We recently opened applications for Rising Stars 3.0, our competition that seeks to find the most innovative and exciting digital tech startups in the UK.
Back in February, the founders of Rising Stars 2.0’s 10 winning companies took to a very socially-undistanced stage at London’s 30 Euston Square to accept their award. Shaking Conservative MP Matt Warman’s hand, few could have predicted the extent of what lied ahead.
Indeed, Covid-19 has presented tech companies with a different set of challenges – while amplifying existing ones – in 2020. Conversely, it has also introduced new opportunities. As long-time Rising Stars judge Ed Prior says, founders need to be agile now more than ever.
The good news is the competition’s latest winners have been more than up to the task. Many have adapted their products and solutions during the pandemic while making new hires and showing the adaptability and versatility that is inherent in the most promising entrepreneurs. Here’s the proof.
Southampton-based Sparkbox’s B2B SaaS solution helps retailers ensure they are maximising profit while shifting units. With ONS data showing that online sales have increased from 20% to 35% of all retail sales during the pandemic, the startup has been perfectly positioned to help companies capitalise. Shortly after winning Rising Stars 2.0, it raised £150k of VC in an effort to grow its customer base and double headcount by the end of 2020. Sparkbox achieved a recognition one-two over the summer: named as “one of the best startups to work with” by Retail Week, its cofounders Lindsay Fisher and Matt Wong also shared a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in its ‘Retail and E-Commerce’ category. To top it off, Sparkbox was accepted onto the 12-week Google for Startups Immersion programme that helps “exceptional founders” tap into London-related opportunities.
We Build Bots
Chatbots have become even more compelling during Covid-19, allowing people to quickly retrieve and share information while feeling less isolated. It has meant more business for Cardiff’s We Build Bots, which raised £210k on Seedrs in July – surpassing its £125k target in five days – to handle increased demand for its public sector chatbot solutions. Founder and CEO Paul Shepherd has made no secret of We Build Bots’ global ambitions, and the company is now targeting European growth. The startup has made two big moves to help it achieve that: hiring former Microsoft Sharepoint consultant Patrick Hosch as Chief Commercial Officer to expand its partner network, and joining ACTE (Association Civic Tech Europe) to represent Civic Tech on a European level. The chatbotters also achieved ISO 27001 certification, a year-long effort that Paul hailed as, “proof that our information security, people, processes and tech are best in class.”
Listed by the World Economic Forum as one of the top 10 tech trends to watch during Covid-19, online entertainment is set to boom. Timing could hardly be better for Cornwall-based Codices, which has won awards from CogX and the Digital TV Group in 2020. The startup works with brands and influencers to create live interactive shows on Twitch through its Quiz Kit tool, which hit a milestone of 1 million unique monthly users in May. In September, CEO and cofounder Tim Edwards revealed that it ran a live online quiz for 300,000 concurrent users at the videogame conference TennoCon. It all led to Codices attracting the attention of the Cornwall and Isles Scilly Fund (COSIF) and Haatch Ventures, which together invested around €700k for Codices to roll out new live show formats in the next year.
Shopper.com is a community-driven platform that helps shoppers save money while shopping online. Its ability to notify users when products are back in stock has made it particularly useful for people during the pandemic, a time when it has been difficult to find basic household items. The company has raised more than £500k from angel investors, and in March it was accepted onto the third Ignite NI accelerator – a three-month programme that helps new companies attract investment and scale internationally. Cofounder Sonu Bubna was named one of ’10 inspiring women powering tech in the Midlands’ by Tech Nation, and Shopper.com was listed as one of Birmingham’s ’10 tech startups to watch’ by startup watchers Maddyness.
Shortly after winning Rising Stars, Foundries.io continued its journey with Tech Nation by being accepted on its Cyber 2.0 programme. The Cambridge-based company delivers a cloud software platform that aims to reinvent IoT, enabling companies to develop, deploy and maintain IoT and Edge (entry points into larger networks) devices for lifetime customer success. After winning the Rising Stars Grand Final, the company revealed that its FoundriesFactory product had been adopted by a range of clients ranging from emerging startups to large global enterprises. They included Arm, the UK-based computer chip designer recently sold to Nvidia for $40bn. In April, FoundriesFactory was nominated for Embedded Solution Product of the Year by the Electronics Industry Awards 2020.
Glasgow-based Talking Medicines was quick off the mark in responding to Covid-19. Early on, the mission-led company launched its Conversational AI tool that uses data to detect key signs of the infection based on what people are saying on social networks. The startup also launched Care Connect Call, a service used by healthcare professionals to video call patients, which proved so popular that the company hired a dedicated software engineer to meet demand. The busy startup also aired a TV ad for its Medsmart App that reminds people to take their meds. In May, it was selected as one of the 10 finalists to pitch at the Mayor of London’s Tech Invest event, held with the UK Business Angels Association. The company’s CEO Jo Halliday still found the time to speak at events such as Edinburgh’s Impact Summit, and to online publications including the Scotsman.
Mental health concerns have been on the rise during Covid-19, and young people have been particularly affected due to freedom restrictions and exam cancellations. Tootoot’s namesake app, which gives them the ability to confidentially talk about anything from mental health concerns to bullying, was officially recommended to schools, colleges and universities by the UK Government’s Department for Education during lockdown. Having raised £600,000 from GC Angels and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority before Christmas, tootoot launched a business version of its app called Stribe, which makes it easier for business leaders to support the wellbeing of employees. Having recently relocated to London, cofounder and CEO Michael Brennan is looking to connect with people who share an interest in employee engagement, wellbeing and inclusion.
Neatebox founder Gavin Neate passionately told Tech Nation how his company’s solutions could “level the playing field” for disabled people under Covid-19. Its innovative ‘WelcoMe’ customer service tool alerts staff of a person’s arrival in a shop (or any location where they require support). Neatebox’s solutions have been used by Irish Rail, the NHS, Utilita Energy and others since Rising Stars. RBS and Natwest are also customers, and the Edinburgh startup netted a spot on the former’s Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme shortly after winning our Grand Final. Meanwhile, the company won new clients – including an optometrist in Durham that became the world’s first to adopt ‘WelcomeMe’. Neatebox’s efforts were recognised in August when Gavin was shortlisted for the National Diversity Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of Excellence Award, which the founder said was “truly a reflection on the work of my team”.
A digital intermediary between asset managers and pension funds, London’s ClearGlass has shown no signs of slowing down. It is on a mission to bring more transparency to the industry, with an aim of making it easier and cheaper for pension funds of all sizes to obtain their cost data. As lockdown came into effect into the UK, the fintech launched in South Africa. Shortly after, it joined London’s Founders Factory programme, which helps teams with a live product and early traction to scale. ClearGlass, which has grown its client base to more than 300 during the pandemic, received further validation by being nominated for the Financial Technology Innovation of the Year award by Financial News. Beaming at the recognition in a LinkedIn post, CEO Ritesh Singhania wrote: “Within 18 months of launch, we are competing alongside Fidelity’s Fixed Income Platform for the same award!”.
Once dubbed the ‘Steve Jobs of South Africa’ by the Sunday Times, it’s perhaps unsurprising that CoGrammar founder and CEO Riaz Moola has continued to innovate during the crisis. The London company’s 1-on-1 coding bootcamps – which allow human code to be reviewed at scale using African tech talent – have continued to operate online. The startup, which has made new hires during the pandemic, has conducted more than 100,000 assessments to date by more than 200 reviewers to help its partners. Writing in an article for IT Web during lockdown, Riaz outlined his desire to make education more affordable, accessible and effective during and after Covid-19 through human-augmented online learning.
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