The Startups that made 2023.

As we continue to support and fund 100s of UK-wide founders here Virgin StartUp each month, there are some I have to shout about for you all to keep an eye out for 👀. A ‘top 10’ as it were.

Let’s go! ⬇️

Sam Lehane
Sam Lehane, Head of Operations at Virgin StartUp


Why I think it’s great? You may have been in this situation, where you have a 30 minute window to go to the gym and your workout plan that day is really reliant on a machine or particular piece of equipment in the gym – but it’s in use! And the person using it is a lot bigger than you. Workout ruined. Fear not, enter HENCH.  

What makes HENCH, based in Belfast, a little different is that it offers a combination of personalised strength coaching and programming, reserved equipment and flexible training slots in convenient locations in its gyms, helping ensure their members avoid the hassle of gyms whilst achieving their unique training goals. Nice!  

Check out HENCH

2. Handle Recycling 

Why I think it’s great? For me, the fact it turns something that is typically discarded to landfill (beauty packaging) into something new and useful is genius. They are well on their way to recycling 1 million pieces of beauty packaging.  

Handle, which has one Yorkshire based founder, not only collects and recycles post-consumer beauty products, it also makes personal care accessories from them! Working with beauty brands and retailers, Like M&S, they help them reuse 'waste' materials in order to reduce their impact on the natural environment. Brilliant!  

Check out Handle Recycling

3. Bossology 

Why I think it’s great? Firstly, what a great name right? Also, the fact it’s female led and all about empowering women is brilliant. The world needs more companies like this.  

Bossology is a female-led direct to consumer supplement brand that empowers women to reclaim control of their wellbeing by addressing the root cause of all-too-common hormone and mood imbalances. They do this through pure mineral and micronutrient powders, rooted in science. 

Check out Bossology

Three Hills Gelato
Three Hills Gelato

4. Three Hills Gelato 

Why I think it’s great? The passion for gelato that came through from its founder Matthew during the application process was inspiring, along with how Three Hills works so closely with local farmers. The branding is superb too. 

He started making gelato in his father’s Italian restaurant. Following local research in ice creams, he then spotted a gap in the Cumbria market for locally produced organic premium ice cream to be distributed across the region and launched Three Hills Gelato with Mark & Jenny, two local farmers. It focuses on B2B sales and distribution of the locally produced premium ice cream.  

Check out Three Hills Gelato

5. Frazers Coffee Roasters 

Why I think it’s great?  Not only does it taste great (they won a Great Taste Award in 2021) and their packaging is compostable which I haven’t seen too often, they are also bringing a really exciting coffee drinking experience to Sheffield.   

They are a coffee roasters based in Sheffield that supplies freshly roasted coffee to trade and retail through online sales and came to us for funding to expand and grow into a 50-seater coffee shop, which is now open. Delicious coffee and growing what they do with a Start Up Loan - love it!  

Check out Frazers Coffee Roasters

6. Winona Wears Cornwall 

Why I think it’s great? Female led. ✅ Sustainable. ✅ Make really cute and handmade children’s clothing. ✅

Another female led sustainable brand, that makes handmade children’s clothing out of different soft jersey fabrics. The clothing is available on social media platforms and their Etsy page, along with some local markets. They applied for a small loan to help them grow. 

Check out Winona Wears

7. Lifted Drinks Ltd 

Why I think it’s great?  I’d never heard of this type of product and apparently it is quite popular in the US. As someone who enjoyed sober October this year whilst getting into fitness, I found that it’s low alcohol, low calorie with lots of protein really useful.  

Lifted Functional Beer is a new, low or non-alcohol ‘recovery’ beer brand that has a female co-founder based in the West Midlands. Its first product is the UK's only 0% beer that contains 10g of protein per can. Very innovative product for the UK and excited to see it grow.  

Check out Lifted Drinks

founder of active adventures
Active Odyssey

8. Active Odyssey 

Why I think it’s great? The fact it is all about getting women together in a supportive and inclusive way to boost their confidence, so they can connect and get active with hikes, climbs, surfs, Sup’s, Yoga & more soul fulfilling activities sounds magic. Corrine who set it up is really passionate about this and worth following their Instagram for inspiration.  

Manchester based and female lead, Active Odyssey creates European and UK adventure and wellness experiences for women, including and inclusive of one on one online coaching. These are transformational experiences for women that have lost their confidence. 

Check out Active Odyssey

9. Bottlecup 

Why I think it’s great? The story of a couple striving to live a zero waste life together for many years was fascinating, along with their decision to then launch a product off the back of their passion for that. The final product looks brilliant too.  

With a tag line of being a “100% plastic-free, reusable water bottle and to-go coffee cup… IN ONE! Never forget your coffee cup again!" Their goal is to reduce single use disposables and improve reuse rates for reusable cups, empowering positive sustainable consumer choices. Nice!  

Check out Bottlecup

10. Blue Maps Navigation 

Why I think it’s great? The fact it’s a novel tech solution solving a real world potentially life saving problem makes this one noteworthy.  

Blue Light Maps provide navigation and mapping solutions for the needs of frontline emergency service workers. It’s an innovative tech idea that was in its early stages when it sought further funding through a Start Up Loan. Very excited to see how it goes!  

Check out Blue Light Maps

Fayre Game games
Fayre Play

11. Fayre Play  

Why I think it’s great? I know I know, I said 10, but yet here’s an 11th! Hopefully, like me, you enjoy having a bit of fun! Particularly at a team social. This is why I got very excited by Fayre Play as that’s what they are all about.  

Fayre Play is an indoor funfair concept based in Glasgow (and now also Edinburgh) and sought funding to help it grow after a couple of years of trading. Great socials and 10,000s of happy guests. Worth a visit if in Scotland! 

Check out Fayre Play

Could you be part of Sam's Top 10 next year?

It’s a real mix isn’t it! Why such a mix you may ask?  

Well, the Start Up Loans programme, of which we have been a proud Business Support Partner for over 10 years now, is essentially sector agnostic and can fund idea stage and businesses trading 3 years or less UK-wide with £500 to £25,000 in Start Up Loan funding. It comes with lots of 1:1 pre and post-funding support also, to help you get a plan in place for the next 12 months of your business and to support you in making the plan a reality. We fund over 100 founders UK-wide each month.  

What now? 

Check out the above if you’d like to support early-stage founders who are trying to make their dream a reality.  

If interested to find out more about Start Up Loans and what we do at Virgin StartUp, you can check out everything on offer here.

Either way, I wish you all the best in your entrepreneurial journey.  


Team Virgin StartUp