Startups 100 Index welcomes Ian Wallis as guest judge

A seasoned business journalist, serial entrepreneur, and former editorial director of Startups, Wallis is our guest judge for the Exceptional Founder category.

Our experts

We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.
Written and reviewed by:

Ian Wallis, co-founder of the entrepreneurial network Venturers Club, business journalist, and former editorial director of Startups, has been announced as our guest judge for this year’s Startups 100 Index Exceptional Founder award.

The business expert has a close relationship with startups, having built a PR service for pre-Series A funded startups at FieldHouse Associates.

Wallis played a key role as guest judge last year to select Sanjay Lobo MBE as winner of the Exceptional Founder award for the Startups 100 Index 2023.

As the judging process begins to assemble the next batch of disruptive startups, Wallis will be on the lookout for go-getters who are working hard to make life easier for others by fixing a societal issue, or addressing a challenge that they themselves have personally experienced.

Who is Ian Wallis?

Wallis has spent close to 25 years deeply immersed in the startup ecosystem both as a journalist and co-founder. This has equipped him with the tools to understand how a business is created and when an entrepreneurial journey is truly remarkable.

His journalism trajectory has put him in the same room as plenty of exceptional founders of brands such as Dyson, Innocent Drinks and Specsavers as well as public figures like Sir Clive Woordward, and Colonel Tim Collins. Bizarrely, he also interviewed General Kalashnikov, who was putting his name to a British vodka at the time.

Wallis’ journey is also intimately connected to Startups. “I was there when we spun the business out of our publishing company and built it into a brand worthy of acquisition by MVF in 2017,” he reminisces.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is the Startups 100 Index, which we launched in 2008 as the first extensive ranking of its kind,” he shares.

Ever since that first edition of the ranking, Startups has spotted big players in their nascent stages, including Monzo, Revoult, Zoopla, and Deliveroo.

Who is an exceptional founder?

Between 2021 and 2022, 753,168 new companies were founded in the UK. Considering some of these startups have co-founders, the final tally of entrepreneurs is monumental.

Although this speaks to how vibrant the UK business environment is, not every founder will be exceptional.

“Exceptional founders will not only be able to demonstrate that they have endured the challenge, often hardship, of getting a venture off the ground and have now turned it into a sustainable business – but also that they believed they were the ones who needed to act on the idea,” Wallis explains.

Besides Lobo, Wallis also selected the founders of Drop Bear Beer Co, Kiteline Health, Travel Hands and five others as runner ups for the award. What do they all have in common? Their focus on solving a social issue.

Similarly for this year’s Startups 100 Index, Wallis notes, “In a world facing many challenges, I’ll be hoping to see a business that can have an impact in a positive way.”

The ups and downs of the exceptional founder

With nearly three decades in the startup world, Wallis has seen exceptional founders persevere through gloomy macroeconomic weather, imposter syndrome, and risk averse investors.

When asked about how the traits of an exceptional founder have changed over the years, Wallis notes that economic crises have made resilience a key ingredient for outstanding entrepreneurship.

“Having had my first taste of the entrepreneurial world during the dotcom boom in 1999, there’s no doubt many were intoxicated by the sense that anything was possible,” he narrates. “The money flowed and investors were caught up too, blithely ignoring the risks associated with costly launches, instant international expansion, and distracting diversification.”

That sense of boundless excitement has cooled as entrepreneurs need to be more strategic.

“Today, there’s a sense that market conditions will sift out the ‘tourists’, so a cocktail of resilience, adaptability and optimism will see entrepreneurs through,” Wallis predicts. “The ‘profit of sanity’ approach will prevail over the vanity metrics of recent years.”

The modern exceptional founder

The entrepreneur of 2023 is facing all the challenges that the average person is – higher interest rates on loans and mortgages, increased energy prices, and inflation. On top of that, is having to face the difficulty of accessing growth capital and juggling a mix of rising costs.

Venture capital funding for earlier stage companies is harder to secure, with delays and more rigorous due diligence to endure,” explains Wallis.

“Many funds have chosen to support existing portfolio companies that have some traction already. However, the change has been that some are saying startups will need to conserve and generate enough cash to see them through to 2025 or 2026, which is a big challenge,” he continues.

Battling these issues means exceptional founders will need to demonstrate a set of strategic qualities.

“Keeping a close eye on the burn rate, being very strategic with where money is invested, finding product market fit that actually generates revenue organically today, and looking to partnerships or other ways to finance growth are [some of the qualities],” lists Wallis.

“Entrepreneurs find a way – or learn a lot for next time!,” he says encouragingly.

Looking ahead to the Startups 100 Index

As the former editorial director of Startups, Wallis has seen years worth of Startups 100 alumni. Wallis stresses the Index is crucial for recognising the achievements of businesses that are in their formative years.

“The fast-paced, long hours and many sacrifices they’ve lived for a few years has some reward at the end of it,” he shares.

The Startups 100 Index is more than just an award and, in Wallis’s eyes, has manifold benefits.

“I’ve seen and heard first hand exactly what those businesses gain in terms of interest – from potential customers, investors, employees, partners. Since 2008 many companies received a call from a future investor off the back of making it into the list,” he says.

Applications for the Startups 100 Index 2024 have now closed. We will be announcing the next set of winners in the new year.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

Leave a comment

Leave a reply

We value your comments but kindly requests all posts are on topic, constructive and respectful. Please review our commenting policy.

Back to Top