2024 Startups 100 | Exceptional founder shortlist and award winner

These entrepreneurs have used their personal struggle as fuel to drive positive change. Meet our Exceptional Founder shortlist for 2024.

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From drawing up your idea on the back of a napkin, to celebrating the 1,000th sale, it’s important to recognise the human effort that goes into every startup success story. After all, behind every business making headlines is the person who first dreamt it into fruition.

We’ve chosen to spotlight the extraordinary entrepreneur talents from this year’s Startups 100 Index with our Exceptional Founder award, in celebration of those go-getters who have turned their own personal triumphs into a win for the wider business world.

Our returning guest judge, Ian Wallis, Head of Startups at FieldHouse Associates, helped us to decide on the overall winner. Read on to find out more about the incredible journeys of our five nominees, and who Wallis crowned as his exceptional founder for 2024.

Introducing Startups 100 guest judge, Ian Wallis!

Currently Head of Startups at FieldHouse Associates, Wallis is a former business journalist and co-founder of Ventures Club, an entrepreneurs’ network. He has spent more than 20 years writing about business owners for various outlets including Startups.co.uk, where he helped launch the original Startups 100 in 2008!

WINNER – Chris Donnelly and Will Donnelly (Lottie)

Lottie downsized (1)

2024 Startups 100 | Winner of the Exceptional Founder award

In recognition of the entrepreneur who has turned their own personal struggles or challenges into a force-for-good, leading the way for industry change and innovation.

Learn more about Lottie

Sometimes referred to as the RightMove for care homes, Lottie is the UK’s first directory to showcase a vetted supply of care homes. It aims to make it easier for families to place their loved ones in a trusted home, for the fairest price.

Sparked by the struggles to find suitable care for their own family members, founders Chris and Will wanted to challenge the industry’s stubborn status quo. Heavily impacted by the pandemic, they saw firsthand the impact that a solution like Lottie could have on care seekers, and so set about combining Chris’ expertise in technology and Will’s experience in the social care sector, to transform elderly care.

Having previously ranked 8th in last year’s Startups 100, Lottie’s remarkable growth in the past year – including raising an additional £25m in investment – demonstrates how its disruptive model is serving to address the UK’s social care crisis.

What did Ian Wallis have to say?

Wallis expresses his excitement at how Chris and Will are bringing greater transparency to UK care seekers. “I’m not surprised people are eager to use Lottie”, he exclaims. “Finding a care home is often fraught with worry and financially challenging beforehand and concerning later around levels of care provided. It’s been a known problem long before COVID, but Lottie appears to be solving it.”

SHORTLISTED – Mark Wong (IMPOSSIBREW)

IMPOSSIBREW

IMPOSSIBREW is a challenger no-low drinks brand that offers drinkers the boozy experience sans the hangover. When founder Mark Wong was a student, he was told that because of health complications he had to quit drinking. Rather than resort to a sad Sprite during nights out or skipping them altogether, he got to work shaking up the alcohol-free beer market with a product he’d be happy to drink alongside any friend with a pint in hand. Launching the brand from Wong’s Durham University bedroom, IMPOSSIBREW was born.

Made with a proprietary blend of plant ingredients, it’s cleverly designed to mimic the relaxing effects of alcohol without any of the negative health consequences – including hangovers. Despite not securing any funding on his appearance in Dragons’ Den, IMPOSSIBREW is the most followed beer brand on TikTok. It has also collected a number of impressive accolades, including the GB Food and Drink Startup of the Year 2023.

What did Ian Wallis have to say?

With younger generations drinking less and greater health awareness, it sounds like IMPOSSIBREW will be helping to solve some anti-social and long-term health issues. Its popularity on TikTok means it might have a greater impact than most,” Wallis says.

SHORTLISTED – Vicky Wilson (Settld)

SettldSettld helps bereaved families to deal with the bureaucracy of death, cutting days or hours of process into minutes. Co-founder Vicky Wilson was inspired to launch the startup after her grandmother passed away in 2019. She found herself spending hours contacting the banks, pension providers, insurers, and utilities to close and transfer her grandmother’s accounts.

