2023 Startups 100 | Social Impact shortlist and award winner

They started small, now they’re here to make a BIG difference. Meet the trailblazing startups that are leveraging business smarts to help others in 2023.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Fifty years ago, pretty much the only measurement of an organisation's success was finance. How much it made, how much it planned to make, and how much had come from investors.

Now, a new talking point has entered the conversation. It’s no longer simply about what a company has, but how much it intends to give back.

This switch in behaviour – accelerated by the purpose-driven Gen Z entering the workforce – has coined the phrase ‘social impact’. Loosely defined, it evaluates how well a company is making a positive difference to social, cultural or environmental issues.

Those who are unacquainted with the term might consider it a third-sector ideology. Yet social impact isn’t just for nonprofits. As the list of nominees for our Social Impact 2023 awards show, it can be an effective strategy for growth as well as good.

From the 2023 Startups 100, we've picked out five new businesses alongside guest judge Christopher Kenna, founder of Brand Advance, which are motivated to make a difference, not just a fortune. Read on to discover our Social Impact champion, and regain your faith in humanity.

Introducing Startups 100 guest judge, Chris Kenna!

If there’s any business owner who knows about making a difference, it’s Christopher Kenna. As a strong advocate for diversity and representations within advertising, Kenna founded the global diverse media network Brand Advance Group in 2018. He also sits on the advisory boards for ITV, TikTok, and London MetPolice.

WINNER: Grubby

Grubby Startups 100 2023

Startups 100 WINNER
2023 Startups 100 | Winner of the Social Impact award

In recognition of the startup which is putting purpose ahead of profit, with evidence of a commitment to making the world a better place with its business model.

Learn more about Grubby

The world needs to be eating more plants. Thanks to Grubby, they can! The vegan recipe kit provider is challenging the UK’s meat-tooth, delivering 500,000 delicious, planet-friendly meals to 38,000 customers in just three years.

We’re here to talk about social impact – and boy, Grubby has a lot to say. As well as cleaning up the nation’s diets, the startup uses entirely zero-emissions couriers and has partnered with two fantastic food waste partners to ensure that no food goes unused.

Grubby has also delivered free meals to the NHS and over 20,000 meals to children living in poverty in Uganda through its partnership with the charity 1morechild.org. Finally, it supports local communities and farmers by only using produce grown in Kent, Essex, and Bedfordshire. Not least, it received the ultimate stamp of social impact approval in becoming B Corp certified last year. Phew!

Kenna expresses particular admiration for the returns made by Grubby’s purposeful mission, which has generated big profit figures and a tidy online following for the startup. His verdict? “Grubby is a business with a real focus on personal and environmental health alongside fantastic revenue and growth. A fantastic business serving a growing need.”

Runner Up: Beam

Beam

There are currently 28,832 homeless people in the UK – 14,372 of whom are children. Unquestionably, with the economy predicted to shrink even further, that number will only get bigger in 2023. But whilst we all know about the homelessness crisis, few of us know how to help solve it.

Beam is providing a safe, approved route to support people in temporary housing to find, and keep, work. By collaborating with ethical landlords, Beam ensures that 82% of its beneficiaries move into paid employment, to earn an average starting salary of £24,650 – significantly above the London Living Wage.

Tech plays a big role in enabling Beam’s mission. Through the startup’s digital platform, donors can see the immediate impact of their donation and even send personal messages of encouragement as they donate.

Beam’s mission statement chimes with Kenna, who notes the race, ethnicity and discrimination-related factors that can increase homelessness risks. “Homelessness is a serious problem that [disproportionately] affects marginalised groups,” says Kenna. “Love this company's work and its fantastic results in helping to eradicate the problem.”

Runner Up: Natterhub

Natterhub

As much as our egos hate to admit it, today’s kids are more tech-literate than most adults. Still, while young people know what buttons to push – online and off – they are less aware of the threats and risks associated with today’s wide, world web.

