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Start Up Loans Ambassadors 2023/24

A business offering scuba-diving off the coast of Northern Ireland, a 3D printing business from Wales that exports internationally, a cat café and a Scottish tech firm with a long-distance ultrafast camera used in the space industry are among 12 businesses appointed as this year’s Ambassadors for our Start Up Loans programme.

The annual Start Up Loans Ambassadors programme, now in its eighth year, celebrates exceptional business owners who have followed their ambition of becoming their own boss after receiving support from Start Up Loans.

Start up Loans Ambassadors logo 2023

Drawn from each of the UK’s 12 Nations and Regions, our Start Up Loans Ambassadors reflect the broad diversity and ambition of the nation’s smaller business sector at a grass roots level. More details of the businesses selected from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England’s regions can be found further below.

The Start Up Loans programme was established as a £10 million pilot scheme by Lord Young in 2012, in the shadow of the financial crisis. His vision was to enable more young people to achieve their dream of setting up their own business, by offering affordable loans and expert advice to those who might otherwise struggle to access funding.

Since then, the programme has delivered more than 109,000 loans to business owners across the UK, amounting to more than £1bn of funding, while expanding to support entrepreneurs of all ages. 40% of loan recipients have been women and 20% people from minority ethnic backgrounds.


This year’s Ambassadors

Portrait of Joan Nga, Florence Lao, Kaying Yang

Newcastle, North East

Lemon Tree Soft Play Café

Lemon Tree Soft Play café is a growing business founded by three mothers and entrepreneurs, creating a haven for children and families in Newcastle upon Tyne.The founders hail from Malaysia and Hong Kong and seized the chance to feed their entrepreneurial spirit and long-standing dream by founding Lemon Tree Soft Play café, as an expansion of the company Little Bees Soft Play, a mobile rental softplay company, following the Start Up Loans finance. Each of them took out a £25,000 to help grow the business.

Learn more about Lemon Tree Soft Play Café

Formby, North West


Leo Winstanley founded Hand-i-Craft, based in Formby, after losing the ability to use his dominant hand and arm in a car accident. Now, it is a successful woodworking shop, stocking handmade items, finishes and accessories that are sold online.

Learn more about Hand-i-Craft

Portrait of Hand-i-craft
Portrait of Verity Clarke

Yorkshire & Humber

Amity Brew Co

Amity Brew Co is a local craft brewery, offering a range of draught and canned beers. They provide tours of the brewery, an outside terrace, inside bar and weekly events for the community. They also have their own merch for sale. The three directors took out their loans in April 2020, at £25,000 each.

Learn more about Amity Brew Co

East Midlands

The Sustainable Kitchen

Rik is a chef with more than 22 years of experience and a background in human nutrition and psychology. The business was started as a chance for him to explore why veganism isn’t as accessible as it could be and what the barriers are to preventing people from taking up the lifestyle.

Learn more about Sustainable Kitchen

Portrait of Rik De Raynor
Portrait of Aitanna Gomes

West Midlands

Light Rave Studios

A production company of photographers and videographers with over 30 years of combined experience. They capture content at all types of events including weddings, corporate functions and gatherings for family and friends. Aitanna set up her business in 2022 and took out the loan this year to expand it due to its success. Aitanna received two loans totaling £14,500.

Learn more about Light Rave Studios



Best friends of 22 years Fabian Clark and Rohan Radhakrishnan co-founded the business in 2021 after seeing a gap in the existing all-or-nothing booze market. The low-alcohol, low-calorie gin product gives customers a great tasting alternative, without the possible side effects of the higher-alcohol options.

Learn more about Quarter

Portrait of Quarter Proof
Portrait of Pallavi Ghosh

South East


After years of working in the corporate world, Pallavi decided to follow her dreams of becoming a business owner in April 2021 after the Coronavirus pandemic forced her to re-evaluate her priorities. She left a career in finance and took out a loan of £19,000 in 2022 to curate and share natural homewares crafted by rural artisans from around the world, drawing inspiration from her mother’s unwavering passion for home decor and sustainability. 

Learn more about Anav

East of England

Finnegan’s Whiskers

Shelley Smith, founder of Finnegan’s Whiskers, has opened Suffolk’s only cat café and feline foster home based in Sudbury. Shelley has partnered with local cat rescue centre, Mel’s Rescue, to home cats at the café and alleviate pressure on animal rescue centres.

Learn more about Finnegan’s Whiskers

Portrait of Shelley Smith
Portrait of Ken Pearce and Yousef Ahmed


Lunia 3D

Cowbridge-based Lunia 3D initially took out a £2,000 Start Up Loan to invest in their first commercial 3D printer. Three years on, with 40 more printers and a further £12,000 recently received from the British Business Bank, Lunia 3D has cemented itself as a key player on the flourishing 3D printing stage

Learn more about Lunia 3D



Physicists Charles Altuzarra and Yash D Shah, founders of Metahelios each received a £25,000 loan in July 2022 to kickstart their business. The entrepreneurs have created a first-of-its-kind, long-distance camera that can manipulate light to distinguish between a range of materials from a still image. They are aiming to deploy the technology into space on a rocket from one of the UK’s spaceport sites, capturing data via a satellite that can be used to monitor climate change and orbiting space debris.

Learn more about Metahelios

Portrait of Charles Altuzarra & Yash D Shah
Portrait of Zee Azab

Northern Ireland

Eagle Divers

Zee is originally from the holiday resort of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt but moved to Northern Ireland in 2001. He worked in the hospitality sector in Egypt as a Head Concierge and was also a diving instructor. When he moved to Northern Ireland he again worked as a Head Concierge at a number of Belfast’s leading hotels

Learn more about Eagle Divers

South West

Love of Lemons

Starting with an online business during the pandemic, Bex opened her first store in Nansledan near Newquay in 2021, selling hand-picked vintage items alongside sustainably produced new brands. She relocated to a brand new shop in Nansledan over the summer and has just opened a sister store, Love of Vintage, in the same complex.

Learn more about Love of Lemons

Portrait of Bex Osman