12 ambassadors chosen for Start Up Loans programme

Chloe Bruce, above, took out a loan of £12,500 to launch the Chloe Bruce Academy in 2020, a business offering virtual martial arts classes and tutorials

A Dragons’ Den winner, a former Hollywood stunt double and a PhD graduate turned toymaker are among 12 business owners announced as Ambassadors for the Start Up Loans programme. The announcement comes as the programme celebrates its 10-year anniversary, having provided more than £900m in loans since 2012.

The annual Start Up Loans Ambassadors programme, now in its seventh year, celebrates exceptional business owners who have followed their ambition of becoming their own boss after receiving support from the government-backed Start Up Loans programme.

Drawn from each of the UK’s 12 Nations and regions, the 2022 Start Up Loans Ambassadors reflect the broad diversity and ambition of the nation’s smaller business sector at a grass roots level. More details of the businesses selected from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England’s regions can be found further below.

Start Up Loans was established as a £10m pilot scheme by Lord Young in 2012, in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis. His vision was to enable more young people to achieve their dream of setting up their own business, by providing access to affordable loans and expert support to those who might otherwise struggle to access funding.

Since then, the programme has delivered more than 97,000 loans to business owners across the UK, amounting to more than £900m of funding, while expanding to support entrepreneurs of all ages. 40% of loan recipients have been women and 21% people from minority ethnic backgrounds. 40% of recipients have been aged 18-30, reflecting the scheme’s continued support for the next generation of UK business owners.

Business Minister Dean Russell said: “From Shetland to Scunthorpe and Carlisle to Cardiff, there are thousands of businesses thriving today thanks to receiving a government backed Start Up Loan over the past decade. The latest expansion of the scheme has made an additional 33,000 loans of up to £25,000 available to more firms than ever to help them innovate, create jobs, and boost wages. The 12 firms named as ambassadors represent the very best of what British small businesses can achieve with a Start Up Loan supporting them.”

Richard Bearman, Managing Director, Start Up Loans, said: “Given the current challenges facing business owners across the country, it’s never been more important to celebrate those using creativity, tenacity and grit to make a success of their enterprises. Our latest set of Ambassadors are as remarkable as ever, combining twelve inspirational stories and approaches to running a business from every corner of the UK. It’s my pleasure to welcome and congratulate them on their roles as Ambassadors, and I look forward to working with them over the coming year to inspire others thinking of becoming their own boss.” 

Tina McKenzie, Policy and Advocacy Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This is great news from the British Business Bank, marking 10 years of improving the small business ‘birth rate’, and at the same time powering the levelling up agenda by supporting small business creation in all the UK nations and regions.  Today’s figures and ambassadors are a real legacy for Lord Young, and we hope that this can be built on and expanded in future.” 

Robin Spinks, Head of Inclusive Design, RNIB said: “RNIB wants every blind person to be able to lead the life they want to live. British Business Bank is a government owned business development bank dedicated to making finance markets work better for smaller businesses. Two very different organisations have come together with a shared mission to enable those with sight loss to realise their ambition in starting a successful business.” 

Through a network of delivery partner organisations, the Start Up Loans programme provides access to pre-and-post loan support to help applicants to develop a business plan; fixed-interest first and second loans of up to £25,000 to start or grow their business; as well as mentoring support to help loan recipients with everything from cash flow to marketing.

In 2022, the programme was expanded to make first loans available to businesses that have been trading for up to three years, and second loans to businesses that have been trading for up to five years. The programme previously provided access to finance to start-ups which had been trading for up to two years.

Breakdown of loans by region:

Start Up Loans ambassadors 2022/23

Emma Airley and Sebastian Bacewicz – Pastéis Lisboa, Glasgow, Scotland

In April 2022, Emma and Sebastian took out a loan of £20,000 each to set up Pastéis Lisboa, Scotland’s first specialist Pastel de Nata bakery, in the heart of Glasgow’s West End. The couple were inspired by the new-wave of modern pastelarias in Portugal and having fallen in love with the delicacy themselves, the pair sought out the very best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon and persuaded the fifth-generation Portuguese patisserie chef to teach them his secrets and help them train their bakery team. They opened the bakery after perfecting his award-winning recipe.

