2023 Startups 100 | Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shortlist and award winner

Meet the winner of the 2023 Startups 100 DEI award - and find out more about the inspiring change makers that made the shortlist.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Today, more and more companies are committing to the promotion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. They’d be a fool not to.

Inclusive environments mean staff feel safer and happier at work, improving an individual's mental health as well as team morale and performance. For the business case, DEI-focused firms also benefit from strengthened finances, partnerships, and brand recognition – not to mention, piqued investor interest.

But, an effective DEI strategy can’t be met through box-ticking. Successful practitioners know it’s a nuanced concept that needs to be properly actioned, not just discussed, to have a measurable impact on company performance.

Given the importance of DEI for today’s new businesses, we wanted to celebrate the firms we think are doing it right, by introducing a brand-new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion award to this year’s Startups 100 index.

In collaboration with guest judge and Chief People Officer at MVF Global, Andrea Pattico, the Startups team evaluated the DEI policies of every featured business to draw a shortlist of the highest-performing final five.

The result is a tour de force of exciting, purpose-led startups, all of which show strong commitment to embedding DEI practices and initiatives within their workplaces. Read on to learn more about each business – and discover our overall winner!

Startups 100 2023 guest judge Ange Pattico headshot
Introducing Startups 100 guest judge, Andrea Pattico

We enlisted Andrea Pattico, Chief People Officer at MVF Global (voted Sunday Times Best Place to Work in 2020) to help us judge the DEI category. With over 23 years’ experience of working in senior People roles, Pattico is immensely passionate about supporting marginalised groups with equal growth, education and employment opportunities.

WINNER: Happity

Happity Startups 100 2023 DEI winner

Startups 100 WINNER
2023 Startups 100 | Winner of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion award

For the business that demonstrates committed diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative and how it has been embedded in the company.

Learn more about Happity

We really don’t envy Pattico – she had a hard task choosing a gold medallist from our worthy list of contenders. But, after careful consideration, Happity takes the title of Startups 100 DEI champion for 2023.

This innovative baby and toddler class booking platform was launched after founders Sara Tateno and Emily Tredget grew frustrated by the lack of options for new parents looking for a local support network.

Prior to Happity, Tredget was an active campaigner for awareness of maternal mental health, fuelled by her own experience of postnatal depression. She joined forces with Tateno, who joined a coding bootcamp to build the first version of Happity from her kitchen table.

Pattico was impressed by Happity’s unique company vision, telling Startups that “a business model that strives to end loneliness for new parents is a force for DEI good.”

Happity has already had a wider impact on DEI. During the pandemic, Tateno and Tredget lobbied for the sector to be recognised in the COVID-19 recovery roadmap. They were successful in changing the law, and were nominated by the Parliamentary Committee for an award in achieving democratic change.

“Happity is formulated around the idea of building an inclusive community, recognising that some individuals have barriers as new parents and seeking to help them to address that barrier”, Pattico concludes.

“With leaders who are visibly leading from the front and actively passionate about the mission, not only is their DEI initiative and approach sustainable, but also scalable.”

Runner Up: Pasta Evangelists

Pasta Evangelists

Pasta Evangelists told Startups that diversity and inclusion is integral to the business. It is proud to have an LGBT founder in the business (Finn Lagun), who also sits on the Diversity and Inclusion board of multinational food company, Barilla Group.

Proving that DEI doesn’t always have to be a serious topic, the Evangelists last year hosted a series of ‘Pasta Pride' events to get the general public engaged with celebrating London Pride. Lagun brought in some of his nearest and dearest drag queens to prepare rainbow-coloured pasta alongside fabulous cabaret performances. All profits were donated to the LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall.

Pattico praises Pasta Evangelists for its “fun, participatory, community based initiatives, led by the founder. I love their impact beyond the organisation, such as being on the D&I Board of Barilla Group and making a donation to Stonewall.”

Runner Up: Drop Bear Beer Co.

