Meet the 2021 Startup Angel winner: Ben Elderkin-Shute

Starting up

30 August 2021

Things move quickly when you start your own business, and since publishing this article BOLDmen has rebranded to EMBLDN. Look out for EMBLDN essential scalp care, coming soon.

This year, AXA has been scouring the UK to find the two best new startup business ideas in our AXA Startup Angel competition.

The two best entries will receive:

  • £25,000 of business funding to get their ideas up and running
  • Mentoring from AXA’s Startup Angels: Holly Tucker MBE of Not On The High Street; Raphael Sofoluke of The UK Black Business Show and UK Black Business Week; and Ian Theasby & Henry Firth of BOSH!
  • Business insurance for their first year courtesy of AXA1

The judging is done, so it’s time to meet the first winning startup business!


Meet BOLDmen

Ben Elderkin-Shute had the idea for BOLDmen when he started to go bald and realised there was no skincare products specifically designed for bald men. He set out to change that and, in doing so, wants to change the narrative around balding and spread a more body positive message to men like him. His first step? Applying to the AXA Startup Angel competition.

Congratulations Ben! Can you explain your business idea to us?

So the idea for BOLDmen is to create a range of men’s skincare products specifically tailored to guys like myself who have either lost their hair or who are currently experiencing hair loss and maybe considering shaving their head. I realised that there as basically nothing out there for this market and I found myself trying to look for products which frankly didn’t exist. And I thought that if it’s not out there, maybe I can be the one to create it.

There’s many products out there that you probably could use, but I want to create a brand featuring the essential products that should be used.

What inspired you to apply to AXA Startup Angel?

It sounds really cliché, but something told me I just had to apply. I’ve had this idea for a while and something kept telling me ‘you have to do this, you have to do this’. So I slept on it then 24 hours later I thought ‘OK, let’s do this’. And it’s a bit mental that we’re here now.


What's your plans for the £25,000 prize money?

The prize money is huge. It just breaks down that biggest barrier to getting something like this off the ground. With the £25,000 I’m going to set aside 20% to help develop the marketing, because I think the marketing side of this will be crucial to get the message out there that I want to deliver.

But the majority of the money will likely be used to develop the products. It’s an expensive industry to get into. All these different products require safety tasting, there’s a lot going on in the background to develop something like this. So to do that I need to work with cosmetic chemists, I’ll need a small lab, a manufacturer, and so a lot of the money will actually go into developing the initial three products that I want to put out there.  


What do you want to get out of the mentoring sessions with the AXA Startup Angels? What sorts of things will you be looking to grill them about?

I think the mentoring is going to be priceless to be honest. Having never done anything like this before, quite quickly it can start to feel overwhelming. Everything is new. So I think having that guidance from people who have been through that processs before and have been successful, and having those people there to lean on and bounce questions off of will be fantastic.

Specifically, I think some questions I’d have would be about how to manage and run a successful marketing campaign. It’s something I’ve never done before. So for example, is it better to drip feed information early to raise brand awareness? Or is it better to stay quiet until everything’s done and perfect and then get it all out there in one big launch?

And I’ll also be asking about how to grow the business. Initially I’ve got to get the product developed and formulated and in stock, but how do I grow that and expand throughout the UK and get the product into supermarkets and shops? How do you manage the risk of expansion without losing the core of the business? All of these things are completely new to me.



You’ve never run your own business before. How do you think you'll adapt to that now that you're a fully fledged startup business?

I’ve never worked for myself or run my own business. It’s always been a dream and an aspiration of mine to launch a business so it’s great to have the opportunity to turn that into a reality.

But this is all new. Even for me the process of setting up the business as a limited company, that’s something I’ve never had to look at before. So even making sure that was done correctly, things like choosing a business bank account… I really am starting from ground zero.


You've talked about how you were a victim of marketing when it came to hair loss; that brands were selling this idea that hair meant confidence. How are you going to change that narrative with BOLDmen?

When I was losing my hair, or with my friends who are going through it too, it’s always been like a joke with your mates. Something to be made fun of or something taboo. And all the marketing out there is about taking this pill or using this cream, use this lotion, go get surgery, get a transplant. All this stuff is tied to a feeling of masculinity or confidence.

But when I shaved my head all that stuff disappeared, and I realised I’ve been almost brainwashed into believing a certain thing or looking a certain way. I just thought ‘it doesn’t need to be this way’, and maybe I can create a range of products that can have a powerful message about body positivity. That’s going to be a really important message to get out there, to change people’s perceptions.

I want to be honest with people about my own personal story and how self-conscious I was, because I know there’s thousands of guys out there who feel exactly the same way I did.

Even since the first AXA Startup Angel video went out I’ve had people message me on social media saying ‘that’s so relatable, I’m really interested about the products’. Which has been great to hear. So I really want to build this brand from a place of complete honesty, telling my own story and I think from that I can build trust and put that body positivity out there.


What does the future hold for BOLDmen? Where do you think you’ll be in ten years?

I’d love to just continue to grow and develop the brand. I’d like to have a very strong presence online, I’d like to be seen in places like Tesco and Superdrug and Boots, online stores like Not On The High Street or Amazon. But the goal will always be to expand the brand.

If the core products are successful I’d like to move into things like razors which make it easier to shave your head. And just to keep growing that message of body positivity.


What are you most excited about and what are you most nervous about?

The most exciting thing will be seeing that physical product for the first time with my branding on it. Holding the the bottle in my hand and being able to use that product, knowing that it came from my idea and now it’s in front of me and I can see it, feel it, smell it. That will be a fantastic moment.

And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a level of nervousness about the whole thing. But actually, that’s what I’m trying to use to drive myself forward and to motivate me. Because I know that if I’m slightly nervous it means that I care, and if I care it means I’ll do the work and hopefully make the right decisions.

Right now, I don’t know everything. But I don’t need to know everything right now. As long as I put in the work I’ll get there.


To hear more from our 2021 Winners, including their advice for future Start Up Angel applicants, listen to the final episode from season one of our Mind Your Small Business Podcast.


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.

Twelve months of Business Insurance. AXA will undertake a review of the business’ insurance needs and will cover the cost of 12 months’ worth of premium to the Winner. The cover will only be in respect of Property and/or Liability insurance (Motor is excluded), and should be taken out through AXA directly or if advised by AXA, through an AXA nominated intermediary.