On 19 October, we came together to celebrate the announcement of the twelve new Start Up Loans Ambassadors for 2023/24. It was an inspiring occasion, as leading entrepreneurs who have launched an enterprise using funding from the government-backed scheme shared their passions and stories of resilience that have been essential in their entrepreneurship journey.

Established in 2012, the Start Up Loans programme provides funding to aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs and is especially dedicated to providing finance to under-represented groups who are often excluded from traditional High Street lending options. Just over a month ago, the scheme announced its £1 billion lending milestone, with nearly 40% of these loans going to businesses founded by women, and we are continuing to strive for a 50/50 split of male and female loan recipients.

It was fantastic to hear from so many female Ambassadors at the launch event, both past and present. I was moved hearing Philly & Friends founder Vese Aghoghovbia, an Ambassador in our 2020/21 cohort, speaking so passionately about her business achievements and her experience with Start Up Loans. Having so many brilliant brains in the room was remarkable. 

I am confident that our 2023/2024 Ambassadors will continue to lead the way in inspiring even more women to take the jump and start their own business, and I hope you enjoy reading some of their stories below:

Finnegan's Whiskers, founded by Shelley Smith

Due to open this month, Sudbury-based Finnegan's Whiskers is Suffolk's only cat café and feline foster home, and is set to be a centre point of the local community.

The founder, Shelley, has partnered with the local cat rescue centre, Mel's Rescue, to home cats at the café and alleviate pressure on animal rescue centres. Visitors to the café will have the option to adopt cats they interact with and participate in animal therapy sessions. These will be arranged at the café on an ongoing basis, along with events such as crafting and a book club.

Speaking about starting her own business and being a Start Up Loans Ambassador for 2023, Shelley said: "I am so delighted to have taken the plunge into business ownership. Having worked in radio before having children, I am excited to get my teeth into a new project that involves two things I'm passionate about - cats and helping the community!

"I feel honoured to be recognised as one of this year's Ambassadors and I hope I can inspire other entrepreneurs to consider their options when it comes to financing a business. Finnegan's Whiskers is a dream business for me and the loan I received from Start Up Loans made my dreams a reality."

Love of Lemons, founded by Bex Osman

Love of Lemons is a vintage clothing business that founder, Bex Osman, started as an online business during the Covid pandemic. Since then, the business has grown and Bex has opened two high street shops. She opened her first store in Nansledan near Newquay in 2021, selling hand-picked vintage items alongside sustainably produced brands.

She has since relocated to a brand-new shop in Nansledan over the summer, and has just opened a sister store, Love of Vintage, in the same complex. Bex's passion is that she loves chatting with her customers and helping them find something they'll love and describes what she does as "super-slow fashion".

Bex Osman said: "I won't pretend that it hasn't been scary, but I think without that emotional drive it never would have happened. I worked for eight years in fashion retail in Cornwall before branching out on my own during lockdown by launching online, but ever since I was little, I've always wanted my own shop. My first Start Up Loan helped me open Love of Lemons and this year I took out a second loan to open Love of Vintage.

"The process of applying for the loan, working on business planning and projections has been a massive help. Above all it was knowing that the Bank had faith in me that I could make this work. Having that external validation of what I was trying to do gave me a huge boost in confidence and believing in yourself when you're just starting out is so important."

Light Rave Studios, founded by Aitanna Gomes

Light Rave studios is a Wolverhampton based production company, home to photographers and videographers with over 30 years combined experience. The founder, Aitanna Gomes, leads the business and seeks to employ different ethnic backgrounds, allowing them to capture the different needs of different cultures through familiar knowledge.

Aitanna Gomes said: "At Light Rave Studios, we're committed to producing high-quality footage that exceeds our client's expectations. With a passion for our craft and a drive for excellence, we work tirelessly to deliver stunning visuals that capture the essence of each project.

"The support we have received from the British Business Bank has been one of the reasons we have been able to meet these expectations we have set for ourselves,  and to be now chosen as an Ambassador for other businesses looking to take out a Start Up Loan is a real honour."

Lemon Tree Softplay Café, founded by Joan Nga, Florence Lao and Ka Ying Yang

Lemon Tree Softplay Café was founded by three mothers and entrepreneurs from Malaysia and Hong Kong, who have founded the business as an expansion of the company Little Bees Soft Play, a mobile rental soft play company.

Having opened just last month in Newcastle upon Tyne, the soft play venue features a range of engaging activities, interactive play structures, and stimulating toys, all aimed at promoting creativity, physical development, and social interaction.

Co-founder of Lemon Tree Softplay Café, Joan Nga said: "Building up Lemon Tree Softplay Café has been a heartfelt endeavour, providing a sanctuary for families in the North East. The Start Up Loan has really helped turn our aspirations into a reality, as we establish Lemon Tree Soft Play Café. As 2023 Start Up Loans Ambassadors, we're proud to encourage others to pursue their own entrepreneurial paths and can't wait to see what comes next for our business."

These are just a selection of the inspirational women representing Start Up Loans as Ambassadors this year. We wish all of them the utmost success throughout their careers and encourage anyone thinking of pursuing their own business idea to draw inspiration from their stories.