The West Midlands is a hotbed of young talent, with Birmingham – known as Europe’s most diverse and youngest city due to its high proportion of under 25s – sitting at its heart.
Our region’s business community is thriving with entrepreneurialism as young people look to take control of their destinies by launching their own businesses while others show age is no barrier in the corporate world.
The West Midlands team on BusinessLive wanted to celebrate this movement by publishing our 35 Under 35* list, showcasing some of the top young talents who call this region home.
We are not saying our entrants below are the best, the richest, the most successful or even have the highest profiles, we just think they are people you should know about.
The 35 Under 35 list has been compiled in association with the BSEEN startup support programme, led by Aston University in collaboration with Birmingham City University, University College Birmingham and Newman University.
The scheme offers Birmingham-based student and recent graduate entrepreneurs an attractive package of support to kick start their new ventures in the city including intensive startup training, 12 months of free co-working space, a business grant, mentoring and a supportive community with regular meetups.
BSEEN project manager Carolyn Keenan said “BSEEN is delighted to be involved in this fantastic initiative celebrating the huge talent pool of founders and young leaders across the city. It is great this platform is made available to showcase the innovation young leaders across the city are instigating.”
For more information, visit the BSEEN website here.
* Yes, we know there are 43 but sometimes the best things in life come in twos and in some businesses the leadership team really is inseparable (like when they’re married!). Have we missed out someone you know who deserves recognition? Please let us know in the comments section below
Omran Al Habbal and Daniel Evans, both 30, Birmingham Enterprise Community
Omran Al Habbal and Daniel Evans co-founded Birmingham Enterprise Community to support emerging startups and entrepreneurs in the West Midlands and help take their businesses to the next level. Chief operating officer Omran and chief executive Daniel work to bring together people from different backgrounds, experiences and cultures to build on innovative, world-changing ideas.
Omran is a Syrian refugee and an award-winning entrepreneur who has been involved in many enterprising initiatives across the globe and was included on the 30 Under 30 list published by our sister site BirminghamLive in 2019.
Ben Amanna, 30, Boxraw
Ben Amanna founded sportswear brand Boxraw from his childhood bedroom in Coventry four years ago and now turns over £5 million and employs around 40 staff. The brand sells a range of sports clothing and casual wear themed around boxing and now counts actor Michael B Jordan and boxer and Love Island star Tommy Fury among its fans.
Ben has also set up Boxing Is Love, a charity which establishes boxing gyms for children in Liberia, and earlier this year featured in the latest 30 Under 30 list produced by prestigious US business publication Forbes.
Josh Ashby, 30, UK Flooring Direct
Josh Ashby is the chief digital officer at expanding online retailer UK Flooring Direct. He started with the firm as a warehouse operative and climbed through the ranks to become chief commercial officer before taking on his new role in the spring.
Josh now oversees UK Flooring Direct’s annual investment into digital enhancement which will rise to £2.5 million this year. The firm, which employs more than 200 people, started in Nuneaton and recently opened a major new site in Coventry.
Henrietta Brealey, 30, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce
Henrietta Brealey took over as chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce in April, becoming the youngest person and only the second woman to perform the role in its 208-year history. She joined the Edgbaston-based chamber in 2012 as a policy assistant while still studying at university and later completed a master’s in public management.
After expansion and mergers in recent years, she now oversees a business body covering large parts of greater Birmingham and Stafffordshire, its Asian and Commonwealth chambers and young people’s arm Future Faces.
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Daniel Chivers and Michael Trueman, both 22, Commute
Daniel Chivers and Michael Trueman are both currently medical students at the University of Birmingham and have spent much of the past year helping in the fight against covid but they also have an entrepreneurial streak. They created Commute in 2019, a platform that lets anyone drive their car carbon neutrally and invest in carbon-saving projects at the same time as well help with splitting the costs of ride sharing.