Drop Bear Founders

Drop Bear Beer Co. is the world's first female founded and LGBTQ+ founded alcohol-free brewery. Hiring and recruitment is a big part of its DEI strategy, with 50% of Drop Bear team identifying as female and/or LGBTQ+ and taking steps to ensure job interviews and postings are inclusive to all applicants.

On top of this, the company ensures its partners hold similar values and refuse to work with those that don’t. In June, Drop Bear also made a commitment to directly fund support for at least four survivors of abuse and violence each month via Galop – the UK's leading specialist LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity.

Pattico commends Drop Bear Beer Co. as a “responsible business”, picking out its work with Galop as a particularly laudable initiative.

Runner Up: Clever Lili

Clever Lili

At 18 years old, Alex Hak, cofounder of Clever Lili, could have rested on significant laurels following the invention of her AI revision app. But Hak’s vision was bolder – not just aiming to help students with revision, but create an inclusive and equitable learning experience for all.

Clever Lili enables students with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and other neurodiversities to get more from the revision process with its “karaoke” setting, which highlights text as the AI reads it aloud. The voice can be slowed down, sped up, or even turned off if the student or teacher wishes to. Plus, the business also provides revision guides for students who might not have access to technology at home.

During the judging process, Pattico applauded Clever Lili as “a brilliant idea with innovation that inclusively supports the neurodiverse community. The reach is clearly wide given the educational endorsements.”

Runner Up: Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing

Lee Chambers Great British Entrepreneur Award Win

Wellbeing consultancy firm, Essentialise is proudly Black- and disabled-led by founder Lee Chambers, who told Startups the company aims not just to help Lancashire businesses' professional potential, but to generate systemic change more widely.

Most recently, Essentialise launched a support programme for the next generation of Black youngsters moving into STEM roles, and a mentoring programme for Black social entrepreneurs. These programmes run alongside Essentialise support for SEND schools careers and enterprise programmes in Lancashire, with coaching and work experience for children with autism.

Pattico is full of admiration for Essentialise’s workforce-for-good, describing it as an “impressive team, so it’s no surprise that the approach is planned and data driven.”

However, she specifically credits Chambers for turning the challenges he has faced into positive change, telling Startups “it’s clear that Lee is driven by his own personal experiences.”

How should today’s startups approach Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in their business?

Because DEI is a relatively new term, some businesses haven’t yet fully grasped its meaning.

Striving for every marginalised group or individual to be given equal resources and reach the same opportunities is a broad, contextual target – not a singular, end-of-year goal post.

Yet according to Pattico, many companies will simply draw a line upon reaching above-average senior female board representation, a “highly frustrating, diversity-only approach [which] just about every investor and PLC seems to fixate on.”

Instead, she encourages startups that want to be more engaged in DEI to “recognise its strategic importance to your business agenda and identify how it can help you achieve your commercial goals.”

Pattico recommends new business owners think beyond employment and hiring, and consider other aspects of the organisation such as supply chain, procurement, customers, and marketing.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is incredibly important for startups because it is organically commercial,” she explains. “Whatever your offering or product, it is likely that you will be serving a diverse customer base who have slightly nuanced needs.

“To create a business community in which all [audiences] feel they can belong is important if you want to succeed and thrive.”

More on this – See our guide to Establishing an Organisational Culture

What does the future look like for DEI in business?

Diversity in the workplace has been a much-discussed topic for the past two decades, but recent hiring and employment trends suggest that talk has finally shifted into movement.

Excitingly, much of the work is being carried out by emerging startup leaders. Rather than wait for sluggish enterprises to catch up, they are taking matters into their own hands.

It’s for this reason that Pattico feels so encouraged by our DEI award shortlist. “People are not waiting for huge backers before acting on good ideas,” she assesses. “I think especially about Clever Lili and Happity when I say this.

“Both businesses spotted a gap to help themselves as individuals and in doing so realised they could also help others.”

More on this – See our guide to Core Company Values and How to Define Your Own

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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