As part of our mission to invest in the people, ideas, and industries that will change the world, in 2019, we launched the Octopus Springboard initiative. It’s an internal programme designed to support innovative business-minded individuals working at Octopus in pursuing their entrepreneurial ideas. To help them get started and succeed, we offer financial support, expert advice, and mentorship.
To mark International Women’s Day, we sat down with three inspiring female founders and former Octopus employees, who successfully pitched their business ideas to the Octopus Springboard panel. Their areas of expertise range from revolutionising mental health in the workplace and tackling challenges in the construction industry to providing new startups with suitable leadership.
The future is female
20% of new UK companies are female-founded. That’s double compared to just 10 years ago. Data shows that more women than ever are starting new businesses, with 145,200 all-female-led incorporations in 2021, up from 56,200 in 2018.1 But is it enough?
Although progress has been made to increase that number and improve gender equality, there’s still plenty of room to fund new and innovative solutions for our current challenges. That’s where Springboard comes in.
Octopus founder, Simon Rogerson, launched this initiative to inspire employees to leave their positions and start their own ventures. So far, 75% of successful applicants have been women. We spoke with Lucy Clarke, Georgiana Barbanta, and Karen Taylor about their businesses and the unique problems they’re tackling. Here’s what we learned.
Better mental wellbeing, better business
Wellness Cloud founder, Karen Taylor, recognised the need for improved workplace support for parents beyond paid parental leave.
“I started to think that supporting working parents isn’t just about career coaching. It should be or could be much broader. So, thinking about mental health, infant sleep, and child behaviour, these are tangible things that parents struggle with – and it affects their work.”
She aimed to increase general parental wellbeing and offer practical, relevant support to help businesses support working parents. Karen set up her limited company and website around the time Springboard launched. So, after pitching the idea to a colleague, she took it to Simon and then presented it to the Springboard panel.
“Simon was incredibly encouraging. It was lovely to get some advice when I went through the pitch. And the panel stage wasn’t half as tough as I thought. While I was nervous when I walked into the room to do the pitch, there were faces that I knew. Suddenly, it was much easier than I thought. But on the run-up, the expectation was, ‘is this going to be like Dragon’s Den?’ But it’s not. You get a roomful of smiling faces who want you to succeed.”
Initially named Parent Cloud, the service has evolved into Wellness Cloud, which offers specialised and tailored support to all employees, resulting in a more productive workforce.
Today, Wellness Cloud is a trusted wellbeing provider for organisations such as Octopus, BBC Studio, Which?, and many more.
Building a brighter future
“A marketplace that matches construction companies with skilled workers” is how Lucy Clarke describes her company, Fixed.
Lucy and her husband Henryk, a Civil Engineer, identified a prevalent issue in the construction industry: on one side, companies struggling to locate skilled workers and paying the price as it costs the industry billions in agency fees; on the other, workers lacking transparency and optionality over steady and suitable employment.
“The current system leaves workers without job security and forces them to find work through their personal networks and travel long distances.”
Fixed is a digital platform for construction workers to find job opportunities without needing personal references. This benefits the workers as it gives them a lot more choice over job opportunities and the credibility to apply for them directly, where previously they would have needed personal referrals. After pitching to the Springboard panel and Simon, Lucy was surprised at how quickly the process took off and how encouraging everyone was.
“It was amazing. Springboard was very supportive from day one. To my surprise, within a month, I was ready to pitch my assignment to Simon. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen for months, but the Springboard team was flexible and let me lead the way in managing the process.”
Lucy decided to wait to use Springboard’s funding, opting to use the money to cornerstone a larger pre-seed round of financing, and Octopus were flexible throughout the process.
“Going through a broader pre-seed fundraising process highlighted how straightforward the Springboard process is. And given that it comes with a lot more investors saying “no” than “yes”, it is a skin-thickening process. It was definitely helpful to have the support of Simon and the broader Octopus team throughout!”
When asked to summarise her Springboard journey, Lucy described it as “an incredible programme – an opportunity of a lifetime. I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, and with the support from Springboard, it suddenly felt like a no-brainer to take the leap. It’s such an incredible way to support someone in that process.”
Leading the way for change
In the UK, almost 60% of small businesses fail in their first three years of life.2 This can be for many reasons – money running out, being in the wrong market, a lack of research, bad partnerships, ineffective marketing, and needing to be an expert in the industry.3
In her Portfolio People & Talent Manager role at Octopus Ventures, Georgiana Barbanta recognised that one key contributing factor is often as simple as needing better-fitting leadership.
“A company’s success relies heavily on the team that builds it. However, first-time founders often need help to find and attract top talent.”
The quality of the Leadership Team has the biggest ROI for a startup, but often founders learn to make leadership hires “the hard way”. They’re still figuring out what level of hire is right for their growth goals and where to find the best people. Even if they find suitable candidates, they still need to learn how to engage them and run an effective selection process.
Georgiana created STARTUP LANE LTD to provide a better candidate experience while also saving companies a lot of time and money.
“It’s a platform that allows CEOs, founders, and heads of people to meet executive candidates and match their experience with the stage of growth the company is currently at. It also offers educational support on leadership hiring and what seniority levels are best for certain milestones, and provides guidance around salary and equity allocation.”
As for setting up her business, Georgiana credits her knowledge, the Octopus Ventures team, and Simon’s support for helping to make it happen.
“Even before starting the journey with Springboard, the team at Octopus Ventures helped me a lot. I told Alliott, the Co-MD of Ventures and my manager, that I had this idea. Their response was great. The Ventures team helped me refine my pitch before finally taking it to Simon Rogerson and other angel investors.”
As with Karen and Lucy, we asked Georgiana how she would describe her Springboard journey.
“Compared to going outside and raising money, Springboard is easy-peasy. You get to raise your first money fast, which makes the rest of the fundraising process a bit easier as you already have your first commitment. After finalising the pitch for Springboard, Simon told me that he would back me, which is something no one had ever told me before. It’s very empowering when someone like Simon believes in you and makes it easier to convince others to invest.”
The next step for STARTUP LANE LTD is to reach a specific revenue target by the end of this year, which Georgiana hopes will be around half a million. Impressive.