They have worked with NatWest on its ‘Accelerator’ programme, are planning to release a new app later in the year and close out a funding round with investors – all while continuing their studies to be doctors.
Jodie Cook, 32, entrepreneur and writer
Jodie Cook founded digital marketing and training agency JC Social Media in 2011 at a time when the audience and commercial potential for businesses using these platforms was still emerging. She won the prestigious Birmingham Young Professional of the Year Award just three years later, was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and is also behind a range of books on business, including a series for children.
Jodie recently decided to sell the agency but will remain in touch by working as an ambassador for its new owner as well as continuing with her writing.
Jack Cornes and Harry Smith, 22 and 23, HausBots
Jack Cornes and Harry Smith are the founders of HausBots, a robotic device which can climb walls of different materials and carry out tasks such as painting or inspection without the need for scaffolding. Entrepreneur Jack and mechanically minded Harry met at school in Rutland and developed their first robot prototype in Harry’s garage at home.
The pair, who moved to their own office in Birmingham in 2018, have secured private equity investment and have the long-term aim of stopping as many feet leaving the floor while maintaining buildings and infrastructure.
Jaccy Datta, 30, Future Faces and Santander
Jaccy Datta is a financial crime specialist with high street bank Santander and the president of Future Faces, Birmingham Chamber’s networking group for the city’s young professional community. After studying Spanish and linguistics, she found herself working as an investigation specialist at Amazon’s London HQ before relocating to Birmingham to work in financial crime and intelligence for Deutsche Bank and now Santander.
As president of Future Faces, she will lead one of the city’s largest membership organisations through a new chapter as it absorbs the now defunct BPS Birmingham following a merger deal last year.
Stuart Deeley, 29, chef
Stuart Deeley came to wider prominence in 2019 when he won hit BBC show Masterchef: The Professionals. The chef cut his teeth working for renowned Edgbaston restaurant Simpsons and in 2019 announced he was opening his own venue only for it to be curtailed by covid so spent some of last year running an ‘at home’ service.
He recently joined Michelin-starred Peel’s Restaurant in Hampton-in-Arden as development chef and also runs his own eponymous consultancy.
Shani Dhanda, 33, entrepreneur and activist
Shani Dhanda from Walsall is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker and activist for disability rights. Born with a rare genetic condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, she has taken her own experiences of discrimation to work with business, government and the not-for-profit sector as well as founding three organisations – Diversability, the Asian Disability Network and Asian Woman Festival.
In 2020, she was named the ‘Future Face of Birmingham’ in an annual award scheme run by Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and is currently the vice-president of the city’s Asian Business Chamber of Commerce.
Ben and Michael Dyer, 33 and 34, The Inspirational Learning Group
Cousins Ben and Michael Dyer dreamed up the idea of The Inspirational Learning Group over a cup of coffee back in 2012. Today, the pair are the directors of the company which inspires more than 250,000 school pupils across the UK every year.
Over the years, the company has won the backing of Lord Alan Sugar and former Dragon’s Den stars Theo Paphitis and Nick Jenkins. Alongside their day jobs, Ben and Michael are also on the judging panel at The Great British Entrepreneur Awards, having won Social Enterprise Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016.
Jack Dyer and James Wren, 29 and 28, Freetrain
Former professional footballers Jack Dyer and James Wren are the team behind Freetrain, a vest which enables people to carry a mobile phone and other small items on their chest while running or playing sport. The West Midlands natives, who met while playing for Burton Albion, began working on designs for the vest in 2015 after becoming frustrated at trying to exercise with a phone strapped to their arms.
They launched the company to market in 2017 and now the long-term aim is to expand the firm’s range of products and increase their already growing international reach.
Chris Flynn, 33, and Frances Giliker, 34, Giliker Flynn Independent Wealth
Husband and wife team Chris Flynn and Frances Giliker took over Church Street Financial Planning in Stoke in 2017 after the former owner retired. Since then, the pair have rebranded the chartered financial planning company into Giliker Flynn Independent Wealth, located in Newcastle-under-Lyme, to offer impartial, fully independent financial advice to a growing number of clients.