Emma said: “While Pastel de Nata is a familiar product to many people in the UK, it’s challenging to find one handmade from scratch daily using the highest-quality natural ingredients, to an authentic, traditional recipe.  Glaswegians are known for having a sweet tooth, and they can indulge themselves (almost) guilt-free at Pastéis Lisboa. The loans Sebastian and I received were instrumental in getting the business off the ground – after five years of meticulous planning and training, we used the funding to help us secure premises in the prime location we needed to launch from and towards our fit-out and equipment costs.”

Social: @pasteislisboa

Matt Thomas and Joby Barnard – Dryad, Abergavenny, Wales

Matt, a triathlete, outdoors-enthusiast, and Joby, a designer with a passion for running, took out a loan of £25,000 in April 2021 to launch Dryad, an outdoor sportswear company for women based in Wales. At the heart of their venture is the desire to make the best quality and sustainable clothing while fighting for better equality in sport. Matt and Joby said: “We set Dryad up because we wanted our work to not only be purpose-driven but also fun. We wanted to build a brand that has integrity, is fair and transparent in its goals and enables us to provide opportunities and support women to participate in all sports at all levels.”

Social: @dryadco

Claudia Mariza Rosado e Costa – Mama Claudia, Craigavon, Northern Ireland

In 2018, Claudia took out a loan of £3,300 to launch Mama Claudia, a carefully selected range of baby and children’s products for stress-free parenting. When Claudia’s first daughter was born, she found it difficult to find good quality and reasonably priced day-to-day essentials.. So, when she found out she was going to have a second child, she took matters into her own hands, and Mama Claudia was born.

Claudia said: “I create top quality baby essentials at great value prices because I believe that all parents deserve great products at a price that won’t break the bank. I run the business single-handedly which of course comes with its challenges, particularly juggling being a parent. However, I am so proud of how far the business has come and I urge any mums who are interested in entrepreneurship to take the plunge and explore the finance options available to them via Start Up Loans.”

Social: @mamaclaudia

Dhruvin Patel – Ocushield, Old Street, London 

Dhruvin Patel, founder of Ocushield, took out his loan of £500 via Virgin Startup in 2015 to start the business. The screen protectors support heathy eye function, as people increasingly rely on backlit screens and digital devices in their day-to-day lives. Dhruvin used his loan to set up and design the Ocushield website and relied heavily on the mentoring scheme for support in getting the idea off the ground in the early stages.

Dhruvin said: “Before starting Ocushield, I was studying to become an optometrist at City University, London and working at a high-street optician. I produced a research paper looking at how blue light can be detrimental to people’s health, mainly how it impacts our eyes with a knock on effect to our sleep. I began trading whilst still at university and Ocushield turned over £55,000 in its first year. The mentoring programme was really important in the early days of the business, as it helped me take all the right steps.

“Our success has continued to grow ever since. Last year I secured a deal with Peter Jones and Tej Lalvani from Dragon’s Den, which I had to turn down as the business had grown and in turn raised £1m from private investors. The business is now worth £6.6m and we produce products like eye supplements and eye masks too.”

Twitter: @GetOcuShield

Instagram: @GetOcuShield

Joezy Uweh and Amy White – Naturawell, Lincoln, East Midlands

Joezy and his business partner Amy, took out funding from Start Up Loans to set up Naturawell in 2021, a plant-based bar and restaurant serving healthy and delicious food and drinks. The business offers a range of healthy products including freshly prepared salad bowls, fresh juices, pancakes, toasties, bagels and smoothie bowls. The couple are determined to promote healthy living habits. All of Naturawell’s food and drinks are made from scratch upon request so freshness is always on the table. The couple said: “Serving healthy food that is sustainable is at the heart of what we do, and our goal is to make eating plant-based food the norm in modern society.”

Social: @naturawellofficial

  1. Chloe Bruce – Chloe Bruce Academy, Woking, South East 

Chloe Bruce took out a loan of £12,500 to launch the Chloe Bruce Academy in 2020, a business offering virtual martial arts classes and tutorials. The academy, which offers on-demand and live classes, has taught hundreds of thousands of people, ranging from beginners to professionals, including actors learning new skills for action roles.

Before launching her business, Chloe was a stunt double for some of Hollywood’s leading actors such as Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars. However, after having had her fair share of being thrown around on wires and fighting some of Hollywood’s biggest baddies, she decided to take on a new type of challenge – launching her own business.

Chloe said: “As a mum of two juggling work and childcare, having an online business has been essential in ensuring I maintain a work-life balance. My dream was always to launch a virtual platform, and when Covid-19 meant that people were forced to stay at home, it felt like the right time to formally launch to the public after years of planning.”

