Startups 100 in review: What are the biggest business opportunities for 2023?

Safer internet, smarter chatbots, and improved worker-employer relationships. We examine the business trends and ideas that are set to improve all our lives in 2023.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
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There aren’t many upsides to the current economic downturn – particularly for business owners. Facing a permacrisis of high inflation, post-Brexit bedlam, and supply chain woes (to name a few) has put firms at the bottom of a big hill to climb if they want to survive the inevitable recession.

But even as experts bemoan the various challenges facing UK sectors, the next generation of entrepreneurs has arrived on a rescue mission.

Every year, Startups releases our Startups 100 Index to showcase a directory of the top 100 most disruptive new companies in the UK. Guided by emerging business trends, they are setting a route to the summit with smart ideas that will fix the big problems of today – whether democratising social care, rectifying labour shortages, or reducing plastic waste.

Based on our list for 2023, we’ve identified six recurring themes that define the future business landscape. Read on for the full analysis, and to discover the opportunities to excel.

Eliminating the human

When the world shifted online during COVID-19, both businesses and consumers began looking for cheaper software alternatives to mundane and often costly tasks – inadvertently charting a course for a brighter future that’s driven by automation.

The AI chatbot ChatGPT took the world by storm late last year with its generative language model that makes ‘The Terminator’ look a whole lot scarier. In its latest State of Marketing study, HubSpot reports that 79% of businesses currently automate marketing, compared to 45% that automate sales and 33% that automate finance.

Judging by our index, it won’t be going out of mode any time soon. This year’s list is filled with innovative ideas aimed at replacing human interaction with tech. For example, PolyAI, a conversational AI voice assistant that will dramatically reduce call centre costs without compromising customer satisfaction.

Another excellent application for assistive tech is for improved diversity and inclusivity – as seen in the education startup, Clever Lili. The Alexa-style revision app reads out answers, improving accessibility of information for students with neurodiversities, such as dyslexia.

It sounds dramatic, but robots replacing humans could also be literally life-saving. Hausbots is a West Midlands startup whose patented HB1 robot is drastically improving construction site safety to carry out jobs like painting, cleaning, and maintenance.

We’re not advocating for total robot domination in the workplace. Truthfully, most firms which adopt automation technologies tend to engage in more hiring, as they become so much more productive that they need extra people to meet the increased demand.

Tech for health

In the UK, health and social care is in crisis. Last year, nurses and ambulance workers went on strike for the first time ever to protest NHS underfunding, signalling that the issue is nearing a crescendo.

Tech is one solution. More than 16 million repeat prescriptions were ordered via the NHS App between June 2021 and May 2022. Innovation surely needs to be faster, however, to cope with the record 7.21 million people currently on hospital waitlists.

Across our index, startups are plugging the gaps in the care system and making it easier for people to look after themselves or their loved ones. Like Birdie, the healthcare tech platform helping the care community deliver personalised care at home. Or Lottie, the care home comparison website that brings transparent fees to users.

They might sound like futuristic inventions dreamt up in a laboratory. Yet with almost all of us affected by the care crisis, game changing ideas are coming from those with no scientific background. 

Take MedTech startup Strolll, founded by Tom Finn whilst he was caring for his Dad, Nigel, who struggles with Vascular Parkinsonism. Or onHand, a volunteering platform started by Sanjay Lobo to help his Dad with everyday tasks during lockdown.

This trend is not about waving goodbye to the NHS. All the same, and in lieu of adequate staffing and funding, healthtech startups will be an industry life support for the foreseeable future.

Employee benefits

Now is the winter of worker discontent. December 2022 saw the most widespread industrial action since the 1980s as unions campaigned for better pay, pension and sickness allowance.

Whether you’re a supporter or a critic, business owners should listen. Employees are dissatisfied, and with the current labour shortages, progressive firms are hyper focused on keeping staff engaged this year – as many of this year’s Startups 100 demonstrate.

Numerous businesses on the list are servicing unmet demand in benefits packages. Examples include Peppy, which supports employees through often-overlooked areas of healthcare like fertility. Or Zeelo, which provides smart bus commutes to help companies attract and retain staff, and enable shift workers and students to get onsite every day no matter where they live.

