Upsurge in young entrepreneurs starting their own businesses

New data released today by Innovate UK, points to a dramatic increase in the number of young people setting up their own businesses in the last decade – with the number nearly doubling (98% increase) from 2009 to 2020. What’s more, despite the pandemic - and in some cases inspired by the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns - numbers continued to jump in 2020, with a 15% increase in the number of young people starting their own businesses from 2019.

This trend mirrors the increased appetite seen by Innovate UK for its support programmes for 18-30 year olds. The Young Innovators Awards, which recognise young people from across the UK with great business ideas who have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs and future leaders in innovation, saw an 87% increase in applications this year. This growth combined with the high-quality of applications, led Innovate UK to award 64 Young Innovators, double any previous year.

In particular, young innovators are responding to the needs of the pandemic, with a growing number of business ideas for health and in digital technology. From socially-aware robotic companions for people living in care homes to projects tackling childhood incontinence and arthritis, double the number of this year’s winners had health projects compared to the 2018 competition winners (13% vs 27%). Similarly, from a project connecting knitting enthusiasts online to an online marketplace where burgenoing gardeners can sell their home-grown produce, an even greater increase was seen in digital, with 31% of the projects in this field, compared to 13% in 2018.

This trend also reflects the latest report from the UK Business Angel’s Association (UKBAA), which found the sectors where Angels were investing most were Healthcare, Digital Health and MedTech, Bio Tech, Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals, Software and FinTech. The UKBAA report these industries and education technology, e-commerce and gaming have been performing better since the onset of Covid-19 - given their role in helping consumers deal with the many challenges of lockdown.

Young Innovators capitalising on this demand include Iona Mackenzie (26 years old from Edinburgh), whose Talk and Grow business aims to take the stress out of finding a therapist with an online matching and booking platform to pair clients with local counsellors and Elena Höge (28 years old from Edinburgh), who is creating educational games like Wholesome, a mobile forest school experience that teaches children and adults about nature, including how to forage and cook with wild food.

Reflecting on the startup journey, sustainability entrepreneur Alex Newnes (27 years old from Aberystwyth), who is producing a fully degradable and non-toxic alternative to plastic, said, “We started PlantSea Ltd with nothing but passion and an idea. Since then, we have won awards, networked, and learned an awful lot along the way! None of us knew what the road would look like for a biotech”.

Musician and founder of online music tuition service Starling Music Academy, Rhiannon Jeffreys (27 years old from Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire) says, “I have been amazed to see how quickly your network can grow, just by having conversations. Even people in a completely different sector may be able to put you in touch with someone they know who is in your sector, and I love the idea of being able to do that for others in the future.”

Similarly, Young Innovator Chris Elliot (23 years old from Reading) - creator of Untrapped, a onestop student rental portal - says, “I think the number of new skills you learn as an entrepreneur is surprising. In the last year I’ve gained more skills than any other period of my life.”

Emily Nott, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Innovate UK says: “With 2020 proving to be an incredibly difficult year, it is inspiring to see so many young people continuing to take steps to develop their own business ideas and innovations. It is this generation of innovators who have the potential to tackle some of the big challenges we’ll face in the wake of pandemic and we must do all we can to support them and to encourage others to follow in their footsteps”.