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15 South East entrepreneurs to watch

The Business Magazine article image for: 15 South East entrepreneurs to watch
17 January 2023

Entrepreneurship is a key driver of economic development and recovery and a vital source of new jobs and incomes. Here, we introduce you to some of the region’s most inspiring entrepreneurs.

Sarah Jordan, Y.O.U Underwear, Oxford

Sarah Jordan

Sarah Jordan never set out to be an entrepreneur. But on a volunteering trip to Uganda in 2016 she encountered Period Poverty – girls forced to miss school because they were menstruating and had no access to sanitary products or underwear.

“I was shocked at the number of women and children I met who didn't have access to something we take for granted every day – underwear," she recalls.

When she returned home to Oxford she decided to launch a business selling underwear on a buy-one-give-two model. Her aim is to have donated 23,000 pairs of underwear by 2023.

Y.O.U Underwear is a sustainable fashion brand that operates in an ethical, kind and sustainable way and that has a positive social and environmental impact, using profits from the business to donate underwear and give back to women and girls across the world.

Y.O.U Underwear is Fairtrade, PETA-approved vegan, and made from 100 per cent Certified Organic Cotton.

In 2022 the company became the UK’s top-scoring B Corp and top fashion brand globally, cementing its sustainable commitments.

Valarie Jerome, Valarie Jerome Optometrists, Newbury

Dr Valarie Jerome is the founder of Newbury independent practice, Valarie Jerome Optometrists.

Shortly after launching her practice in 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic meant she had to resort to delivering a remote eye care service and even offered local Berkshire residents free spectacle repairs.

As an NHS responder, she also collected prescriptions and shopping for those self-isolating in the Newbury area.

Valarie is particularly interested in issues affecting women eye health. Valarie has volunteered her services for several years to refugees as well as the vulnerable and homeless in the Newbury area to ensure they have access to eye care and spectacles.

The optometrist has been recognised in a list of 100 top female entrepreneurs by f:Entrepreneur and was listed in the UK Small Business Top 100 of 2020 by Small Business Saturday UK.

Valerie came to the UK from Florida in 2009. In 2015 she was elected to the Association of Optometrists Council as the councillor for the South East region. She was also appointed to the Optical Confederation's joint education committee.

Minal Patel, LabCycle, Surrey

Minal Patel is the co-founder and COO of sustainable tech start up LabCycle – which aims to prevent single-use plastics from science laboratories ending up in landfill.

With a nano-materials engineering doctorate from the University of Surrey, Minal worked with educational establishments and commercial laboratories to find ways of reusing the some of the 5.5 million tonnes of single-use plastic that is produced by life science laboratories globally.

Due to the lack of specialised recycling services in the industry, plastics are generally incinerated or sent to landfill in special bags.

Multi award-winning LabCycle is the first company on the market to offer bespoke recycling services for different disciplines and sectors: sorting plastics by colour, decontaminating material to remove lab contaminants, and recycling plastics.

Minal has also spoken publicly about her neurodiversity – and how living with a disability has challenged and enriched her entrepreneurial journey, forcing her to focus because she does not have abundant energy.

Jolyon Bennett, Juice, Oxfordshire

Jolyon Bennett

Ten years ago Jolyon Bennett founded mobile phone accessories manufacturer Juice with a £100,000 from the bank – using his house as collateral.

His break came just weeks before his cash ran out, at a Dragons’ Den-style pitching event for John Lewis. The retailer said it wanted to launch the brand for him, and ordered 5,000 units. Two thousand were sold in the first week alone, and Juice became the fastest-selling brand the partnership had ever launched.

Today his Banbury-based company sells more charging cables than Apple and has a £ multimillion turnover.

And the firms has branched out from its vibrantly-coloured roots (charging cables and plugs came in bright blue, pink, and lime green). Audio equipment followed in the form of Bluetooth speakers, and as vlogging and Zoom meetings took off the company expanded into selfie lights, lighting rings, and phone camera stands.

The company is also leading the way in sustainability. Following the removal of all single-use plastic from its packaging in July 2020, Jolyon wanted to go one step further and made the decision to begin manufacturing every single line from recycled materials and re-introduce them to market.

