Our Entrepreneurs of the Year show it can be done

How we made a mint in this mother of all years! Thanks to the pandemic, there’s seldom been a tougher time for women to build a business. But, from a beauty pioneer to a fitness queen, our Entrepreneurs of the Year show it can be done

  • Women are often dismissed by funders and investors as less capable than men
  • Aphrodite awards celebrates female entrepreneurs with children under age 12
  • Three finalists and two who were highly commended share their businesses  

Shalom Lloyd built a creche to help her women workers. Georgia Metcalfe used a sexist insult to power her onwards.

Pauline Paterson was assumed to be the face of her business, not the brains behind it, yet made a fortune. And Lottie Whyte began transforming the sports recovery industry from the West London changing rooms of Harlequins rugby club.

This year, the Mail’s award for female entrepreneurs who start a business while their children are under 12 — the Aphrodite, part of the annual NatWest Everywoman Awards — is all about women doing it for themselves.

During a continuing pandemic, with global supply-chain challenges and despite a playing field that is still far from level, they have nonetheless managed to steer their companies to extraordinary success.

Women who’ve made the Aphrodite awards shortlist share their business stories – including Lottie Whyte (pictured), founder of MyoMaster

Even today, women are often dismissed by funders and investors as less ambitious and capable than men, especially when they are also mothers. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

A succession of studies have shown that new female-led businesses outperform those founded by men, both in terms of profit and value to the broader economy. If women were given the money to start and scale up businesses at the same rate as men, it would add £250 billion to UK Treasury coffers.

So let’s change attitudes by celebrating the women who are already doing it. These five have proved themselves extraordinary leaders and innovators, often against the odds.

So here is our Aphrodite shortlist of three finalists and two who were highly commended . . .

MAD MASSAGE GUN GAVE ME AN IDEA

Lottie Whyte, 32, is the founder and CEO of sports recovery venture MyoMaster (myomaster.com). She is married to rugby player Joe Gray, 32, and lives in Walton-on-Thames with son Otis, two.

For Lottie, it all began in 2018 when her husband Joe, a professional rugby player, was supposed to be fitting a new kitchen at home. But instead of building cabinets, he attached a wooden stool leg to the end of a drill and effectively bodged a powerful massage gun.

‘He had Achilles tendinitis and was trying to come up with something to treat it,’ says Lottie. ‘This just seemed to work really well. Of course, when he then took it into the Harlequins changing room, the boys died with laughter.’

Lottie Whyte, 32, (pictured), who lives in Walton-on-Thames, founded sports recovery venture MyoMaster after her husband created a powerful massage gun to treat Achilles tendinitis

Until they tried it, too — and then wanted one of their own. Cash began to change hands for Joe’s madly customised yellow B&Q drills, until Lottie realised he’d hit on a potentially huge market in products to aid post-workout recovery.

‘It’s the next big thing,’ she says. ‘People used to spend almost no time on helping their bodies recover after exercise. That’s changing.’

Lottie’s MyoPro massage gun — a bespoke, engineered version of Joe’s stool leg — took six months to develop before launching in 2019 and now sits in a range of MyoMaster recovery products, including compression systems to flush out lactic acid and electrical stimulation gadgets to build muscle and reduce pain.

Having built up the business using their own funds, a year after launching Lottie set out to raise further funding, occasionally taking baby Otis with her.

‘Once, I walked in to make a pitch with him under my arm. I said to this room full of men, look, my childcare has fallen through and there’s no way round this, we’re going to have to crack on anyway.’

MyoMaster raised £50,000 on Lottie’s (pictured) first funding round and is now on track to turn over £1 million this year 

It takes ‘balls of steel’ to do that, she says, especially if you are a woman of colour. An analysis of UK venture capital funding over the past ten years by research group Extend Ventures found that just 0.02 per cent of it went to women of colour.

We have more chance of winning the lottery on a Saturday night than getting VC funding,’ says Lottie.

‘Fundraising is hard whoever you are, but we don’t necessarily have access to the same networks or support systems as others.

‘Opportunities are improving all the time, however.’

Indeed, MyoMaster raised £50,000 on Lottie’s first funding round. It is on track to turn over £1 million this year. Her advice to other women is to ‘be brave and move fast’.

