale-ups” campaign. Winners for one region will be revealed each weekday until 15 December.

What is Rising Stars 4.0?

Rising Stars is an annual competition to find the UK’s tech superstars of tomorrow.

Companies must be between one and three years old, hit certain funding/revenue benchmarks, and be able to demonstrate “market traction”, with the most promising picked by an expert judging panel.

Previous winners have included Startups 100 companies Opportuni and Vet-AI, so it’s got a pretty good track record at spotting firms that are going places.

The full list of regional winners will be whittled down to a shortlist of 20 companies, and then finally to 10 winners, who benefit from publicity, pitch training and networking opportunities.

Who’s made the hotlist so far?

To date, 20 regional winners  have been announced – five each from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the North West of England.


In Scotland, Gigged.AI is using artificial intelligence to revolutionise recruitment for digital projects, Kythera AI is working to improve AI in video games, Know-it is helping SMEs to stay on top of their unpaid invoices, Letting Cloud is pioneering a new approach to matching people and property, and PolyDigi Tech is developing innovative authentication solutions to protect the data of companies and individuals.

Glasgow-based start-up driving efficiency in the gig economy

Gigged.AI founders Rich Wilson and Craig Short

Gigged.AI founders Rich Wilson and Craig Short

The Gigged.AI platform helps connect freelancers with employers using a chatbot to generate work briefs and an algorithm to match workers to jobs.

Rich Wilson, the CEO of Gigged.AI said his company is “delighted to be a Tech Nation Rising Stars 4.0 Scotland Regional Winner”, noting that “previous winners have gone on to global success”, and that “our AI-powered talent marketplaces are poised to disrupt how companies source and onboard talent.”

He also praised the “great support from Innovate UK and the University of Edinburgh AI Accelerator programme”, as well as the broader startup community.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, Ecko is allowing music creators to monetise their sessions as NFTs, Overwatch is helping pharmaceutical companies to improve the success rate of clinical trials for life-changing drugs, Kairos is developing a central communications hub specifically designed to meet the needs of elite sports teams, CropSafe is harnessing the power of satellite data to enable farmers worldwide to make better decisions, and Kinva is connecting therapists and their clients through digital technology.

Belfast business helps elite sports teams operate more effectively


Kairos co-founders Andrew Trimble and Gareth Quinn

Kairos CEO Andrew Trimble – a former rugby professional – teamed up with Gareth Quinn, to create a platform that assists elite sports teams with digital communication and helps athletes to stay on top of training, fixture and appointment schedules.

Trimble said: “Technology is only getting more critical in each professional environment. We’re delighted to be recognised in this way and be among some amazing young companies that share our ambition and drive.”


In Wales, Go Banana has launched the UK’s first marketplace for building supplies, Kuva is offering an ultra-private remote working solution for professionals, Cufflink is helping companies and individuals to control access to personal data, Wyser is using AI to help law firms work more efficiently, and Kinderly is enabling early years childcare providers to stay on top of parent communication and their professional development.

Data privacy start-up among upcoming businesses in Wales


Cufflink CEO Billy William

Anglesey-based Cufflink aims to revolutionise the way we store and share personal data. Founded in 2018, the company wants to redress the balance in data, by putting data controls “into the hands of the people who rightfully own it”. By providing an app, Cufflink says it wants to rebuild trust between companies and customers.

Cufflink CEO Billy Williams described his company’s inclusion as “a fantastic opportunity” for his company and “the wider cyber security community here in Wales”.

He added: “The wider Welsh startup ecosystem is continuing to thrive, and we look forward to benefiting and being part of this fantastic community across both North and South Wales with our Seed Investment round now open and our corporate SaaS offering about to launch”.

North West England

In North West England, Jyrney helps travel, transport and mobility companies to think about and track their journeys in new ways, Financielle wants to help women get on top of their finances and build wealth for the future, Thrift is developing a thoroughly 21st century solution to selling second-hand items online, My First Five Years is allowing parents to track and guide their children’s early development, and RD Vault has developed the world’s first fully automated R&D tax credits platform to enable SMEs to quickly and easily make claims from HMRC.

North West start-up: Helping parents with advice and learning

My First Five Years CEO Jennie Johnson says that her company is “on a mission to help parents with timely, impactful nuggets of knowledge backed by science and research that will help them notice and celebrate the little things that build up to the key achievements that become the building blocks for a child’s lifelong learning”.

The founders believe an app can help busy parents to navigate the early years of their children’s lives. The app is slated for launch in January 2022, according to the company’s website.

Written by:
Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.

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