London is home to much more than Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and torrential rain. The city buzzes with a thriving startup culture present across various hubs in the city. Just last week, the City of London Corporation, which controls a known commercial district in the city centre, announced plans to make co-working spaces more affordable for start-ups and SMEs in the area.
London has the highest concentration of talent in the world, creating fertile ground for networking events, incubators, and accelerators, which lay down the foundation for some of the most innovative startup hubs out there.
The Org looked at the best and brightest in the UK’s capital, who make the city as exciting as it is, to see how they do it and what they have in store next. The companies selected all have central offices in London and have shown creative ways to handle the challenges thrown by the pandemic.
Babylon Health has been making headlines for its innovative support of the NHS (National Health Service, the public health service in the UK) during the pandemic. The company, founded in 2013 by Dr. Ali Parsa, connects users to healthcare providers for remote consultations and support.
Having been in the news recently for its work in diagnostic AI solutions, Babylon hopes to keep the trailblazing innovative spirit it is known for to serve medical professionals during the pandemic best it can.
AI Clinical Director Dr. Keith Grimes explains that due to the urgency of the health crisis, hospitals have been much more willing to adopt digital health solutions and let Babylon extend its helping hand. Just last year the app achieved unicorn status, with a valuation of £1.65B.
Dr. Grimes says that as COVID-19 peaks into a second wave in the UK, Babylon has taken steps to facilitate the increased demand for flu vaccines across the country. In-app reminders, direct appointment booking for members, a direct messaging service, and a symptom checker are all features users can take advantage of during this time.
This year has been a big learning experience for Babylon in terms of how to approach innovation, especially with a focus on delivering an integrated experience for all stakeholders.
“By continuing to spend time really listening to users, and our healthcare partners in the NHS and internationally, we’re confident we can support them no matter what the future throws at us,” Dr. Grimes says.
Blow ltd is an on-demand beauty provider which brings makeup artists, luxury hairdressers, and nail technicians into the comforts of our homes. Think of it as Uber Eats for beauty.
The business describes itself as being designed “by women, for women,” and was founded in 2013 by former ELLE and Grazia editor Fiona McIntosh. Blow ltd is used by over 1,000 professionals who have combined to earn over £7m since the launch of the company, delivering over 15,000 services per month.
The company, which has recently made the news thanks to a partnership with fitness class provider ClassPass and fellow on-demand beauty company Priv, has also been able to retain and attract customers with its social media savvy team.
Blow ltd’s Instagram account has over 27k followers, with an approachable tone and aesthetic that knows its clientele well.
Bulb is the leading sustainable energy provider in the UK, capitalising on its user-friendly graphics on energy consumption and carbon footprints for comparatively lower prices. As a Living Wage employer and Certified B Corp brand - it’s also the UK’s fastest growing start-up. It’s secret sauce lies in its lack of reliance on “the big six” - it wants to stand out as the green energy supplier for consumers, and a leader of the New Normal in an age of eco-consciousness.
Just last month Bulb made the intercontinental leap to expand into Texas. Vinnie Campo, U.S. Country Manager, explains: “Texan households have not been guaranteed affordable green energy and great service and Texas is one of the most complex energy markets in the country - with some providers offering as many as 30 different plans. We see a real opportunity to provide a better alternative.”
Although much like many energy suppliers, rising costs have meant Bulb has had to raise their prices for UK customers, Bulb’s philosophy has been to work to limit increases. “After these changes,” Campo says, “We remain one of the most competitive suppliers in the market. On average, Bulb is cheaper than average standard tariffs from the big suppliers - meaning that for most households, switching to Bulb remains a guaranteed saving.”
Bulb now makes up 6% of the UK energy market and has expanded into France, Spain, and Texas. The company has also hired over 200 people, most of them recruited and onboarded remotely during lockdown.
Currencycloud has found success by becoming the key player in managing instant international multi-currency transactions. The fintech emerged as a disruptor on the scene in 2012 with 20 employees and has continued to grow ever since. Now, the company has processed more than $65bn to over 180 countries and has offices in New York, Amsterdam, and Cardiff.
Last month the platform partnered with payments firm Tribe Payments to launch a new banking-as-a-service (BaaS) platform to make international payments more transparent and flexible. The platform provides users with real time FX rates and Currencycloud’s easy-to-use virtual currency infrastructure.
“Businesses will need far greater flexibility in how they manage overseas trade and juggling multiple currencies is a big part of that,” says Todd Latham, Chief Growth Officer at Currencycloud, when explaining the importance of platforms like theirs. “Traditional payment rails and ways of doing things are unlikely to cut it when companies need certainty, speed and as low costs as possible when it comes to moving money globally.”
Currencycloud is currently working on a new “payment tracking capability” which will “allow clients to self-service and track payments themselves, as if it were an Amazon delivery.”
Depop is gen Z’s answer to eBay. The second-hand shopping app has not only made it easier to shop more sustainably, but has given small businesses a space to sell unique clothes and accessories on a mobile platform where consumers seek one-of-a-kind statement pieces.
Explaining how the app is able to keep on top of trends so easily, a Depop spokesperson explains how a dedicated curation team monitors the items users most frequently searched for list, which then guides what is featured on the app’s Explore page.
“In doing it in this way round, we've empowered our community to set the trends as they appear in-app, rather than having our curators dictating what is worth their attention,” the spokesperson said. “This means we can actually see trends bubble up on Depop sometimes two weeks to two months ahead of the mainstream fashion industry.”