Juice successfully rolled out this ambitious project across its entire range five months ahead of schedule through its ‘Made Mindfully’ campaign, using recycled post-consumer waste collected from oceans, beaches and landfill sites instead.

Jolyon said: “2022 has been an outstanding year for the whole team at Juice as we have followed what we all believe to be the right thing in removing all virgin plastic across all of our products – something that no other tech accessories brand has yet achieved."

Kishore Sankla, Solutions4Health, Reading

Kishore Sankla is the founder and CEO of Solutions4Health, a pioneering artificial intelligence, digital health and clinical healthcare services company.

The award-winning healthcare division supports more than 100,000 patients a year. It specialises in NHS Health Checks, falls prevention, chronic disease self-management, ADHD and autism services for children, young people and adults, and weight management in both adults and children, which includes physical activity, healthy eating programmes.

It also runs England's largest smoking cessation programme, Smokefreelife. The firm is proactively implementing an AI-first strategy, and has developed the world’s first smoking 'robo-coach' – Bella – which works on a patient's smartphone.

It works with local authorities, and NHS primary and secondary care authorities.

The firm is proactively implementing an AI-first strategy, and has developed the world’s first evidence-based AI powered stop smoking advisor, Bella, which works on a patient's smartphone.

Established in 2008 by former Oracle UK and Cable & Wireless director Kishore, the company is headquartered in Reading and employs more than 400 healthcare professionals.

Solutions 4 Health has won a number of awards, including the prestigious Technology, Health, and Innovation Award from the Royal Society of Public Health in 2017, and Kishore was awarded the 2016 CEO of The Year Award in Healthcare and Technology by the AI Magazine.

Big Four accounting firm EY is so convinced of Kishore's credentials that it shortlisted him in its Entrepreneur of the Year competition.

Michelle Niziol, The Empowering Entrepreneur, Oxfordshire

Michelle Niziol

Oxfordshire-based Michelle Niziol's entrepreneurial flair was evident at an early age: she started selling products at car boot sales at the age of nine, and was working "as many jobs as I could" from the age of 14, saving for a house which she bought at 18.

She enjoyed the house-buying process so much that she launched a mortgage brokerage and started to built a property portfolio – worth millions of pounds by the time she was 25.

She now owns an estate agency, lettings agency, property portfolio building company, and a property investment company, and still finds time to speak at conferences and schools and mentor other women starting their own business.

And she might be a familiar face to fans of the TV show The Apprentice. In 2016 the self-confessed workaholic made a short-lived appearance in series 12, finding herself at the end of Sir Alan Sugar's famous 'You're Fired!' catchphrase after just one episode.

Not one to accept a knock-back, she continued to grow her property empire and in 2021 became a Princes Trust Ambassador for the Women Supporting Women project. In the same year Natwest voted her one of the UK's Top 100 Inspirational Women.

Spencer Chambers and Richard Longhurst (and George), Hofmeister, Dorking

Remember George… Porkpie hat? Yellow bomber jacket? Six-foot-tall bear?

Throughout the 1980s, beer drinkers were urged to Follow the Bear in a series of memorable ad campaigns directed by none other than Orson Welles.

By 1990 Hofmeister – the 3.2 per cent ABV pseudo-German lager promoted by George – was the fourth best-selling beer in the UK. But a spate of mergers between the brewing giants saw sales of the lager plummet in favour of Carlsberg and Stella Artois.

Hofmeister was last brewed in 2003…

… until in 2016 Spencer Chambers and Richard Longhurst reckoned that there was enough latent affection for Hofmeister to relaunch the brand. They reached out to brand owner Heineken and bought the rights to Hofmeister outright.

Wanting their new beer to be true to its predecessor's supposed Bavarian heritage, Spencer and Richard toured the German region looking for a heritage brewer to produce the revamped lager – brewed under the strict Reinheitsgebot regulations using only local barley, hops, and springwater and dating back to 1516.

Today Hofmeister Helles is a five per cent ABV slow-brewed lager aimed at discerning drinkers. It was named the Best Lager at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in its year of launch – becoming the awards' first five star lager – and holds the Best Beer in the world accolade today.

And George? Well, he swapped the yellow jacket and porkpie hat for a yellow checked shirt and made an appearance in a crowdfunding promotion video. And he was a hit – the Dorking-based brand smashed its £600,000 target, settling at £1.2 million.

