The hottest startups in London


London’s startups have not only weathered a year that combined Brexit and a global pandemic, they also attracted more investment than ever before. According to figures from Tech Nation’s annual report, UK startups attracted a record $15 billion in VC funding in 2020, with London now fourth globally for tech VC funding, behind San Francisco, Beijing and New York.

When the pandemic hit, there was panic, followed by a period of stability from the first lockdown through to the end of the year, says Gerard Grech, chief executive of Tech Nation. Entrepreneurial ecosystems and the government stepped up. “And clearly VCs invested,” he says. “But real investment has started to happen from this year onwards. We’re already seeing over half of what was invested last year in a quarter of the time.”


Jonathan Wolf, co-founder of nutrition biotech startup ZOE, says the company doesn’t believe in calories: “We think it’s nonsense.” Rather than dieting, ZOE leverages data so that people can adjust their nutrition in a sustainable manner. Users are sent a kit and asked to provide a stool sample, use a continuous glucose monitor and do a finger-prick blood test to gain insights into their gut microbes, blood sugar and blood fat.

Wolf and his co-founders George Hadjigeorgiou and Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, founded ZOE in 2017 but operated in stealth mode for three years. When the pandemic shut down the UK in March 2020, ZOE sprang into action, launching a Covid study to locate hotspots of the virus by gathering data from around 4.5 million users in a government-backed project to help the NHS. In May, ZOE raised $20m in a Series B round.


Online events startup Hopin was founded in 2018, and demand for its services soared in 2020. “When the pandemic started, we had about 10,000 customers on a waitlist,” says founder Johnny Boufarhat. Now, Hopin is in 42 countries, employing over 500 people, and has 95,000 customers. “Our mission is to make the world feel smaller and connect people,” Boufarhat says. When he founded the business, his aim was to democratise access to networking and knowledge events, so that users could make business connections regardless of their location.

Hopin raised $150m in 2020 and has since raised a further $400m Series C round, cementing its unicorn status. Its next project is to produce events designed for the hybrid workplace.

Image may contain Human Person Plant Flower Blossom Clothing Apparel Garden and Outdoors

Alex Stephany, social entrepreneur and founder of Beam

Dan Burn-Forti


Social impact business Beam crowdfunds career opportunities for homeless people and supports them in the path to finding and keeping new jobs. Founded by Alex Stephany in 2017, the startup has helped secure work for more than 300 people, some in key worker positions, such as in supermarkets, delivery companies and the NHS, during the pandemic.

Stephany says he created Beam because he wanted to build “world-class technology for the most disadvantaged people in the world”. In the last year, the problem of homelessness has become even more important, so Beam repurposed its crowdfunding technology to provide emergency supplies such as sanitary products, food, textbooks and tablets for children. “Our most important KPIs are not our financial KPIs. They are what we call our social KPIs: people starting jobs, and also people being housed,” Stephany says.


Biotech startup FabricNano is designing artificial cells that produce chemicals 100 times faster, with the aim of ditching many of the chemical processes that make manufacturing one of the most polluting industries in the world. Its goal is to replace all fermented and petrochemical products, such as plastics, with biomanufactured alternatives. FabricNano was founded in 2018 by Grant Aarons and Ferdinando Randisi, who have backgrounds in mechanical engineering and DNA.


Why buy a new toy when you can borrow one instead? That’s the philosophy behind Whirli, a toy subscription service founded in 2019 by Nigel Phan which aims to promote sustainable consumerism. Whirli purchases toys directly from leading manufacturers, which subscribers can borrow and then swap for something new whenever their child gets bored. Whirli has raised £4 million in a 2020 seed round led by Octopus Ventures.


Last-mile delivery startup Dija officially launched its on-demand grocery service in March 2021 after raising £20 million in seed funding in December 2020. Founded by former Deliveroo employees Alberto Menolascina and Yusuf Saban, the startup offers convenience and fresh food delivery using a “dark” convenience store model, seeing it build out hyper-local fulfilment centres in urban high-population areas for super-quick delivery.


Founded by identical twin brothers Alexander and Oliver Kent-Braham in 2018, Marshmallow brings affordable car insurance to underserved groups such as immigrants, low-income and unemployed people, or students, who pay more than average because they don’t fit into traditional insurance underwriting. At the end of 2020, the insurtech company reached a $300 million (£231m) valuation following a $30m Series A funding round.

Hoxton Farms

As the race for the perfect lab-made steak continues, Hoxton Farms co-founders Max Jamilly and Ed Steele think they have the key to tasty meat alternatives: cultivated fat. The startup aims to produce animal fat without using animals, and has raised £2.7 million in seed funding to finance the R&D to do it. The round was led by Founders Fund, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm founded by Peter Thiel.

Image may contain Leaf Plant Clothing Sleeve Apparel Long Sleeve Human Person and Tree

Greyparrot co-founders Mikela Druckman and Ambarish Mitra

Dan Burn-Forti


In the age of remote working, talent can be found in all locations, but employers are still put off employing remote teams because of red tape. Omnipresent co-founders Matthew Wilson and Guenther Eisinger say their tech leaves companies “more time to do what matters, and less of the boring admin”. In January 2021, the company closed a $15.8 million Series A funding round to expand its presence globally.


Sixty per cent of the two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (AKA rubbish) produced globally each year ends up in open dumps and landfill. AI waste recognition startup Greyparrot provides software to monitor and sort waste at scale. The company was founded in 2019 by Mikela Druckman, Marco Paladini and Nikola Sivacki, and focuses on building software that can work on basic hardware that is accessible to emerging markets, where many items are sent for recycling.


Read More:The hottest startups in London