Chris and Fran were recently awarded The Times ‘Top Rated Adviser’ status for Stoke-on Trent for the third year in a row. The pair also regularly feature on local radio offering expert investment advice.
Ben Francis, 29, Gymshark
Ben Francis is the co-founder and owner of online fitness clothing and accessories brand Gymshark which is now headquartered in Solihull, having been launched in his parents Worcestershire garage while he was still a teenager. The business is now a truly global brand and recently opened an office in Denver following a major private equity deal last summer with General Atlantic.
Gymshark can often be found in rankings of fast-growing companies while Ben, worth a reported £700 million, was named 2020 UK Entrepreneur of the Year by EY in December.
Vanessa Fuller and Emily Precious, both 34, Premier Tax Solutions
Vanessa Fuller and Emily Precious started Premier Tax Solutions in 2013 – at the age of just 26. The co-founders shared a vision, wanting to reinvent the way the “stuffy and old-fashioned” accountancy industry was perceived.
Since then, they have built a growing firm of approachable chartered tax advisers which specialise in everything from accounts processing and payroll to VAT and tax returns. Premier Tax Solutions, which has two offices in Staffordshire, has also gained Xero Gold Partner status and today boasts a portfolio of more than 600 clients.
Jo Herriotts, 32, Hellcat
Jo Herriotts launched her own jewellery design studio Hellcat, specialising in macabre and gothic pieces, in 2014 after studying at Birmingham School of Jewellery. She initially worked a string of jobs to support her financially while getting the business off the ground and has enjoyed a business boom during the pandemic, seeing a rush on requests for engagement and wedding rings.
Jo now has her own dedicated workshop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and her long-term plans include opening her own shop.
Edward Hollands, 27, DrivenMedia
Edward Hollands is the founder and managing director of Burton-based fleet advertising business DrivenMedia which he launched in 2015 after having a ‘eureka moment’ when he realised commercial trailers would make great billboards. After securing £30,000 of investment from Jenny Campbell on BBC show Dragons’ Den, Edward has steadily grown the business.
Today, DrivenMedia works with more than 15 different hauliers to use the advertising space on the sides of lorries, working with big-name clients including Moose Juice, ITip, Vitabiotics and Ironmongery Direct.
Derry Holt, 28, Stormburst Studios
Derry Holt is a serial entrepreneur, freelance e-sports commentator and the co-founder and chief executive of Tamworth-based Stormburst Studios. Stormburst is the company behind OneUp Sales – a sales management platform which uses gamification to improve staff performance.
The firm, which was launched five years ago, recently secured £600,000 from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund to help aid the company’s growth. The team is planning to use the cash to create six new jobs and double revenue in the run-up to a planned series A funding round in 2022.
Shamila Iqbal, 25, Bathroom Mountain
Shamila Iqbal followed in her father’s footsteps when she launched her own company last September. The 25 year old is a director of Bathroom Mountain which sells everything from baths, sinks and showers to radiators, taps and bathroom accessories.
At first, Shamila and her business partner Jay O’Neill were running the company between them – doing everything from answering phones to picking and packing – but now have a workforce of more than 20 who operate from a 90,000 sq ft warehouse in Stoke-on-Trent. It is in the midst of a major expansion which will see it open a new warehouse and showroom.
Nicholas Langley, 31, Langley Foxall
Nicholas Langley is the managing director of Stafford software firm Langley Foxall. He started the business, using money from his overdraft, in 2013 and today leads a team of almost 30 employees.
Langley Foxall specialises in the development of bespoke software to help improve the efficiency of its clients’ businesses and reduce time and costs. Nicholas, who was named Young Business Person of the Year 2019 at The Sentinel Business Awards, recently spoke about his desire to grow the company by a further 50 per cent in 2021.
