Startups 100 shows pandemic’s impact on UK startups

From healthcare to home deliveries, the 2021 Startups 100 index exemplifies an extraordinary year for small businesses.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
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The results are in for the 13th annual Startups 100 ranking, the prestigious index, which celebrates the most disruptive UK businesses founded in the past five years.

Every year, we locate the most impressive startups from up and down the country, looking for cutting-edge innovation, smart market understanding, and strong financial performance.

However, this year’s new businesses had lots more to contend with than in previous years thanks to the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, which is still being felt among UK SMEs.

Some were founded as a direct result of the pandemic. Other, established startups showcased a change of direction, aligning themselves more closely with society’s post-pandemic priorities, such as greener living and more accessible healthcare options.

Together, they highlight the new ways of working and business priorities that have arrived as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has entirely altered the way we live, work, and even think.

So what does our Startups 100 list tell us about the new startups landscape? Here’s the top 5 post-pandemic takeaways (or should we say, Deliveroo orders) from this year’s index:

Healthtech startups storm ahead

Unsurprisingly, healthcare was one of the biggest trends in this year’s list, with some of our highest-ranked startups leaning into the new emphasis on health and wellbeing.

Presenting smart solutions to the strain on care homes and providers, highlighted by the pandemic, the majority of the healthcare-themed businesses in our list were digital or app-based platforms working to improve patient care. These startups are making it easier for vulnerable people and their family members to keep up to date with medical information and feel engaged with homecare management.

Noticeably, many of the tech companies on our list had also pivoted to supply services for the medical and pharmaceutical industries, applying state-of-the-art technologies such as AI and augmented reality to aid in areas like diagnoses and medical training.

The top healthcare startup: 2. Cera 

This London-based home care company is revolutionising the way in-home assistance is organised, delivered, and monitored. Families and vulnerable people can use Cera’s effortless digital platform to match with high-quality carers, as well as track and monitor the health of customers and make it easy to check-in and feel reassured about the level of care loved ones are receiving.

Founded by Dr. Ben Marathappu, a doctor and former NHS advisor, Cera is answering some of the biggest challenges currently facing the healthcare industry, such as an aging population, with intelligent, tech-based solutions.

Same day delivery? Yes please.

After 18 months locked in doors – and even longer for vulnerable or isolating people – we weren’t surprised to see ultra-fast delivery featuring heavily in our top 100 list.

Nearly every retailer on our list had free or next-day delivery options, and many were offsetting their delivery carbon footprint to ensure guilt-free shipping for customers.

Whether it was vegan ingredient boxes, a direct-to-door laundromat, or a software company seeking to help with the world’s transition to online delivery, the 2021 index proves that post-Covid, consumers are prioritising easy purchasing habits more than ever before.

The top instant delivery startup: 6. Floom

Founded by Lana Elie in 2016, Floom has grown from the seed of an idea to a fully-fledged CRM and ecommerce marketplace in rapid time. It works by connecting small and independent florists with consumers, helping them to manage things like inventory and invoices, and utilising a compex courier network to offer beautiful bouquets with same-day delivery.

Unlike the lifeless letterbox products provided by rivals, Floom brings fresh flowers directly to consumer doors – so your last-minute apologies can be that little bit easier to make..

Renewed focus on sustainability

As the world sat inside during lockdown, cars stopped spitting out petrol fumes, energy usage in office buildings and retail properties dropped, and the entire country came to appreciate a trip to the park more than we had ever thought possible.

Boris Johnson’s lockdown mantra of ‘build back better’ encouraged businesses to invest more in environmentally-friendly practices, and accelerated the sustainability agenda exponentially.

Businesses might have been aware of the threat of climate change before the pandemic, but coronavirus has really helped to further this cause. Nearly every startup on our list boasted green pledges and a sustainability strategy, proving that some good could come from the devastation of the past 18 months.

The top sustainable startup: 9. allplants

allplants is a plant-based meal delivery service which uses wholemeal ingredients to make delicious, ethically-sourced vegan recipes. Run from Europe’s largest plant-based kitchen, a 20,000sq ft production facility in North London called the Greenhouse, allplants’ production line uses 100% renewable energy.

1.16% of the UK population now declares itself to be vegan, which gives allplants a substantial share of the market with 800,000 consumers – and that’s discounting adventurous omnivores. This number is a huge increase from as little as a decade ago and it only seems to be growing year-on-year, which means allplants is well-placed for organic, sustainable growth.

Remote working brings a desire for greater data protection

Cybersecurity was another major topic among our Startups 100. As hybrid working becomes the new way forward, employees will continue to work from home and from other, various locations with unsecured Wi-FI connections. These working techniques are more vulnerable to data breaches, and have also led to an increase in cyber attacks, such as phishing scams.

Did you know? According to a YouGov survey carried out in April 2021, one in five workers planned to continue working from home full time after the pandemic.

Secure technologies like blockchain were therefore present in almost every software startup on our list, as communication leaks and data hacks become a major concern for the business world. It seems that future tech startups are going to have to work hard to prove to markets that they can keep customer information secure.

The top cybersecurity startup: 10. Element

Element is a new type of secure decentralised messaging, based on the Matrix open standard, which rivals communication platforms like WhatsApp to provide end-to-end encryption for data. As a favourite among serious clients including the French, US, UK and German governments, users can have complete ownership and control of their data, including choosing where the service is hosted. Plus, because it integrates with any other Matrix-based app, there’s no vendor lock-in.

Freelance working is the new normal

The gig economy was already expanding pre-pandemic but it seems that new businesses are finally prioritising freelancers and sole traders in the workforce – a theory our list would support.

As the pandemic saw 11.6 million people furloughed in the UK,  a record number of Britons are running side hustles to receive a second income, while added flexibility in working has led to a spike in the number of remote freelancers.

Our top 100 list welcomes an insurance provider that prioritises freelancers, flexible real estate agencies that are opening up desk space to gig workers, and subscription-based software products that are enabling more affordable pricing options for sole traders.

The top startup for freelance workers: 16. Distributed

Headquartered in London, Distributed co-ordinates a global community of on-demand, freelance software developers. The move to remote working has triggered huge demand for tech-skilled jobs – according to CompTIA’s 2021 Workforce and Learning Trends report, 40% of companies hired tech staff during the pandemic, and 66% have plans to add more in 2021. This is creating a worsening skills gap in tech.

Distributed users can have access to quality-assured and cost-efficient tech-specialist workers, who are equally rewarded with a structured career path that provides more support than freelancing and also aids development.

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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