In less than two months, over 93,000 people signed her petition asking service providers to make it easier to close the accounts of a loved one who dies. Striving to help others avoid the same traumatic experience she’d been through, Wilson quit her job at Amazon to launch Settld. Since then, she has grown the platform to integrate 950 providers including social media accounts, email providers, and broadband.

What did Ian Wallis have to say?

“At perhaps the most emotional time for many, dealing with a loved one’s accounts only adds to the pain, so Settld appears an elegant solution and Vicky had a compelling reason to start,” Wallis appraises. “The fact that it is free for bereaved people puts the user first. I hope the model is able to scale through additional services that reflect the same levels of compassion.”

SHORTLISTED – Ariana Alexander-Sefre (SPOKE World)

SPOKE World

Image credit: www.benpetercatchpole.com

Focusing on a demographic that might feel left behind by the mindfulness trend, SPOKE makes looking after your mind as easy as listening to your favourite music. Co-founder Alexander-Sefre started the company after her younger brother’s best friend took his life in 2017. She saw early-stage preventative mental wellness tools that didn't feel culturally relevant or accessible to her brother and his friends – young men who needed mental health support but lacked a relatable platform for finding it.

Through its listening app, SPOKE is targeting young people – especially Gen Z men and those from more diverse backgrounds – who need a place of respite and relaxation. Her entrepreneurial journey has earned her the East London Innovator award in 2020. With over 500 five-star reviews on its app store listings, it’s clear that Alexander-Sefre’s idea is striking a chord with a demographic who might dangerously feel left out of the wider movements towards wellness and mindfulness.

What did Ian Wallis have to say?

“Ariana is deeply inspiring and SPOKE is undoubtedly targeting something that has needed to be addressed,” Wallis commends. “SPOKE is one of the smaller finalists here but with a powerful intention of saving lives – which none of the others can claim.”

SHORTLISTED – Tim Chong, Theso Jivajirajah, and Harry Jell (Yonder)

Yonder

Yonder is a credit card with a difference – it’s specifically designed for young professionals who may not have a UK credit score, but are tech-savvy, love to explore, and expect the highest level of service. Yonder was inspired by Chong, Jivajirajahand Jell’s own struggles accessing credit when they first emigrated to the UK. But they turned that challenge into opportunity.

Chong and Jivajirajah had worked in the credit sector in Australia and other countries, as well as at Clearscore with co-founder Jell. After embarking on a mission to build a credit card for a demographic underserved by other providers, the founders have established extensive relationships with its Experience partners, including Le Bab, Lina Stores and BAO.

What did Ian Wallis have to say?

“Financial inclusion – or in Yonder’s case exclusion – takes many forms. Despite hearing anecdotally of credit score issues for people moving to the UK, the scale of the problem surprised me. As a force for good in terms of credit scores – and enjoyment – Yonder is unique,” outlines Wallis.

What can startup founders learn from this year’s shortlist?

We’ve highlighted founders that are making waves in the startups industry, by transforming their own personal struggle into a business that multiplies growth and positive social impact. So what learnings can aspiring entrepreneurs derive from this year’s shortlist?

According to Wallis, budding business owners should feel optimism, not intimidation, at the sight of our nominees. “The Exceptional Founder finalists demonstrate that the well of ingenuity is not in danger of running dry any time soon,” he notes.

“I may once have believed that a point would arrive where it would be pointless for others attempting to improve on what exists – and while it may be more challenging, there are clearly always untapped niches and opportunities.”

However, Wallis does caution that an exceptional founder cannot pull all the weight alone and relies on having an exceptional team around them. The challenge? Spotting the right people.

“We’ve seen companies initially feted for their team growth and meteoric valuations, only to see allegations of toxic workplace cultures,” notes Wallis. “I think the fundamentals of treating people well, matching their purpose, and creating positive experiences alongside them, will carry long-term value.”

Despite the challenges startups faced this year, it’s encouraging to see that the lightning strike of entrepreneurial genius can hit more than once – five times, in fact. Congratulations to our Chris, Will, and all of our Exceptional Founder nominees!

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).

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