Meet the Rising Stars 4.0 Regional Winners: the North East’s leading early-stage scaleups

Kane Fulton, December 7, 2021 6 min read

One year ago, we launched our inaugural ‘The 12 Days of Scaleups’ campaign to unveil our Rising Stars 3.0 Winners. This December, we’re revisiting the festive theme to announce and celebrate our Rising Stars 4.0 Regional Winners from across the UK as part of our latest 12 Days of Scaleups.

Now into its fourth year, Rising Stars remains the UK’s only national early-stage tech scaleup competition. It is once again fully virtual and our judges have selected not one, but five winners from each region.

Visit our 12 Days of Scaleups Map to discover more Rising Stars 4.0 Regional Winners as they are announced

Yesterday, we announced the competition’s Regional Winners from the North West of England. Today, we are excited to announce the North East Regional Winners of Rising Stars 4.0: Haystack, Kodobe, onHand, Settld and Zoa.


From Newcastle, Haystack is a data insights and careers marketplace that uncovers, highlights and curates opportunities based on a user’s interests, values and tech stack. Users are able to plug into their local and remote tech landscape with Haystack as well as uncover unique tech opportunities, check behind the scenes insights into their favourite employers and discover their next dev, data or design role. CEO and cofounder Chris Bone tells us more.

How does it feel to be a Rising Stars regional winner?

Tech recruitment is stuck in the dark ages. Spam messaging, shady practices and dull job boards make discovering that next unique opportunity a chore. This is why we built Haystack. Driven by our award-winning SaaS marketplace, we match and connect techies with innovative employers using their values, culture fit and tech stack.

We’ve seen huge growth in 2021 and we’re thrilled to be represented on Rising Stars as we look forward to continuing this trajectory into the new year and beyond – watch this space, we’re just getting started.

How has your region supported you in your journey so far?

The North East tech community has been amazing from the get-go – we wouldn’t be where we are today without their support.


Middlesbrough-based Kodobe is an immersive customer experience management platform that provides tools and APIs that allows businesses to continuously keep their customers engaged within their digital platforms. With Kodobe, businesses can grow key metrics up to 4x for new customer conversion rates, existing customer retention rates, and transactions. CEO Fikayo Otun tells us more.

How does it feel to be a Rising Stars regional winner?

Being selected as a Tech Nation Rising Stars 4.0 Regional Winner highlights the incredible progress the team has made since we released the first version of our no-code gamification solution to improve customer experience, retention, and loyalty.

We are an early-stage startup focused on helping businesses build deeper connections and drive stronger customer engagement. We do this by offering rewards such as loyalty points, missions, leaderboards, and badges. Through rewards into digital products, businesses can benefit immensely from the deployment of our tools and APIs.

Our clients have been impressed with our turnkey solution, turnaround time, and most importantly the improvement in retention metrics achieved without needing to write a single line of code.

How has your region supported you in your journey so far?

The North East region of the UK is a thriving technology hub with access to an essential talent pool startup ecosystem. The Global Talent Visa endorsement from Tech Nation has afforded me the opportunity to continue to build my company in the region.

Building a startup can feel very lonely, especially if you’re starting out in a completely new country where you have to build new connections and business relationships from scratch. Thanks to Tech Nation’s Founder’s Network, building my startup out of the UK now feels a lot more like home, knowing that you can connect with over 2,000 founders and early-stage businesses with a similar market focus across the North East region and the UK at large.


From Durham, onHand’s location-based app is a platform for corporate volunteering and climate impact that helps companies and people learn, take action and have a real impact on the causes they care about.

The company uses collective action to help tackle big societal issues like the climate crisis, loneliness, homelessness, food waste, and more. Companies and people can make both a local and a global impact through taking action on climate change by growing company forests, planting thousands of trees and changing lives in areas like Madagascar, Mozambique and Nicaragua. CEO and founder Sanjay Lobo tells us more.

How does it feel to be a Rising Stars regional winner?

We’re over the moon to be chosen as the Rising Stars 4.0 North East Regional Winner. Our mission is to help everyone learn, take action, and make an impact for the better of our community and planet. As more companies and individuals are seeing the value of doing good, this is the perfect time for us to be reaching more people and have an even bigger impact.

How has your region supported you in your journey so far?

Our first corporate partnership was with Newcastle Building Society and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing. Both of them believed in our vision to help fix some of the most pressing societal issues. These partnerships have helped to kickstart our growth and lead to a massive impact. Newcastle Building Society employees have completed more than 1,600 volunteering missions and planted in excess of 3,000 trees with onHand.


Based in Durham, Settld is a SaaS product that simplifies end-of-life admin for bereaved individuals and professionals. They automate the process of notifying and resolving over 750 banking, insurance, utility and other service provider accounts when someone dies, to turn an average six-hour workload into a 15-minute task for the user. For service providers, they reduce cost to serve, complaints and deliver major CX improvements for bereaved customers. Cofounder Julie Wilson tells us more.

How does it feel to be a Rising Stars regional winner?

We are thrilled to have been chosen as a Rising Stars Regional Winner. It shows that we are using technology to fix a major pain point in people’s lives and make a positive difference. Dealing with heaps of account admin when someone dies is unnecessarily stressful and time-consuming.

At Settld, we are changing the way families have to deal with the death of a loved one, and making it easier for businesses to support their customers at a time of need. We started with automating account closure and transfer, but there are countless other problems in this space to solve. Our goal is to transform end-of-life administration for all.

How has your region supported you in your journey so far?

The support we’ve received from organisations and partnerships across the North East has been fantastic. From grant funding to connections and resources, this region has given us the chance to explore the feasibility of our idea, bring it to life – and scale Settld’s service nationally.


Gateshead-based Zoa is the first UK-based rental-as-a-service platform that eliminates barriers to enable retailers and fashion brands to adopt a truly circular model. They offer retailers and fashion brands white-label technology, operations and management so that they can rent out their stock under their own brands. CEO and founder Isabella West tells us more.

How does it feel to be a Rising Stars regional winner?

The fashion industry is increasingly focusing on sustainability, and circular models like rental are going to be key to achieving this; the consumer demand is already there. Retailers want to offer rental under their own brand so they can control the customer experience, but they don’t have the technology, resources or experience. Zoa’s white-label platform overcomes these barriers and powers rental for fashion brands of any size.

How has your region supported you in your journey so far?

Zoa was born out of Hirestreet – the UK’s leading D2C rental website. Both are headquartered in Newcastle, with Hirestreet launched after securing a start-up grant from Project North East. Additionally, I was named North East Young Business Person of the Year in 2020, an accolade that has provided recognition and valuable support.

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