Catching up with the Startup Angels: BOSH!

Starting up

9 June 2022

In 2021, AXA launched the AXA Startup Angel competition to give worthy businesses the funding and support they need to get the best possible start in their new business ventures.

And alongside £25,000 funding to get their business off the ground and business insurance in their first year from AXA, the competition offered mentoring from the AXA Startup Angels business experts including Ian Theasby and Henry Firth, co-founders of BOSH!.

Following the success of the competition in 2021, we’re proud to launch AXA Startup Angel again in 2022, bigger and better than before with more ways to win. The BOSH! team are returning judges from last year’s competition, so we caught up with Henry Firth to chat about what he wants to see from AXA Startup Angel in 2022.

Hi Henry. How was your experience of Startup Angel last year?

It was a great experience being part of AXA Startup Angel last year – both motivating and inspiring. We saw a great number of powerful, ethical founders with great business ideas and the potential to grow and scale. It was a reminder that businesses really can be a force for good.

Was there anything that surprised you about last year’s competition? Was the calibre of entries what you expected?

Obviously there was a mixed selection. Some great, some good, some not so good. But the shortlist of businesses from which we selected the winners was excellent. They were all businesses that we’d hope to see go on and do good things in the next few years.

It was, however, interesting to note just how many businesses are out there that are missing key elements, which really highlighted to us the need for good mentorship for entrepreneurs. Help to show them what they are missing.

What made last year’s two winners – BOLDmen and the Association of Black Event Professionals – stand out for you? What excited you most about them?

The team at ABEP have spotted a way to use business for activism, which is what inspired us to get into business too. They’re creating a professional organisation to empower and enable black event professionals to rise further in their careers, as a way to build a business but also to effect change. Founders driven by purpose are incredibly inspiring, and businesses used as a force for good can do great things. We think they were worthy winners.

BOLDmen (now EMBLDN) was another business based on a personal purpose; a skincare range made by bald men, for bald men. While this might sound like a niche market, it’s not. Skincare can be a lucrative market and it surprised us to learn that there were no skincare products on the market for this target audience. We think they have great potential.

When thinking back to reviewing the pitch videos last year and the submissions, is there any advice you’d give for people when putting their entry together? What made a good pitch video, for example? What information in the submissions did you find most valuable as a judge?

A pitch video is a short format, you don’t have long to communicate your business idea effectively. Think of it as an extended elevator pitch.

Start with your business’ why: what’s the purpose, what’s going to drive you to work the long hours required to get it off the ground? Show us you know what you’re talking about. What is your product and who is your customer? What customer need does your product solve? How are you going to bring your product to market? How are you planning to finance your business’ growth? Tell us about your numbers, what do you expect to make if your business goes according to plan? Do all of that in just a few minutes, and you’ll be in a good position to make the final shortlist.

Then try to do something to wow us to give you all the chance of winning. Show us a spark, some magic, something to make you stand out from the crowd.

For this year’s competition in 2022, is there anything new you want to see from the entrants?

As AXA Startup Angels, we’re here to help you. It’s our job to spend time with you and help you get to where you need to be. We take this very seriously, and we want to help you succeed. It would be helpful for us for you tell us in just a couple of words, what we can help you with?! Contacts? Advice? Fundraising? Anything else? We’re here to help, tell us how. This will also help us understand how you’re thinking about the next phase of your business.

We’re at a very crucial time in 2022 as we move out of the pandemic and with things like the cost of living crisis, the climate emergency and more dwelling on people’s minds. How do you think responsible businesses can respond to the times we’re living in?

It’s a tough time to be in business right now, and it’s a tough time to be a consumer. We believe it is a crucial and fundamental requirement of business in 2022 to be seeking to do some good in the world. It’s no longer enough just to look at profit and loss (indeed that seems to us a very outdated way of thinking). Businesses have an impact on their surroundings, often called ‘externalities’ and they should be measuring those just as much as they measure their financials.

Are they leaving the world a better place than they found it? B Corp is a wonderful way for businesses to focus on creating benefit on the world around them, but all businesses can put a core benefit into their mission statement and make sure they’re doing some good as well as generating revenue. Surely in 2022 the human race has evolved enough to do this?

Lastly, what would you say to people who were thinking of entering Startup Angel last year, but didn’t go ahead with it?

Do it. Just enter. It’s easy to do, it won’t take long, and it could be the best decision you ever made. So what have you got to lose?

Business funding made easier with AXA Startup Angel

At AXA, we're committed to helping small businesses achieve their full potential. That's why we created the AXA Startup Angel competition, which helps support two new businesses every year with £25,000 funding, mentoring from business experts and business insurance too, so we can help set you up for success.