SURVIVING SEXISM TO MAKE MILLIONS

Pauline Paterson, 43, founder of Dr Pawpaw (drpawpaw.com), lives in Bromley, South London, with husband Johnny, 39, and children Jasmine, ten, and Jackson, seven.

Pauline Paterson, 43, (pictured), who lives in Bromley, was pregnant with her second child when she approached her bank for a modest overdraft to help the start-up of Dr Pawpaw

A hairdresser by trade, Pauline was pregnant with her second child when she approached her bank for a modest overdraft to help the start-up of her vegan, cruelty-free skincare and make-up brand, Dr Pawpaw.

‘I was working on the project for two years before it launched [in 2013] and I didn’t take a wage from it in all that time. I wasn’t even asking for a loan, just an overdraft, but still the answer was no.’

Later, at a trade fair, time and again Pauline was dismissed as simply the ‘face’ of the business rather than its owner and the brains behind it.

‘People would approach my stand and I’d ask if I could help them. They’d say no, thanks, we’ll wait to speak to the boss. And I’d say, well, I am the boss.’

Meanwhile, Pauline was honing skills no-one else seemed to think she had. ‘I taught myself how to file all our intellectual property paperwork by reading about it on my laptop while I was breastfeeding Jackson,’ she says. ‘That alone saved the company £30,000 in fees.

‘I don’t have a business degree — I worked my way up in hairdressing from a salon to a training post at Wella’s London academy. But I’m a firm believer that everything, from researching ingredients to pitching to buyers, can be learned.’

Pauline’s (pictured) brand has 36 products and a celebrity following including Victoria Beckham, Emma Watson and Elle Macpherson

With two children under five and no formal childcare, she worked when they slept, focusing at first on a single product — Dr Pawpaw’s original multi-purpose, papaya-based balm for lips, hair and skin — then on expanding the range.

Today there are 36 products, from lip masks to hand creams, stocked in Boots, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, with a celebrity following including Victoria Beckham, Emma Watson and Elle Macpherson.

In the U.S., Pauline’s colourful little tubes are found on the shelves of huge cosmetics chain Ulta Beauty, with 1,200 outlets. She is stocked in more than 30 countries, with plans to launch in Scandinavia this year.

From an initial investment of £20,000 mustered from her savings and those of two friends — and no overdraft facility — Pauline is on course to turn over £5.5 million this year. You’d hope her bank manager has learned a lesson.

FROM AN OILY BED TO ORDERS FROM ROYALS

Georgia Metcalfe, 46, is the founder of The French Bedroom Company (frenchbedroom company.co.uk) and lives in West Sussex with husband Ben, 51, and children Layla, 15, and Jacobi, seven.

Georgia Metcalfe, 46, (pictured) who lives in West Sussex, founded The French Bedroom Company in 2006 with just £500 and an antique bed in French damask

Georgia would far rather be scouring French antiques markets for design inspiration than spending her days steeped in the minutiae of global supply chains. But for entrepreneurs like her who rely on imported stock, the past six months have been a mess.

‘Containers are held up at every stage of their journey and fees to keep them at ports can run into thousands of pounds. A container that might have cost £1,000 to get from China is now costing £20,000.’

Yet, in other ways, the pandemic has revolutionised her business. With people stuck at home, both online shopping and DIY interior design boomed, especially among the over-50s.

Georgia was well placed to take advantage with her romantic, French-inspired beds, linens, lighting and furniture and established website. In 2020, traffic rose by almost a third and her profits more than doubled to £1.2 million.

Georgia relishes a challenge. She founded The French Bedroom Company in 2006 with just £500 and an antique bed in French damask that, on closer inspection, was covered in equally antique hair oil.

Georgia (pictured), who has had several celebrity customers, said things were hand-to-mouth in the early days of her business 

‘People loved the designs — the cabriole legs, floral motifs and rococo swirls — but they didn’t want, well, the rest of it. So we started to make new beds inspired by the best bits.’

Launch coincided with the birth of baby Layla — and when husband Ben decided to join the company too, money was tighter than ever.

‘It was hand-to-mouth back then. We used our London flat as a showroom and, for a few bottles of wine, friends helped build the website and take pictures for the catalogue.’

Today, she counts among her customers several celebrities and members of the Royal Family.

Setbacks make you ‘hungrier’, she maintains. When a sexist supplier called her a ‘silly little girl’ for asking for a bed with bespoke measurements, she used her anger to ‘make changes [to the business] I’d perhaps not have made otherwise.’