As a parent of young boys, Natterhub cofounder Manjit Sareen knew children needed to know  the dangers of the internet before starting surfing on their own. Together with business partner Caroline Allams, they designed Natterhub, an educational social media platform packed with hundreds of interactive lessons.

Children learn best by ‘doing', and on the Natterhub platform, they can role play and learn in a safe place before they come to use their own digital device. Clearly, the industry agrees. Alongside investment from Twinkl, the UK’s largest education publisher, Natterhub has since had close to 7,000 sign ups in 77 countries.

Kenna applauds the importance of Natterhub’s work, commenting that “children's online safety is a growing problem and education platforms doing their bit is exactly what's needed.”

Runner Up: Strolll

Strolll

Each year, around 17,000 people in the UK receive a life-changing diagnosis of Parkinson's, a devastating neurological condition that can destroy motor skills and the ability to speak. Strolll cofounders Thomas Finn and Jorgen Ellis know these symptoms first-hand, having both had loved ones who were diagnosed with the disease.

Then, while watching his dad struggle to walk from vascular parkinsonism, Finn had the idea to place coloured lines on the floor as a guide. Miraculously it worked! Finn began to think. How could this simple idea liberate the 10 million people worldwide who suffer from Parkinson’s, regaining their independence and a new lease on life?

Fast forward to today, and Strolll’s augmented reality glasses, which project coloured lines directly onto the floor, are now a registered medical device. On top of this, the startup has received millions in grant funding and investment, and secured two six-figure contracts with the NHS.

Kenna is enamoured with Strolll and its huge potential to improve the livelihood of thousands of Parkinson's sufferers across the UK. “Love Stroll’s technology and idea – using cutting edge technology to fix a long standing problem.”

Runner Up: bide planet

Bide planet

Apparently, in the era of the Great Resignation, it’s never been easier for job seekers to find work. That’s not the case for all, however. Marginalised groups like ex-offenders, refugees, the unemployed, and the homeless often struggle to find – and stay in – long-term work.

That’s why, instead of making its eco-friendly cleaning products in factories, bide planet uses a home manufacturing network to let staff work from the comfort of their own kitchen table. This inclusive, B Corp certified model gives society’s forgotten members the opportunity to gain some financial independence, and get their lives back on track.

So far, bide has partnered with employment charities as well as Easton Park prison to launch Bide's first prison workshop. And, as production is kept to within 30 miles of consumption, bide is also helping support local economies by encouraging local purchasing.

bide planet’s unique manufacturing model is killing two birds in one social impact, as supporting at-home work for local employment simultaneously cuts down on delivery emissions. Kenna praises bide planet’s concept and product. “It’s especially a great idea to bring production to where consumption is and alleviate carbon footprint.”

How can today’s new businesses prioritise purpose over profit in a period of permacrisis?

In early 2022, optimistic commentators predicted it would be a year of rest and recovery for the UK. They have been proven universally wrong by a succession of Brexit, post-Covid, and inflationary punches.

For small businesses, it’s been a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire, then onto an even bigger fire. Nonetheless, whilst the government has tightened its purse strings, plenty of UK startups are doubling down on social impact to help those who need it more than ever.

“The economy can seem harsh right now but there are still fantastic UK entrepreneurs who are building lasting businesses and thriving – all whilst making tomorrow better than today,” says Kenna.

That’s not to say that companies are unconcerned about cash flow. But Kenna argues that “profit does not need to be forfeited for purpose. They can go hand-in-hand.” As evidence, he points to our shortlist.

While it sounds counterintuitive, balancing the piggy bank with social impact initiatives is a smart business decision – particularly for new entrepreneurs prioritising longevity. Over time, profit-focused firms run the risk of alienating and losing customers, who are increasingly making ethical purchasing decisions over convenience.

“The rise of the conscious consumer means that all businesses need to have purpose and show what they stand for,” argues Kenna. “We have one planet and one chance on it to live a healthy harmonious life. Businesses which understand that will last the test of time.”

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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