Davies and Naomi Roberts, Flare Audio, West Sussex

Davies and Naomi Roberts started their career in audio equipment hiring sound systems for concerts. Becoming frustrated with the sound quality of the equipment they were supplying they did what all good entrepreneurs do – headed to his garage to see if they could improve things.

Flare Audio was established in 2010 after the pair launched their first major sound system.

And Flare's audio products got considerably smaller. In 2015 the firm entered the competitive consumer earphone market. Its Isolate ear protectors – which correct sound distortion rather than blocking sound – were launched the following year, with the anti-distortion technology being incorporated into new earphone designs.

Today, Worthing-based Flare Audio exports its products around the globe, where the brand has a rabid following among musicians – including The Charlatans' Tim Burgess and Liam Howlett of The Prodigy, who called Flare's £250 E-Prototype earphones "the best I've ever used," – audiophiles, and increasingly noise-sensitive adults and children who benefit from Flare's calmer range: an affordable device that reduces noise stress.

The firm recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to launch its first Bluetooth-enabled earphones, Flare Ears. With plaudits from celebrities including Stephen Fry the company hit its £50,000 target in four hours.

Dr Anna Vartapetiance, Securium, Guildford

Dr Anna Vartapetiance

Dr Anna Vartapetiance, CEO and co-founder of Securium, is a rare beast – a female entrepreneur in the male-dominated world of cyber security.

Securium spun out of the University of Surrey in 2016, where Dr Vartapetiance gained her cyber security PhD. The advanced cyber-intelligence company has become a leader in advanced cyber-intelligence and is developing AI based software to protect the online safety of businesses and vulnerable individuals, including children.

Anna was a founder of the Online Safety Tech Industry Association, a non-profit organisation formed to promote innovative UK Safety Tech companies across the globe. She is also a committee member of the Ethics Specialist Group at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

In March she was recognised by Innovate UK as a winner of its UK Women in Innovation Awards, and awarded £50,000 in government grants to scale-up her business.

Ada Obioha, ADAVIRTUAL Business Support, Crawley

After spending much of her career as a business analyst and project & operations manager Ada Obioha launched Crawley-based ADAVIRTUAL in 2015 with a vision to make it the ultimate virtual administration and operational support for fast-growing businesses.

In simple terms, ADAVIRTUAL picks up the admin, allowing other entrepreneurs to focus on their product or service, and puts in place processes that will help the client to grow.

Since launch, ADAVIRTUAL has notched up a host of awards and accolades. Ada was chosen as one of Business Saturday UK’s SmallBiz100 in 2020 and was runner-up South East England VA of the Year in 2020 and 2021.

In 2022 Ada was named one of the UK’s most inspirational and dynamic female entrepreneurs by the f:Entrepreneur ‘#ialso100’ campaign.

Besides running a successful business and picking up plaudits, Ada also finds time to mentor women who aspire to start their own business, providing one-to-one coaching and training. She is also a volunteer mentor to Inspiring the Future, an organisation that supports young people to get a head start on their future.

Lottie Whyte and Joe Gray, Myomaster, Surrey

Sportstech firm Myomaster was launched in January 2020 by Walton-on-Thames husband and wife team professional rugby player Joe Gray and marketing executive Lottie Whyte after operating their business as a side-project.

The brand was born when Joe was suffering with achilles tendonitis. After training one day he dismantled a drill, welded on a stool leg, and produced a rudimentary massage gun.

When the locker room laughter died down, the invention proved a hit with Joe's Harlequins teammates.

Lottie – M&C Saatchi's youngest-ever board member, and a keen marathon runner and hockey player – saw the commercial viability of the device. The couple started to seek out the engineers who could turn Joe's stool-leg-on-a-drill into a working device.

Today the Myomaster brand includes seven devices and is used by more than 10,000 athletes, from elites to amateurs. They recently launched into the US and Canada. "There is" they say "no finish line in sight."

Kathy Kyle Bonomini, DigiKind, Dorking

Kathy Kyle Bonomini

Battered by Covid and the rise of online shopping, Britain's high streets need all the help hey can get.

Founded by American Kathy Kyle Bonomini in 2021, DigiKind was created to build community and lead digital transformation projects to rejuvenate our economy and high streets.