Others are showing the way for fairer working conditions, such as Packfleet. The ethical courier promises to pay staff a full-time rate with proper employment benefits, taking a stand against the underhanded areas of the gig economy.

Then there are the startups that are alleviating hiring woes for businesses with clever recruitment solutions that benefit both employer and employee. Take Flexa, the startup that verifies flexible-working companies to tackle the global problem of opaque job descriptions.

Everyone – including entrepreneurs – is struggling in the current bad economy. But only those businesses which show sensitivity and take steps to improve staff satisfaction will see an increase in engagement and with it, growth. 


Not so much a trend as an imperative, sustainability used to be a friendly afterthought tacked to the back of a corporate strategy pamphlet. Now, it’s no more Mr. Nice-to-Have. 

Pressure on companies to engage in sustainability ballooned in 2022, one of the hottest years on record. Today, 82% of FTSE 100 companies in the UK aim for net zero emissions by 2050. To hit this target – and avoid greenwashing – they need to show real commitment like the many, many, green firms nominated for this year’s Startups 100 Sustainability award.

Some are so dedicated to the cause, they’re having a direct impact on policy making. The campaign by alternative peat compost provider, For Peat’s Sake! recently gave rise to a government decision to ban sales of peat composts by 2024.

Then there are the Davids helping those Goliath industries which are the biggest contributors to climate change. Concrete4Change absorbs carbon emissions into concrete, making a stronger, cheaper, and greener material for the sustainably-sinful construction sector.

And, with the world drowning in plastic waste, many of the companies on our list are finding manufacturing workarounds to create recyclable products. For example, Wild, the first brand to sell entirely biodegradable refills for deodorant. 

Whatever the weather, businesses will make headway in the fight against climate change this year. Startups already onboard the tree-hugger train will be poised to thrive in the long term, leaving less-progressive business models trailing behind.


Whether a phishing scam or major ransomware, today’s businesses are now fully clued in on the harm that cyber incidents can cause. But strangely, although more than a fifth of SMEs report having suffered a cyber incident or attack in the past 12 months, 34% still have yet to invest in cyber insurance cover. 

It seems that while organisations are aware of the threat, they lack the knowledge or resources to guard against it – a gap that emerging cybersecurity providers will bridge to great success this year.

Hack the Box is tackling the skills gap with a unique approach. Rather than holding the hands of its users, it encourages its 1.5 million members to hone their hacking talents in action with gamified training and upskilling.

And, with more businesses based online, our Startups 100 list showcases no less than three encrypted messaging applications that are working to padlock private chats from attackers in 2023.

There’s Yeo Messaging, which uses patented continuous facial recognition technology to authenticate the recipient of a message. And Element, an end-to-end encrypted messaging and collaboration app currently used by the French US, UK, and German governments.

Ease is a big incentive for users. Firms like Worldr – which rolls out security and compliance layers to popular messaging apps in just 10 minutes – are expecting big growth in the near future, as they make cybersecurity more affordable and accessible for all. 

Alternative eating

For decades, the UK has had a reputation for questionable food inventions like spotted dick  and jellied eels. Now, our culinary curiosity is paying off with the rise of alternative eating.

Advancements in food manufacturing mean product choice has grown rapidly. Consumers now expect every one of their taste buds to be catered for. Innovative brands are emerging onto supermarket aisles like SURREAL, the startup that reimagines childhood cereals for adults with zero sugar, low carbs, and 14g of protein in every serving.

Both the food and medicinal markets are benefiting from the trend, as people increasingly search for options that will leave them feeling, as well as eating, better. For example, Nourished, which produces world-first 3D-printed supplements tailored to a consumer’s exact nutritional needs. 

Another contributor is the arrival of sober-curious Gen Z shoppers, whose eating and drinking habits have sent shockwaves through the F&B markets. The UK’s largest recent study of drinking behaviours shows that in 2019, 26% of 16-25 year olds were teetotal. 

Catering for this new audience of alco-sceptics is Jubel Beer, the low-calorie beer that won’t leave drinkers light-headed. Jubel is joined by Drop Bear Beer Co, the brewer on a mission to make the best alcohol-free craft beer in a world-first carbon-neutral brewery.

This industry sub-section is undergoing extraordinary growth. As consumer diets become more niche, startups that plant their flag early will invite valuable brand loyalty in 2023. can help your business succeed

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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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