CJ Lloyd Webley, 27, The Black Pounds Project
CJ Lloyd Webley is the founder of The Black Pounds Project which was launched last year and recently took on its first cohort of West Midlands-based businesses. Its aim is to mentor and help black-owned, small businesses in the region which have been severely hit and are at risk because of the pandemic, supporting entrepreneurs at any stage of their growth journey to access resources and mentorship.
He is also a playwright, runs the Sorrel Park Theatrical initiative and hopes to inspire artists and entrepreneurs, particularly from underrepresented communities.
Eben Lovatt, 24, Moneyshake.com
Eben Lovatt is the chief executive of car leasing comparison site Moneyshake.com. The Staffordshire-born entrepreneur launched the Keele University-based company in 2019 after pitching his idea to 73 different people – and eventually securing £500,000 seed-stage investment.
He has used his knowledge of business and industry experience to secure commercial partnerships with big-name companies including Clearscore and MoneySuperMarket. More recently, the ten-strong company secured a seven-figure investment from automotive veteran Darren Guiver who is the former managing director of Fortune 500-listed motor giant Group 1 Automotive UK.
Daniel and Melanie Marsden, 29 and 28, Lounge Underwear
Husband and wife team Daniel and Melanie Marsden from Worcestershire began underwear brand Lounge, appropriately enough, in their own lounge in 2015 and have grown rapidly since. The company brands itself as ‘comfort made sexy’ and has used social media influencers to help it grow a loyal following, counting former Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson among its fans.
Chris Meah, 32, School of Code
Chris Meah is the founder of School of Code, a free boot camp held in Birmingham which teaches software coding and helps its students into a career in technology. He started the company in 2015 while finishing his PhD in computer science after recognising there was a lack of diversity among the people who were trying to get jobs in the tech sector.
The programme welcomes people from a very broad range of backgrounds and works with hiring partners who pay an employer pledge when they hire someone from the course.
Shivang Mehra, 25, Kryjer
Shivang Mehra is the founder of Birmingham-based fashion and apparel brand Kryjer. After graduating from Aston University in 2017, he launched the company when he identified a gap in the market for affordable, durable and high-quality sports clothing.
After designing and manufacturing his initial range, Shivang has taken the company from strength to strength – exhibiting at major trade shows and working with a variety of influencers to grow its audience. He is now looking to expand the Kryjer range into new sports and is in talks with major retailers.
Lewis Morgan, 29, entrepreneur and podcaster
Lewis Morgan co-founded Gymshark in 2012 with Ben Francis, his school friend and another of our 35 Under 35 (see above). He stepped back from the business in 2016 and sold his remaining shares last year, pocketing a cool £100 million in the process.
Lewis now wants to use his wealth to invest in the next generation of business stars whom he is also meeting on his eponymous podcast series, alongside having interests in property and fashion.
Cleo Morris, 27, MyDine and Mission Diverse
Chef Cleo Morris is the founder of Caribbean food delivery website and caterer MyDine. She launched the meal prep arm in 2017 and expanded into event and corporate catering the following year with help from her father Errol, also a professional chef.
In addition, Cleo launched Mission Diverse last year, a not-for-profit organisation working to improve diversity in the world of business and entrepreneurship, particularly aimed at giving young people real-world business and employability skills.
Josie Morris, 34, Woolcool
Josie Morris is the managing director of eco-packaging firm Woolcool in Stone. The 34 year old was recently awarded an MBE for services to manufacturing and the environment just six years after joining the company in the sales and marketing department.
As well as leading the 50-strong Woolcool team, Josie is a member of the Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce Council, an export champion for the Midlands Engine and a board member of the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association which lobbies the Government and oil industry to promote debate about sustainability and the green economy.