MY PLAN NEEDED A KING’S BACKING

Shalom Lloyd, 48, founded Naturally Tribal Skincare (naturallytribalskincare.com). She lives in Milton Keynes with husband David, 59, and has three children of her own — twins Joshua and Amara, seven, and 17-year-old Isaac — and two stepchildren, aged 26 and 32.

Shalom Lloyd, 48,  (pictured), who lives in Milton Keynes, started a factory in Nigeria and began importing pure shea butter after her son was Joshua was born with eczema 

Shalom’s life changed when she was 41. After four rounds of IVF, she had twins Joshua and Amara — taking her brood to five, including two stepchildren — and, a year later, in 2016, she launched her business.

Running it meant negotiating not with the usual suppliers and bank managers, but with a king.

Her son Joshua was born with painful, cracking eczema and was eventually prescribed steroids.

But Shalom, a pharmacist by training, didn’t want to use them for long.

Her own childhood was in Nigeria, where the women swore by a very pure shea butter for their children’s skin. Shalom sourced some from her old home town — and Joshua started to recover his baby-soft skin.

When the African shea ran out, she had an idea: she would start her own factory in Nigeria and import it herself. But first she had to ‘get support’ from the king and community of Essan, a rural region in the north of the country.

‘I’m a proud British Nigerian and I respect the culture. But it’s a man’s world and they are not used to women running things,’ she says.

Shalom (pictured) now has an 11-strong product range using shea butter as a base, which is stocked in Harrods, TK Maxx and online

‘My idea was to create training and infrastructure for women workers, to build a creche alongside the factory and give them the power to earn their own regular income.

In the end, His Royal Highness, the king, got right behind it and gave us the land to build on.’

Shalom remortgaged the family home in Milton Keynes to do it — and now has 22 women working for her, with plans to hire 20 more.

For many in Essan, it has been a lifeline. ‘One of my girls is just 19 and a mother of four. With the money she earned working for us, she was able to put a new roof on her house.’

Today, Shalom has an 11-strong product range using shea butter as a base, which is stocked in Harrods, TK Maxx and online. Turnover has doubled since 2019.

I STARTED THE BUSINESS… THEN MY SON WAS SERIOUSLY ILL

Sarah Thomas, 36, is founder and CEO of Clockface Beauty (clockfacebeauty.com). She lives in North Yorkshire with husband Nick, 58, and sons Alfie, five, and three-year-old Henry.

Sarah Thomas, 36, (pictured), who lives in North Yorkshire, partnered with her mum to launch Clockface Beauty’s Signature Facial Serum for Women 

When Sarah was pregnant with her second son Henry, her skin became inflamed. Handily, her biomedical scientist mum Karen was making her own serum to treat the hormonal challenges of menopause, using ingredients such as frankincense, grapeseed oil and bergamot. When Sarah tried it, the effect was rapid.

‘It cleared my skin really quickly and I thought, well, everybody needs to know about this.’

That product — Clockface Beauty’s Signature Facial Serum for Women, which launched in 2018 — has since won a clutch of beauty industry awards and is now stocked in Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser nationwide. Working from her home near York, Sarah has since created a further 16 products with her mum, including a cleanser and beard oil for men.

It’s an achievement all the more impressive given the serious illness of her son Henry, who was in and out of hospital just as she launched the business.

‘We nearly lost him three times,’ she says. ‘Once I watched him turn blue and had to run to the village hall to get the defibrillator.’

Sarah ‘s (pictured) serum is now stocked in Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser nationwide

Henry has a compromised immune system, lacking sufficient quantities of two blood proteins that protect against respiratory illness. ‘Every time he got a chest infection, it turned into pneumonia. None of his immunisations stuck, so he was really vulnerable.’

Covid was clearly a huge threat to Henry and, two days before the first lockdown, his consultant told Sarah the whole family should go into strict isolation. That meant shutting Clockface Beauty for three months.

In isolation, Henry grew stronger and, with new medication, was able to come out of lockdown with the rest of the world. Today, he is at nursery — and Clockface, too, goes from strength to strength. ‘We relaunched in the summer and, on that day, had the highest sales we’ve ever had. People were waiting to buy their product, which felt like a huge endorsement.’

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