The Dorking-based firm takes a three-pronged approach to help clients achieve their goals:

  • Community building using digital and tech innovation
  • Implementing award-winning creative campaigns and placemaking programmes
  • Providing outcomes-driven business support and training

Its digital tools include the creation of digital hubs and town-wide business directories, and developing social media campaigns. During the pandemic its eye-catching Don't Let Your Guard Down campaign – featuring life-sized cartoon royal guards in bearskins and face masks around the Royal Borough of Windsor – garnered national media coverage.

At the 2022 Best Businesswomen Awards Kathy picked up three silvers in Best Businesswoman in Marketing & PR, Best Businesswoman in Technology, and Best New Business. DigiKind was also shortlisted for the FSB Start Up Business of the Year Southeast 2022.

Cas Paton,, Bournemouth

Cas Paton

Cas Paton is the founder and CEO of, dubbed ‘the biggest online marketplace you’ve never heard of’.

His retail platform connects buyers like you with thousands of professional business sellers – creating what OneBuy says is a "fairer, more transparent marketplace."

Having left school at 16 he joined the Royal Navy as an aircraft engineer. bHe was quickly identified for officer pilot training and, because it required a degree education, he was released to go to Bournemouth University, where he studied law.

He never finished the degree. Within two years the entrepreneur had started Bournemouth-based OnTop Media – a web design, web development and e-commerce solutions company.

Then in 2016 he decided – as you do – to go head-to-head with Amazon, launching his own online marketplace.

The platform has grew quickly – making the Deliotte Fast 50 in 2021, with 479 per cent growth.

It now offers over 35 million products shipped from thousands of small businesses. Buyers are protected by PayPal Buyer Protection, and OneBuy boasts that – unlike other platforms – it pays its fair share of UK tax.

This year the firm moved its 100+ employees into OnBuy House, a new 12,000 sq ft HQ in Bournemouth town centre. New staff include Cherie Cook, the firm's new marketing director who has been tasked with turning from 'the biggest online marketplace you’ve never heard of' into a household name.

Chris Knox and Lucy Knox - Insensys, Fareham

In the three years since Chris and Lucy Knox have owned wind energy sensing firm Insensys the company has grown four-fold – earning them a place on the shortlist of the EY Entrepreneur Of the Year 2022 competition.

Insensys, which has been through a number of owners since pivoting away from yacht mast technology to wind turbine systems, supplies fibre optic pitch control and rotor blade monitoring systems.

These systems adjust the angle of blades to control load and improve the efficiency of the turbine – making the turbine more efficient, extending its life, and reducing maintenance costs.

Despite the pandemic and related global supply chain constraints, Chris and Lucy have created 50 new jobs in their local community and are now helping to power 60 million homes with renewable energy globally.

Chris joined the business in 2007 as a business development engineer working through a number of senior roles becoming MD in 2012.

Lucy joined Insensys as CFO in 2019 as it became an independent company. She brought with her a wealth of experience in finance and corporate finance from her 21 years at Deloitte where she was a partner.

Josh Robinson - LMSUKmedia, Portsmouth

Josh Robinson is the young founder of LMSUKmedia, an artist development and events management company based in Portsmouth.

His five-strong senior team, plus a host of associates, looks after everything from content, to ticket management, and gig logistics for a number of events and artists across the South East.

Having worked on content and social media for big names including Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher, and Sam Fender and worked on events for George Ezra, Pete Tong, and Fatboy Slim his recent successes include helping Worcestershire-based singer-songwriter Redwood doubling her Facebook audience in four weeks, and helping R&B singer Deeps sell out the second-biggest venue South of London - Portsmouth Guildhall

A graduate of the University of Portsmouth, where he studied business management, Josh is now Entrepreneur In Residence at the institution, helping help students, staff and alumni to develop business ideas and deal with the challenges of starting a new business.


Stephen Emerson is the Managing Editor of The Business Magazine and is responsible for the publication's print publications and online properties including the newly launched Biz News websites in Hampshire and Dorset.

Stephen has been a journalist for 20 years and has worked at local, regional and national publications and led a team which made The Scotsman website one of the fastest growing news sites in the UK with over eight million monthly users.

He has a keen interest in technology, property and corporate finance and telling the stories of the people behind the successful firms in these sectors.

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