2021 has been another tough year – but amidst the doom and gloom the wheels of business have kept moving.
As such, it is important to highlight the people who have helped keep the UK growing during the COVID pandemic.
Compiled by TechBlast executive editor Chris Maguire, it not in order of importance or based on a scientific formula – rather his own in-depth knowledge and personal opinions.
“There are actually slightly more than 50 names mentioned because there can be more than one founder and apologies if I’ve missed anyone out,” he said.
“2021 has been dominated by COVID and the real heroes are our amazing NHS staff – but it is also important to focus on some of the movers and shakers in the world of business.”
1-3. Young entrepreneurs David Newns, Dominic McGregor and Charlie Yates launched Fearless Adventures and they’ve already made a couple of investments.
4-8. Liverpool private capital investor Arete Capital Partners has completed an impressive first year with a variety of investments in the likes of Sorted, Uncrowd, Travel Seen, Leonard Curtis, Tactus Group and Vivify. Arete was set up by David Moore, Simon Lord, Mike Fletcher, Ben Hatton and Matthew Cheetham.
9. Jennie Johnson has rediscovered her mojo with startup My First Five Years. The founder of North West nursery Kids Allowed has launched her new digital venture with friend Alistair Bryce-Clegg.
10. Car finance company Zuto has grown to 400 staff this year under the leadership of James Wilkinson, who has spoken about how his disabled son Jimmy has changed his outlook on life.
11. Silicon Valley Bank has had a stellar year with the corporate finance team in EMEA providing over $1bn to innovation companies in 2021. Well done to managing director Richard Faulkner.
12. Tiffany Thorn became one of the youngest female CEOs of a UK-based public technology firm when BiVictriX Therapeutics listed on the AIM market. She’s an amazing leader.
13. Simon Mellin and The Modern Milkman go from strength to strength by bringing technology to a traditional service. Together with some friends, Mellin launched The Modern Milkman in 2018 after watching Blue Planet, and the firm has a focus on sustainability.
14-15. Redmoor Health has cemented its reputation as a trusted partner of the NHS. They’ve made some key hires in 2021, hit £2m turnover and moved to Chorley in Lancashire. Well done to Marc Schmid, Alison Schmid and the team.
16-17. Damian Hanson and David Hague know how to build and sell a business. Mission Labs was acquired by Gamma Communications in March. They’ve continued to recruit during COVID and moved to Arbeta in Manchester.
18. I’ve got massive respect for David Grimes, founder of Sorted, which raised another $40m and made their first acquisition in Clicksit. Grimes has stepped away from being the day-to-day CEO but remains involved in the business.
19. Liz Ashall-Payne is the founder of Daresbury-based health app evaluation platform Orcha. Last year ORCHA had an annual recurring revenue of £1.4m and this year it’s set to triple its ARR to £4m. By 2022-23 the figure is predicted to grow to c.£11m. Today ORCHA employs around 100 people with ambitions to increase this to 150 by April 2022, recruitment-permitting.
20. Gemma McCall and Manchester-based tech-for-good firm Culture Shift have had an amazing year, securing £1.5m investment in a funding round led by Praetura Ventures and Blackfinch Ventures. Founded in 2018, Culture Shift has created a platform for users to confidentially and safely report workplace harassment.
21. Cardinal Maritime is a technology-led logistics company and is one of the UK’s fastest-growing logistics providers. Founder Brian Hay is an inspirational guy.
22. Martin Port, founder of Leeds-based BigChange, has had a good year after US-based VC Great Hill Partners made a £75m majority investment into the mobile workforce management technology company. Port is a real grafter and credits his wife Amanda for his success.
23-24. This isn’t a tech story but I met Ross and Christian Laing at an event in Warrington and they made a massive impression on me. Ross has Down Syndrome and their start-up business – Stand Out Socks – is making people smile with their incredibly bold socks.
25. Hugh Campbell is one of life’s good guys. He’s the co-founder of GP Bullhound, which now employs 150 people across 12 offices and has just reported record turnover of $100m.
26-27. Laurence Newman and Andrew Showman launched CurrentBody in 2009 and in 2021 the Manchester online retailer of home beauty devices sold a £50m majority stake to eComplete. The business now has 17 international websites with over 14m users.
28. 2021 has been the year of the IPO so special mention to Steve Oliver and musicMagpie’s float. He’s passionate about sustainability, evidenced by the Mount Recyclemore sculpture they exhibited near the G7 summit in Cornwall.
29. Cloud data integration platform Matillion joined the ranks of North West unicorns after it raised £100m+ in Series E funding. Talented CEO Matthew Scullion is a really nice guy.
30. Lou Cordwell has had a busy year after her digital design studio magneticNorth merged with London-based innovation consultancy Fluxx to create a ‘powerhouse’. The chair of GM LEP happens to be a really nice person as well.
31-32. It’s been another brilliant year at Manchester-based Peak, which raised £55m in Series C funding. Founded by Richard Potter and David Leitch the latest round of investment was led by Japanese tech giant SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and will fuel global expansion.
32-33. I love what Mark Hartley is doing at Manchester-based FinTech BankiFi, which specialises in payment processing and financial administration services for SMEs. BankiFi raised £2.2m investment in a funding round led by Praetura Ventures. Special shout-out to David Foreman and his team at Praetura.
34-35. Anna Beaumont and Karen Bexley continue to make great waves through their law firm Bexley Beaumont despite launching three months before the pandemic.
36. I was delighted for Andrew Daniels when Manchester digital agency Degree 53 was acquired by US-based global casino-entertainment company Bally’s Corporation. Daniels founded Degree 53 in 2013 following investment from Betfred founder Fred Done, who described Daniels as a ‘little genius’.
37-39. David Chamberlain, Joey Xoto and Jamie Garside continue to build a formidable business at Viddyoze. The co-founders of the SaaS-based animation firm won the Judges’ Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Northern Tech Awards 2021.
40. Jonathan Boyers is the deal-making equivalent of the Duracell Bunny as he never stops. He’s the head of corporate finance for KPMG which has just reported turnover of £68m on 80 deals for the 12 months ending September 2021, compared with £29m and 45 deals when he took over in 2017.
41. Leeds is an incredible city for tech businesses and Ben Davison and his team at Axiologik have been doing amazing work in the fight against COVID.
42. Vikas Shah must be the busiest man I know and in 2021 he launched his book ‘Thought Economics’ and interviewed countless heavy hitters. He also found time to start a new business – Growth Strategy Innovation – with Naomi Timperley and take a million photos of his cats!
43. Watch out for Foodhub, which is taking on Deliveroo and Just Eat. I interviewed Ardian Mula, who founded the business with Mohammed Shakil, and he was very persuasive.
44. I was delighted for Susanna Lawson, founder of OneFile, after it was acquired by Ottawa-headquartered global software provider Harris.
45-46. If there was Nice Person Award it would be shared by Paul Woods of Proactive Despatch and Shelina Begum, North West Business Editor at TheBusinessDesk.com. Proactive Despatch is reporting record numbers while Shelina continues to grow her profile.
47-49. The media need to do more to champion women in business to create a level playing field. That’s why I applaud the work of Jess Jackson, head of investment at GC Angels and co-founder of Fund Her North, and Helen Oldham. I don’t want to miss anyone out so as a ‘collective’ I’ll also include Charlotte Ashton, Chi-chi Ekweozor, Sarah Hex, Claire Alvarez and Jordan Dargue.
50. Final mention is to Lorna Davidson, founder and CEO of redwigwam, which is the UK’s largest platform for flexible staff.