Catching up with our AXA Startup Angel winner 2023: Sistren

Starting up

4 March 2024

As the AXA Startup Angel 2024 competition gets ready to scour the UK for this year’s winning business idea, we had a catch up with one of our previous winners, Olivia Hylton.

Olivia won over the judges with her community building app, Sistren. Designed to connect Black women globally, Olivia had the idea for the app following a conversation with a friend, where they both shared that they’d found it more difficult to make friends and find community since leaving university. The app aims to foster friendships, share experiences, provide support, and promote action towards racial and gender equity.

We caught up with Olivia to see how things were going since winning AXA Startup Angel and what tips she’d pass on to anyone considering entering the competition this year!

Hi, Olivia! Why is a competition like AXA Startup Angel so important for a business like yours?

I think the reason why a competition like AXA Startup Angel is so important is because usually competition entries require a lot from you. Things like needing to have a pitch deck or lots of pictures that you just might not have yet, especially as a newer business.

AXA Startup Angel is a much more accessible entry point, especially for founders who may need that initial support to get their idea off the ground! I also think there’s a lot of value in the mix of the prize, because as well as having access to funding, you also get access to a group of experts with the AXA Startup Angels!

It’s a lot more well-rounded, rather than it just being a case of, “here's some money”. You’re getting access to people who’ve done exactly what you're trying to do, who can share their journey with you. So hopefully you don't need to make any of the same mistakes they did!

Looking back at when you entered the competition, what do you think about your entry may have made you successful?

I think when making a video it can be easy to focus so much on getting your pitch across, that it could be sent to anyone, for anything. In my video I addressed the judges directly! So, I do think that it’s important to personalise it.

I also focused on the holistic element of the prize. Don’t just talk about the money, talk about the mentoring and what you'd hope to learn from each of the judges. I think that tailoring your application really helps. 

Looking back at the mentoring that you received, what do you feel you got from each judge, individually?

I think that all the judges are fantastic in their own right, and it helps that they've all had very different business journeys!

With Henry and Ian at BOSH!, it was great to go out to their offices and see their work in action and hear all about how they started out, as I didn't realise that they'd won a competition with similar funding to AXA Startup Angel!
It was great to hear how they grew from there and learn more about their strategy and how it’s moving forward.

With Sharmadean, as you know she's working on The Stack World, which is a women-based community. So, it was great to speak to someone who’s in a similar field to me. And then what was really interesting is that I’d shared an idea with her for how I wanted to pivot with Sistren to focus on monetisation. At the time, I was set on going in one direction, and Sharmadean had tried something similar before, so was able to steer me on that. In the end, her advice and experience saved me a lot of time, and probably heartache in terms of building something that wouldn’t actually do what I wanted it to.

With Raphael, he's been very supportive in terms of providing me with great opportunities. Last year, I was given a free pass to the UK Black Business Show, and this year he's kindly given me a stand at the event. And that's perfect for the demographic for what I'm trying to reach! I really appreciate his willingness to support me in that way, as well as giving valuable advice. Often when you meet people they’ll say, ‘I'm happy to support you in any way, I’ll do this, I’ll do that’, but it can feel awkward following up with them. Raphael has been really proactive and supportive in that respect! So, I’ve got my space for the UK Black Business Show this year, I’ve saved the date and we’re really excited to be there!  

I know we've mentioned the £25,000 prize money - what have you used it for since winning? 

First of all, it's been great to be able to pay myself while working on Sistren! Especially because I decided to go full time on the business after winning. I’d actually just started a new job a couple of weeks before, so that was quite the change to make!

I was also able to go out to the States, where we have a large user base. It was great to be able to really strengthen those connections, and travelling over to find out more about their needs and understand the landscape a bit more was really helpful.

What has been your biggest achievement since winning AXA Startup Angel?

I think that's hard to top! Winning… it still feels surreal now! 
I've also been able to hire someone to help with social media, and it’s been great to be able to choose someone to come work with me who is driven and an expert in their field and can really help to take Sistren to the next level! 

Running a business is obviously hard. What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

I think making a difference and hearing from people who've benefited from what I've built. Knowing that it’s having an impact, even if I can't always see it or measure it in terms of ‘I'm not making money from it at the moment’. Just knowing that someone's life has been positively impacted by what I'm doing. It's enough to keep me going! 

What’s next for you and the business? 

So! I'm actually pivoting with Sistren at the moment and working on a strategy to figure out the best way to monetise, because while it's great to run something that does have an impact and that people get value out of, ultimately, if it's going to be sustainable beyond just winning prizes, I need to be able to generate revenue. I'm really thinking about how we can take what’s working really well, and continue to deliver that value, but in a way that also generates revenue. 

Following on from that, are there any other challenges that you’ve faced, or had to overcome since winning? 

I guess just wanting to do everything at once! And I think that when you win a prize, it can be very tempting to do that. I think as soon as you can, you should start to put good financial habits into practice.

Before I won the prize, I would use different cards for business expenses etc. And it would’ve been far easier to just have one bank account for everything. I just think good accounting practices help, even if it’s just keeping on top of what you're spending as you go. It might seem like a bit of faff in the moment, but it's far easier doing it that way than going back.  

Learn more about our other 2023 winner,
Intotum, here.

The AXA Startup Angel competition is back for 2024 and on the lookout for this year’s winning startup business idea. With £25,000 of business funding and mentoring sessions from our Startup Angels up for grabs, this could be your chance to turn your dream business idea into a reality. 

To learn more about AXA Startup Angel visit the AXA Startup business hub at


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.