“Winning £150,000 from the Start-Up Series sets the wheels in motion for my business”

Outfox is our January competition winner. Find out how founder Jessica Hook will use the funding to launch a range of alcohol-free wines, ciders and beers

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Founder: Jessica Hook
Company: Outfox
Description: A premium brand of non-alcoholic wines, champagnes and beers, providing a mature and tasty alternative for people who don’t want to drink alcohol.

Discovering a thirst for alcohol-free drinks: The story behind Outfox

For many Brits, alcohol consumption has become part and parcel of socialising; whether its heading to the pub with friends or celebrating a special occasion.

But, with changing preferences of consumers and a move towards healthier lifestyles, the country is now witnessing increased public demand for alcohol-free beverages for adults.

While working for major players in the food and drinks market – including Kraft Foods, One Water and Vita Coco – sales professional Jessica Hook noticed that interest in non-alcoholic drinks was soaring. Largely in response to an ever more health-conscious consumer base:

“I’ve always been aware of the trends that have been coming through the market. For example, concerns around sugar content and the definite shift to more natural, healthy alternatives.”

Hook tells us there has also been growing popularity of largescale booze-shunning events: “Dry January 2017 saw five million people participate so it’s definitely something that’s happening across the masses – and interestingly a lot of this growth has been driven by the 18 to 25 year-old market.”

Coupled with burgeoning demand, an inspiring personal endeavour would convince Hook that there was a gap in the market for credible alternatives to wine, beer and spirits.

“I recently gave up alcohol for six months while I was training for a race,” she explains – ‘race’ being a very modest way of describing the Marathon Des Sables; a 251km, six-day-long ultramarathon taking place across the scorching hot Sahara Desert in southern Morocco.

Having grabbed a last-minute spot in the 2017 event, Hook had just a few months to train while other participants had been preparing for years. This meant an immediate ban on alcohol was necessary to help her reach peak physical fitness quickly.

It was during this marathon training that Hook began to notice what the drinks market was lacking: “If you want to share a bottle of wine, or beers, with your friends but you don’t necessarily want the alcohol or the calories, there really is a distinct lack of options at the moment. As an industry we can do better.”

Jessica Hook Marathon Des Sables

A winning business idea

Determined to bring about much-needed improvement to the drinks industry, Hook “took the plunge”, leaving her position as head of sales for Vita Coco UK and Ireland to pursue a business idea which had been brewing for a while: Outfox.

A premium brand of non-alcoholic wines, champagnes and beers, Outfox’s first recipes took Hook a year to develop. “I was so conscious that the taste profile had to be spot on and speak for itself.”

It was during this product development stage that Hook became aware of the Start-Up Series; the UK’s largest ever seed funding competition which awards £150,000 SEIS equity investment to one early stage business each month:

“I saw the competition on Startups.co.uk and it happened to be starting at the same time I knew I’d be going out to raise that first seed investment, so I looked at it as an alternative to meeting more traditional investors.”

Keen to be able to launch the product in the way she wanted, the ambitious entrepreneur decided to enter the competition and found that “the application process was really straightforward”.

Hook’s decision to enter would pay off – tenfold – as Outfox would go on to win the January Start-up Series, securing a prize of £150,000 equity funding and advice from established investors Worth Capital, alongside invaluable press coverage on Startups.co.uk.

Meeting Start-Up Series investors Worth Capital – and the news that would change everything

Hook tell us that the entry process for the Start-Up Series was a simple one; “As long as you’ve got the right information and can demonstrate the business clearly, it doesn’t need to be time-consuming.”

Next came a telephone interview, and later a face-to-face in-depth discussion about the business with Worth Capital:

“Meeting the guys at Worth Capital was good fun. They asked loads of probing questions, and it was really good to chat through some of the ideas and thinking behind the business plan with people who had experience within the industry.

“Afterwards they provided lots of feedback on different aspects of the plan, from how financially robust it was to the marketing plan to myself as an individual, so the feedback there was really valuable as well.”

Soon after, Hook was given the news that Outfox was to be crowned the January winner. “Winning was great! It meant that I had the opportunity to set the wheels in motion to get my product launched, which I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do without the investment.”

Hook believes that Outfox’s victory was based on two factors; the undeniable demand for better non-alcoholic drinks, and her track record in the drinks industry: “I have experience with bigger companies, but then also with smaller start-ups and fast-growing drinks brands.”

Turning a dream into reality, with the help of the Start-Up Series

Thanks to her Start-Up Series win, Hook is preparing to launch Outfox this summer.

She notes that “it’s been all systems go since winning the competition” with the £150,000 investment being used to organise a supply chain, secure production runs and plot a marketing strategy.

Revealing her ultimate ambition for the drinks business, Hook says she’d love to see Outfox become the go-to alcohol-free brand:

“Rather than people thinking ‘I’ll have a lime and soda or another Diet Coke’, I want people to think ‘I’m not drinking, I’m driving home; I’ll see if they’ve got something that’s Outfox’.”

With the support of Worth Capital’s investment and guidance, Hook is one step closer to making her business vision a reality. Bottoms up!

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