Virgin StartUp of the week: Axby & Hirst

Craftmanship has long been a mainstay of British industry, and more and more exciting businesses are returning to this heritage with modern eyes. One such business is our Startup of the Week, Axby & Hirst, who create beautiful items for the home that are both perfectly crafted and – thanks to their use of local and recycled materials – environmentally sustainable.

We choose one Virgin StartUp company to be featured on each week. We ask our startups of the week to deliver the ultimate elevator pitch. What would they say if they had one minute in a lift with Sir Richard Branson? Pease answer the questions below, keeping each answer to five sentences max.

Richard B in lift

Ground to floor 1 – Explain what your business does

We are passionate about design and creativity - whether it be a piece of furniture, an item of clothing, or an everyday object. The business was started as a reaction to the disposable society we now live in. We became inspired by the disappearance of the heritage of traditional craftsmanship.

The purpose of our business is to produce quality handcrafted items incorporating locally recycled materials whilst retaining a respect for the original craftsmanship.

Floor 1 to 2 - Where are you based?

We live on a beautiful farm in Calbourne on the Isle of Wight. Based on the west coast of the island, we are lucky to have a perfect mix of coastal beauty and wooded valleys. Our home is also our workspace – we work in our own barns and outbuildings.

Floor 2 to 3 – What’s the business model?

The main focus of Axby & Hirst is to design and create beautiful unique handcrafted homewares. We also offer bespoke laser cut products both privately and commercially, including anything from a piece of art to company branding. We are the only company on the Isle of Wight to offer laser cut services to other businesses and individuals, and also offer bespoke designed products for large island companies.

Floor 3 to 4 – Who are your competitors?

We have many competitors working in the same field as we do. However we have the advantage of our design and photography backgrounds, our contemporary aesthetic, and our quality craftsmanship combined with cutting-edge laser technology.

Floor 4 to 5 – What’s your USP?

Our business is family-run with our three children, and design and create bespoke products using locally recycled materials wherever possible. With the introduction of the laser-cutter, our products can also be completely tailored to the specific customer. This is something our commercial clients have experienced. For us it’s not just about the product – it’s also about meeting the design needs of each individual client, offering them a truly bespoke service with complete control over the design and manufacture of the product.

Floor 5 to 6 – Where did the idea come from?

Our business idea came from the creativity of our children’s fundraising efforts for The Anaphylaxis Campaign, a charity that is very close to our hearts. Inspired by that one product (Olly Owl) created from recycled materials, we moved forward with the idea of designing a range of quality recycled homewares that were unique in every way possible. With our creative backgrounds in art, design and photography, we felt we could offer more than our competitors could. Our children taught us that we could take the old and unwanted and turn it into something beautiful that helps others.


Floor 6 to 7 – How much funding did you receive from Virgin StartUp?

We received £9,000.

Floor 7 to 8 – How are you going to use it to grow your business?

We used the money to invest in a laser-cutter, giving us the edge over our competitors. This enabled us to move directly into a bespoke market and offer a personalised service, and also helped us to establish an online business and develop relationships and contracts with large clients.

Floor 8 to 9 – Who’s your Virgin StartUp Mentor?

Our Mentor was Hammie Tappenden from In To Biz. Hammie was excellent! She was passionate, experienced, and a fountain of valuable knowledge. We would not be where we are today without her behind us. She has been there for us every step of the way, and if we fell down she picked us back up, always supporting and advising. Her networking meetings with other small businesses have also been an invaluable part of our journey.

Floor 9 to 10 - What's the best tip they've given you?

Network, network, network! Tell your story!

Floor 10 to 11 - What’s your workspace like?

We have a beautiful workspace on our farm amongst the children, dogs and chickens.

There are two dedicated areas where we as a family all work together. We have an area to design and laser-cut, and also a dedicated workshop to create our products.


Floor 11 to 12 – where will your business be in 12 month’s time?

We would like to see Axby & Hirst firmly established as a leading provider of bespoke homewares and laser-cut designed products. We intend to be in a position to train and employ passionate and enthusiastic individuals to become valued creative members of Axby & Hirst.

Axby & Hirst are based in Portsmouth and worked with our partner Enterprise First to qualify for funding.

To find out more about Axby & Hirst visit their website, or connect on Facebook and Twitter.