Currently, the foreign-born population in the UK stands at 14.5%. Despite this meagre population, a report by The Entrepreneurs Network claims that 39% of the 100 fastest-growing companies in the UK have an immigrant founder or co-founder. Within this segment, 14% were set up by a foreign-born founder or a team of foreign-born co-founders, and 25% were set up as a joint venture of a British-born co-founder and a foreign-born co-founder.
They have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to the evolving business landscape, navigating through regulatory changes and market uncertainties. Many immigrant entrepreneurs bring a unique perspective, diverse skill sets, and a global network, contributing significantly to the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Their stories underscore the power of perseverance, innovation, and the indomitable spirit to succeed against all odds. As they overcome barriers and carve out successful ventures, we at TFN decided to take a look today at some of the diverse founders aspiring to us in 2023 and beyond.
Steven Cliff Bartlett
Founded: Thirdweb, Flight Story, Flight Story Fund
Starting from his Manchester bedroom, a 21-year-old who left university went on to establish one of Europe’s most influential social media companies. Steven Bartlett, a British-Nigerian entrepreneur and podcaster, is the mastermind behind Thirdweb (a software company supported by Shopify), Flight Story, and Flight Story Fund. Additionally, he co-founded and served as co-CEO of Social Chain AG, relinquishing the CEO role in 2020. Known for his role as a host on Dragon’s Den, Steven has also provided backing to several startups such as Huel and Zoe.
The Dragon Den‘s host dedication lies in inspiring a fresh wave of entrepreneurs and creators, particularly from a BAME background. Despite being just 30 years old, he is widely recognised as one of Europe’s most prominent and well-known entrepreneurs.
Rafel Jorda Siquier
Founded: Open Cosmos
Rafel Jorda Siquier is an entrepreneur and aerospace engineer, known for founding Open Cosmos, a pioneering space technology company based in the UK. Armed with a background in aerospace engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona and an MBA, Rafel delved into the aerospace industry, gaining experience in both industry behemoths like Airbus Defence and Space and innovative startups like zero2infinity.
Driven by a vision to democratise space, he established Open Cosmos during his tenure at the prestigious Entrepreneur First incubator program in July 2015. Recognised for his leadership, Rafel was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by EuroConsult in 2018, affirming his status as a transformative force in the space industry. Under his guidance, Open Cosmos continues to redefine space accessibility, making strides toward a future where space exploration is attainable for all.
Ismail Ahmed, a former UN advisor and refugee from Somalia, emerged as an entrepreneur and co-founder of WorldRemit, an innovative online money transfer service.
Fleeing war in Somalia, he arrived in Britain in 1988, navigating through challenging odd jobs. Later, Ahmed joined the UN, advising regional transfer companies in East Africa, but became a whistleblower, exposing corruption within the UN’s Development Programme for Somalia. In 2010, he received compensation for unfair treatment, utilising the funds to establish WorldRemit with co-founders Catherine Wines and Richard Igoe, after completing his MBA at the London Business School.
Hiroki Takeuchi, half Japanese and half English, grew up in Swindon, in the south of England. Born in Japan, Takeuchi’s entrepreneurial journey began during his time at the University of Oxford, where he studied mathematics. In 2011, he co-founded GoCardless alongside two friends, Matt Robinson and Tom Blomfield. The fintech company specialises in facilitating recurring payments and direct debit transactions for businesses.
Under Takeuchi’s leadership as CEO, GoCardless became a pioneering force in the fintech industry, offering a user-friendly platform that enabled businesses to collect payments seamlessly from customers’ bank accounts. His vision and dedication to simplifying financial transactions played a significant role in the company’s growth and success.
In 2016, at 30 and three weeks into marriage, he was left paralysed from the chest down after colliding with a parked car in the Outer Circle around Regent’s Park on an early-morning ride with his brother. He had surgery and spent five weeks in the major trauma ward at St Mary’s followed by rehabilitation at Wellington Hospital in St John’s Wood. However, Takeuchi began his return to work in January 2017.
Founded: Funding Circle, Super Payments
Samir Desai was born in the UK and attended the University of Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). After completing his studies, Desai worked in the financial industry, gaining valuable experience at various firms, including Vitesse Media and Olivant.
In 2010, along with his co-founders James Meekings and Andrew Mullinger, Samir Desai launched Funding Circle, a prominent peer-to-peer lending platform. The platform was created to address the financing gap faced by small and medium-sized businesses by connecting them with individual and institutional investors willing to lend money to these businesses. In 2022, we went on to take his entrepreneurial journey to the next phase with Super Payments.
Founded: Wise, Cerific, Plural Platform (Partner)
Born in 1981 in Estonia, Hinrikus studied economics at the University of Tartu before embarking on a successful career in the tech and finance sectors. He gained prominence when he became Skype’s first-ever employee in 2003, playing a crucial role in the company’s growth and international expansion. During his time at Skype, he held various positions, including Director of Strategy, and was responsible for handling the company’s complex international money transfers, which led to the idea of TransferWise.
In 2011, Hinrikus, along with his co-founder Kristo Käärmann, launched Wise (formerly Transferwise), which transformed the global money exchange ecosystem.
Taavet is also an adviser to the Prime Minister of Estonia on the digital agenda. He is also known for his role as a traditional investor being a Partner at the VC firm Plural Platform. He has also been involved in investing in various startups, including VSParticle and Teton.ai.
Poppy Gustafsson, a chartered accountant and alumnus of the University of Sheffield with a BSc in Mathematics, has made significant strides in the realm of cybersecurity. Beginning her cybersecurity journey at Autonomy, a technology firm, she was instrumental in diverse projects concerning data analysis and security.
In 2013, fueled by her passion for cybersecurity, Poppy co-founded Darktrace alongside colleagues Dave Palmer and Nicole Eagan. Darktrace, a cybersecurity pioneer, leverages AI and machine learning to swiftly detect and counteract cyber threats in real time.
As CEO, Poppy Gustafsson has been pivotal in Darktrace’s ascendancy, cementing its status as a leading authority in autonomous cybersecurity, and pushing the industry towards a more secure digital future.
Romi Savova was born in Bulgaria and holds a degree in Economics and Management from the University of Oxford. She also completed an MBA at Harvard Business School. Before founding PensionBee in 2014 alongside Jonathan Lister Parsons, Savova gained valuable experience working in various roles, including investment banking at Goldman Sachs and strategy consulting at McKinsey & Company.
PensionBee is a UK-based online pension provider and fintech company that helps individuals manage and consolidate their pension funds more effectively. The platform also offers features such as pension tracking, contributions monitoring, and access to financial planning tools to help users make informed decisions about their pensions.
Savova has been a key player in pushing for regulatory changes in the UK to make it easier for individuals to understand and manage their pensions. She has been featured in various media outlets and received awards, including being named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in Finance.
Sumi Biswas, a visionary scientist and entrepreneur, discovered her calling in the world of vaccines amidst the pervasive impact of infectious diseases in her native India.
Driven by this realisation, she embarked on a remarkable journey, delving into the realm of biotechnology and vaccine research. Having witnessed the pressing need for solutions, Biswas pursued a Ph.D. in Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, where she conducted pioneering research in vaccine development, particularly focusing on malaria jabs.
The depth and significance of her work at Oxford set the stage for the establishment of SpyBiotech. With a fervent dedication to advancing the field of biotechnology and a mission to combat infectious diseases, Sumi Biswas stands as a beacon of innovation and hope for a healthier, disease-resilient world.