“Credibility, a confidence boost, and confirmation of your hard work”: The Great British Entrepreneur Awards alums share lessons from their past wins as the 2021 finalists are revealed. 

The Great British Entrepreneur Awards (GBEA) 2021 received over 4,800 applications, of which nearly 900 entrepreneurs from more than 650 businesses made the shortlist. These names move on to the regional finals across eight regions, set to take place in September this year. 

Now in its ninth year, GBEA has celebrated some of the biggest and brightest entrepreneurial stars in the UK along even the earliest stages of their business journeys. So many of these illustrious winners tend to come back year on year and have become a staple in the GBEA community. Previous winners include the likes of Julie Deane OBE of Cambridge Satchel Co, Alan and Juliet Barratt of Grenade, Shaun Pulfrey of Tangle Teezer, and Steven Barlett, who was recently named as the youngest ever Dragon to appear on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

“As well as the recognition, our finalists and eventual winners will join our fantastic alumni community that supports each other all year round,” Francesca James, founder of the awards said. ”From networking and thought leadership, right the way through to mentoring and guidance – being a part of our ecosystem of entrepreneurs can be incredibly rewarding.”

 The star studded GBEA alumni may be time strapped, but universally see the need to give back to the awards community in terms of sharing personal anecdotes and guidance.  This is also why this year, the finalists were announced in a series of category-based workshops, presented in partnership with Funding Options. Each announcement was a 20-minute session featuring a Q&A with a previous GBEA winner before moving on to the big shortlist reveal. 

The Q&As were hosted by Funding Options CEO Simon Cureton, marketing director Courtney Way, people director Zoe Cornish, chief revenue officer Stuart Lawson, head of sales Ryan Hyde-Smith, head of advisory Thomas Boyd and front end tech lead Tom Parsons. 

Universally, the alumni winners stressed how GBEA is more than an awards ceremony; it’s an ecosystem of support, recognition and inspiration for businesses of all sizes across sectors, specialisations and regions. 

What does winning really mean?

Speaking at the series of workshops, past winners shared their startup stories, roadblocks to growth and ultimately what they got out of being part of the GBEA community. Here we round up what winning meant for them:

Lee Wilcox, Electric House

“It’s allowed us to grow up, there’s a certain point you have to mature and look at the “why”. In that period you don’t have the time to ask that due to financial and time constraints? What winning the awards allowed us to do is step back and be more strategic.”

Lucy Cohen, Mazuma

“It’s not just an award, it is a community that gives you an opportunity to meet really exceptional people. Running a business can be a really lonely place, it’s important that you can have allies who can relate to that struggle.”

Laurence Kemball Cook, Pavegen

“I am part of the GBEA family. I’ve been a finalist once and won two years in a row so I think it’s time for me to help support the next generation of sustainable businesses. I made so many connections by being in the room at the right time with the right people. You see them year after year, and keep those relationships alive. The recognition that comes out of it is so helpful. You’ll never know who you’ll meet who can change your life.”

Peter Kelly, Imployable

”I have milked my win! Firstly, it’s recognition. When you’re a founder, you’re fully engrossed in what you’re doing, and you’ve got your blinders on. You wake up one day and get imposter syndrome. Is what you’ve built even that good? Being shortlisted alone gave us the confidence to believe in what we’ve done. I also use it as an absolute sales tool about how amazing I am and it works! People do hang on to that. You must be quite good at what you do if you win a prestigious award like this.” 

John Lashley, Brooklyn Brownie

”It came at the right time. To get that pat on the back for those weird late nights - when you work for yourself you really don’t get that. These awards helped. It validated our one-and-a-half-man business.”

Kieran Aitken, Orbit

“The networking. The people I’ve met have been very useful. It’s a stamp of approval.”

Nick Coleman, Snaffling Pig Co

“Probably everyone says this, but I was completely, totally shocked to have won. I did not expect it. I still don’t think I deserve it. Running a business is incredibly tough. You have some really dark moments. I’ve cried a lot. At Snaffling Pig, because of things that are happening out of our control, you panic, you worry, you’re anxious. Sometimes you just want to hide under the bed sheets and not get up in the morning. When you win an award like this, it is that recognition from your peers, from people you aspire to be like…I’m just so honored to join the alumni.”

Avin Rabheru, Housekeep

“The award really helped boost our profile and made us more credible. I can sit here and say to my team, we’re in the top X% of the industry, but in terms of validation, this is what really matters.”

Danny Campbell, HOKO Design

”What got us to the moon was a group of people who get together and decided on one mission. People may be sceptical about awards, but when you look at the calibre of the alumni, it gives you personal validation. Most of us entrepreneurs may have bags of imposter syndrome that may keep you up at night. It gave me a nice little switch, I stopped lying awake at night because I was anxious about all the things that could go wrong, but I was up all night excited about this. Micro achievements add up.”

Who made the shortlist?

You can view the each regional shortlist here: 

2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards finalists | North West, Yorkshire & the Humber

2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards finalists | South West

2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards finalists | South East

2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards finalists | Scotland & Northern Ireland

2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards finalists | The Midlands

2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards shortlist | North East

What’s next?

The regional finals take place during September, with the winners going on to the national final in November. The organising team intend to hold the regional finals as live in-person events, and are closely monitoring Government updates in each region to do so safely.

GBEA founder Francesca James, said the quality of this year’s entrants exemplified the strength of entrepreneurship across the UK, especially at a time when we could all use a collective win. “We have seen some incredible finalists over the years, and this year is no exception. It really is one of the strongest shortlists we’ve ever had, and the fact that so many exceptional people have applied during such a tough year is a testament to the resolve and entrepreneurial talent that exists across the UK.

“Creating the shortlist out of so many wonderful applications was incredibly tough, so I don’t envy the judges who will now decide the regional winners. Everyone who has been shortlisted should be incredibly proud and we’re thrilled to be able to showcase their achievements.”

Francesca James, GBEA

Anne Boden MBE, founder of Starling Bank and headline partner for the Awards, said: “The events of the past year have touched everyone, be it through the health of friends and family, the isolation of restrictions or the wider impact on our livelihoods. However, businesses are made of people, and it’s the incredible fortitude, determination and innovation of people like those shortlisted, that has helped our regions survive, and in some cases thrive.

“At Starling, we’re proud to be working with the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and help champion the individuals who will lead the charge and shape our future economy as the nation looks to build back better and stronger.” 

Read more about the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, as explained by founder Francesca James in an exclusive Fresh Business Thinking interview.