Social: @chloedbruce

Alice Wu – Peace and Pure, Cambridge, East of England 

Alice Wu, founder of Peace and Pure,  took out her loan of £19,000 in 2020 to start the business. During struggles with her own mental health, she discovered the importance of emotional wellbeing in relation to beauty, plus the benefits of mindfulness and self-love. She saw the need to create a beauty brand that was truly loving and supportive of the journey to beauty and wellness. Alice said: “More than simply a task, I believe your skincare routine has the power to be a healing and restorative ritual. I created my brand to form an essential part of that ritual.”

Social:  @peace_and_pure

Emma Hamlett  Collected, Durham, North East 

Emma Hamlett took out a £25,000 loan to open Collected, an independent bookshop specialising in work written by women. Describing herself as a “Covid cliché”, Emma exited stage left from her career as a museum curator in 2020 and began to explore what else might be possible, realising in the process that, for her, there was no getting away from books. “At Collected, we simply love books and reading – and talking books and reading. We’re also passionate about championing work by female writers, much of which – through imbalance and bias in publishing, literary journalism, and prize giving – has historically been overshadowed and overlooked.”

Twitter: @CollectedDurham

Instagram: @collecteddurham

Chantal Charles-Smith – Laughing Llama Coffee and Bistro, York, Yorkshire & The Humber 

Chantal Charles-Smith took out a £25,000 loan in April 2021 to launch Laughing Llama Coffee and Bistro, a family-friendly destination in York. Chantal said: “As a parent of two young children, I knew first-hand the difficulty of finding somewhere to take kids that is family friendly and serves good quality coffee. As such, I wanted my coffee shop to be a haven that both kids and adults would love, with a designated children’s area on the first floor with toys to keep children entertained and busy whilst parents get a welcomed break.”

Social: @laughingllamaacomb

Nirmla Warwood – Thatch and Stone, Walsall, West Midlands 

Nirmla Warwood took out a loan of £25,000 in 2020 to set-up and operate an interior accessories company Thatch & Stone. The success of her business has been down to getting funding support, understanding the products, marketing, a good team and long hours. Nirmla said: “The loan application was dealt with by the same person from beginning to end with mentoring offered on completion. It’s very busy, but it’s also great fun. I would encourage anyone who’s thinking of setting up their own business and becoming their own boss to explore the possibilities the Start Up Loans scheme has to offer. The support you receive makes a real difference.”

Instagram: @thatch_stone

Twitter: @ThatchStone

Selina Ellis-Gray – Hellion Toys, Clitheroe, North West 

Selina Ellis-Gray, founder of Hellion Toys, took out her loan in 2018 to set up her workshop in Clitheroe on the outskirts of the Forest of Bowland. She used the loan to set up a workshop with a self-build CNC kit, and since launching she has been able to move into a bigger workshop and purchased two additional pieces of equipment after taking out a second loan in 2021. In addition to producing toys, she undertakes illustrations, design commissions and now partners with companies to create interactive signage for wildlife parks and looks to expand into interiors.

Selina said: “After spending years in academia as a digital designer, I decided to use the knowledge I had gained to set up a designer-maker space. The origins of Hellion Toys lies in the research I undertook during my PhD and weaving together a passion for playful, educational, and sustainably focused design. Hellion designs are rooted in a reimagining of the places I wander with my little boy, local history, folklore and legendary fables.”

Instagram: @HellionToys

Twitter: @HellionToys

Hannah Saunders – Toddle Born Wild, Newent, South West

Hannah Saunders took out a £14,700 loan in 2020 to launch Toddle Born Wild, a natural vegan children skincare brand. Hannah said: “I was in the RAF for nine years and loved the travel and adventure. I then became a Mum in 2014 and couldn’t find products that would protect my son’s skin when he came on adventures with me.”

Spotting a gap in the market, Hannah left the RAF in 2017 and spent the next 18 months doing market research and developing the company’s products – mixing ingredients such as jojoba oil and beeswax in her kitchen.

She later worked with biochemists and manufacturers in Britain and America to perfect the products; she decided to ethically source the ingredients from British manufacturers rather than cheaper options in Asia to ensure each ingredient is traceable. All the products are made in the UK to minimise their carbon footprint and are Peta-approved as vegan and cruelty-free.

Instagram: @toddlebornwild

Twitter: @ToddleBornWild