Ardian Mula, 34, Foodhub
Ardian Mula co-founded Foodhub with his school friend Mohammed Shakil in 2017. In just a few years, the online food ordering platform, whose competitors include Just Eat and Uber Eats, has 22,000 restaurants on its books and trades in countries including the US, Mexico, Guatemala, New Zealand and Ireland.
The Stoke-on-Trent company employs more than 700 people across the globe and boasts an annual turnover in excess of £30 million. Foodhub now plans to raise £100 million in private equity funds to supercharge worldwide expansion.
Luca Perkins, 25, Peechy
Luca Perkins from Bromsgrove is the founder of Peechy, a line of prints and other accessories which she started designing after struggling to find art she wanted to hang in her own home. The Birmingham City University graduate sells products such as hanging frames, notepads and greetings cards through her website and in shops and has also won a deal to supply online giant PrettyLittleThing.
Luca has harnessed the power of social media, enjoying a boom in business during lockdown, and at the turn of this year launched a second business with her partner selling gift boxes.
Reena Salhan, 28, Green Sisters
Reena Salhan co-founded Green Sisters with her sister to provide healthy, vegan, gluten free and allergen friendly foods. The company makes Indian staples such as samosas, bhajis and chutneys for a range of dietary issues and its product stable is free from 14 different allergens.
Reena was inspired to launch the venture after her own family’s experiences of food allergies and, alongside a home delivery service, she is often spotted catering for Birmingham’s corporate events community.
The Greater Birmingham Apprenticeship Awards are back for 2021 and now open for entries here.
The event will be held at Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham on Thursday November 11 and will celebrate apprentices, employers and training providers across 12 categories including our overall Apprentice of the Year.
The deadline to enter the awards is Friday September 17 and sponsorship opportunities are also now available.
Please email [email protected] for details and follow the hashtag #GBAA21 for updates on social media.
For more information about our Apprenticeship Awards and other events please visit www.reachplcevents.com.
Alex Taylor, 32, Newcastle-under-Lyme BID
Alex Taylor was appointed as manager of Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District earlier this month. The mother of two is highly experienced in business and employer engagement and has been brought in to help the organisation support local businesses as they emerge from lockdown and deliver engaging projects, events and activities for visitors to the town centre.
Despite being just weeks into the role, Alex has already begun setting up steering groups, meetings and Q&As with businesses and has pledged to build on Newcastle’s “wonderful sense of community”. She also believes that harnessing the power of collaboration will attract more workers, visitors and shoppers into the area.
Kray Treadwell, 29, 670 Grams
Kray Treadwell is a chef and the founder of boutique Birmingham restaurant 670 Grams, named after the weight of his daughter who was born four months premature. He defied the pandemic to launch the 16-cover venue last August which serves meals inspired by Europe and Asia.
Kray, who previously worked at another famous Birmingham restaurant Purnell’s and was a finalist on BBC series Great British Menu, was crowned Young Chef of Great Britain and Ireland in the 2021 Michelin Guide.
Josh Winfield, 28, NatWest
Josh Winfield is the Midlands and East of England regional ecosystem manager at NatWest and has been working within the start-up and innovation sector his entire career, founding his own record label at the age of 15 before exiting six years later. He has worked for a number of start-up companies including music tech firm ROLI in its product and events team where he led it through B series funding.
Since 2017, Josh has been working with NatWest as a business coach before leading the team that launched the bank’s ‘Business Builder’ programme – a digital, free accelerator for new and fledgling businesses.
Jeanette Wong, 31, The Clean Kilo
Jeanette Wong is a director of The Clean Kilo, heralded as Birmingham’s first zero-waste supermarket when it opened in the city’s Digbeth district in 2018. The company, which she runs with her partner Tom Pell, strives to be plastic free, with customers bringing their own containers and bags to stock up on products.
They have since launched a second site in Bournville and battled back from the effects of the pandemic on small retailers to stay in business. They estimate the two stores save more than 300,000 pieces of plastic going into landfill every year.