Since the beginning of lockdown in the UK in March, Depop has seen its business double and observed record-breaking performance across all its four key markets in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.
Traffic on the app has seen significant growth, up nearly 200% year on year, with a dramatic increase in time spent on the app. The company is having to expand its workforce by nearly a quarter just to keep up with the surge in demand, and plans to have some 350 employees by the end of 2020, across London, Manchester, Los Angeles, New York and Sydney. Depop estimates that a third of all 16-24 year-olds in the UK have tried the app.
Otta is a recruitment platform for the tech sector. Set up by Sam Franklin, Theo Margolius, and Xav Kearney in 2019, it has stood out by providing a nearly seamless and personal UX for an industry which for many can feel daunting and needlessly complicated.
Otta allows applicants to scroll through jobs and see details such as seniority level, salary expectations, Glassdoor scores, as well as a personal thought on the company from Otta itself. Candidates are also able to see the gender breakdown of staff in companies.
In the past fortnight, the UK tech sector has seen a strong recovery with numerous vacancies opening up at nearly pre-pandemic levels. Before the lockdown in March, 3,552 tech roles were advertised in the UK, whereas in September there were 3,495 jobs available. Franklin says that Otta hopes to nurture this renaissance.
The company’s biggest priority for the next year is spotlighting diversity in the tech sector.
“We are working on being a really strong destination for companies to find candidates from diverse backgrounds,” Franklin says. “We want to be the go-to place for companies to go to for addressing their diversity problems. For a lot of them, they can sponsor a few events, they can give some money to a few grassroots coding schools...but it's hard to make a long-lasting difference to how they recruit."
Patch Plants knows we’re all obsessed with plants now, and has made it into an art-form. The company, founded in 2015 by Freddie Blackett, has become the urban gardener’s go-to after being one of the first companies to feed the plant boom in the UK.
Patch has seen a 500% increase in sales during lockdown, and recently announced its plans to employ a more data-driven approach in its business by using cloud-based software Snowflake.
The company’s expansion has relied on the growth of city dwellers’ desires to reconnect with nature and open up whatever little space they have for small “patches” of green.
Pact Coffee knows that the perfect cup of coffee in the morning means even more now that so many of us are working from home. The coffee company, which sells subscription services as well as supplying its product to coffee shops and supermarkets on a B2B basis, prides itself on being a sustainability champion. By buying direct from farmers, Pact is able to pay them 25-125% above Fairtrade rates so they can actually turn a profit. Pact’s presence in both the B2B and B2C spaces has meant that they’ve had to deal with the pandemic’s influence two-fold.
Senior Brand Marketing Manager Morwenna Francis explains that where panic-buying induced supermarket shortages alongside café closure affected their B2B operations, “More people than ever were wanting to have fresh coffee delivered to their door.”
She also believes that while an ethical focus is what Pact is best known for, it’s the company’s flexibility that makes it stand out in the industry.
“Our customers are able to change their delivery frequency, pause and cancel online, as and when they need to,” Francis says. “On top of that, they can also rate their coffees, so that their next one will be chosen for them based on their personal taste preferences.”
Plum Guide’s USP is taking choices away from you. The booking platform prides itself on a “quantity over quality” approach when it comes to destinations for vacationing. In order to get the company’s seal of approval, an accommodation goes through a rigorous 150-criteria vetting process that looks at the tiniest details; from shower pressure to WiFi quality.
Set up by co-founders Doron Meyassed and Imran Ashed in 2015, the company prides itself on a service as seamless as that of a five-star hotel’s. Customer service is available seven days a week, and you can cancel 24-hours before your stay. The company has achieved year-on-year growth of three times revenues consecutively for three years. Just last year it raised £14 m in a Series B funding round.
Plum Guide hasn’t let the recent travel restrictions rain on its parade, and has pushed local getaways on its website, with regional travel receiving more attention than ever before. Multiple local caravan parks and cabins have reported surges in popularity, with over 40% increases in bookings. Many are exploring Britain’s hidden treasures through wild camping in Scotland or staying by the seaside in Cornwall - and Plum Guide is ready to accommodate it.
The Cauldron is in the business of making magic happen - enter one of their venues and you’ll be greeted with wands, moving doors, and intoxicating potions. Founded in 2017 by technologist Matt Cortland and mixologist Dave Duckworth, The Cauldron is a fantasy-themed bar that combines tech and creative mixology.
The pandemic has presented everyone with unique challenges, but that hasn’t stopped the Cauldron from launching a new venue in London called the Wand & Wizard Exploratorium. Cortland explains that cheaper property prices has meant that the company was able to find a funky, five-floor property in the middle of kitsch Soho in London. The Exploratorium in question is very contactless-friendly, as users are invited to create their own wands and use them to control the technology around them.
The Cauldron in London began initially as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 for $500,000 that didn’t meet its target. However, the idea was so intriguing to potential investors and customers that Cortland and Duckworth were able to slowly grow their vision into the international success story, with locations across the U.S. and UK.
The company has also opened up a second investment round just last week, seeking crowdfunded investment on Seedr. With £8m revenue to date, the round is seeking to raise £325,000.
“Fantasy belongs to a generation, not just me and Dave,” Cortland explains, “We are still a start-up and are entirely self-funded at this point. What we want to do is turn all of our customers into owners and make the Cauldron theirs. If they like our ideas, we invite them into our world, to become shareholders.”
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