Michael Acton Smith and Priya Lakhani awarded OBEs in New Year Honours List

Young Guns behind Firebox, Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters and Masala Masala among entrepreneurial recipients

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Mind Candy and Firebox founder Michael Acton Smith and Masala Masala founder Priya Lakhani have received OBEs in the New Year Honours List.

The entrepreneurs, named Young Guns in 2003 and 2009 respectively, join fellow Young Guns Oli Barrett MBE, Holly Tucker MBE and Sarah Curran MBE as new members of the order of chivalry after the latter three were named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List earlier this year.

Ex-libel lawyer Lakhani, who set up Masala Masala, a range of Indian sauces and ready-to-cook meals that were sold by Ocado and in Waitrose, tweeted the Cabinet Office after news of her award was released: “I am Incredibly honoured – thank you,” she said via her Twitter account @priyalakhani.

Launched in 2008, Lakhani also founded a charity alongside her business, the Masala Masala Project, which promised to provide a hot meal to a homeless person in India for every pot of her sauces sold.

She moved on in December 2012 and launched her second business Century Tech in April 2013 and participates in a forum to advise business secretary Dr Vince Cable on enterprise. She received her OBE for services to business, community and voluntary initiatives.  

Meanwhile, Michael Acton Smith was awarded his OBE for services to the Creative Industries for his creation of Moshi Monsters. The virtual pet monster world for children now has more than 80 million users in 150 countries.

Tweeting earlier today via his @acton handle and referring to the game that helped to make his first business Firebox.com a success, Acton Smith said: “Thanks Ma’am for my OBE. It’s a wonderful honour. Let’s play Shot Glass Chess sometime to celebrate.”

Acton Smith and co-founder Tom Boardman launched online purveyor of cool games, toys and artefacts Firebox.com in 2000 after raising £75,000. The pair subsequently gained venture capital backing from Spark Ventures and after riding out the dotcom boom to bust era Acton Smith stepped away to launch Mind Candy.

Moshi Monsters launched in 2008 after being conceived by Acton Smith a year earlier. At the time, the idea was deemed something of a last roll of the dice.

Mind Candy had launched in 2005 and after the critically acclaimed but commercially disastrous virtual and real world treasure hunt Perplex City, which was nominated for a BAFTA, Acton Smith sought something to satisfy the backers – Accel Partners, Index Ventures, and Spark Ventures – that had ploughed $11m into the business.

Speaking exclusively to Startups.co.uk earlier this year, Acton Smith said: “When we pivoted from Perplex City to Moshi Monsters, that really was the last roll of the dice and we didn’t have a lot of money left in the bank.

“It was last chance saloon so we had to make it work. If it hadn’t we would probably have had to close Mind Candy down and I don’t know what we would have done. I would probably have licked my wounds for a little while and then come back with another idea.”

Since then, Mind Candy, which turned over £46.9m in 2012, has been mooted for an IPO on one of the world’s top stock exchanges and estimated to be worth more than $200m. Selling toys, a Moshi Monsters magazine, video game, music, books, trading cards, membership, andanimated film Moshi Monsters: The Movie, the franchise has become one of the UK creative industry’s biggest exports.

Characters such as Katsuma, Luvli, Dr. Strangeglove, Poppet, Furi, Zommer, and Sweet Tooth have become familiar to six to 12-year-olds the world over. Deals with Sony Music and McDonald’s have enabled Acton Smith to exploit the commercial opportunity to the full.

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