Somerset Catalyst businesses boom during UK lockdown

Local businesses on the Somerset Catalyst Programme have seen incredible growth since they began their journey on the bespoke business support programme in September. Despite the challenges of 2020, they have launched new ventures, pivoted existing businesses to adapt to the pandemic, landed six figure contracts, and raised thousands of pounds of finance from angel investors and communities.


Funded by the Somerset councils, Somerset Catalyst is part of a wider business support programme that is rolling out across the county. Its goal is to create the necessary positive culture, support system and infrastructure to create economic growth that will ripple across all its communities and put Somerset on the innovation map of the UK.

The 2020/21 cohort[1] included a diverse range of businesses, from pre-start-ups to a 90- year-old 3rd generation family business. They were from a variety of sectors that included food and drink, beauty, biotech laboratory automation, augmented reality, circular economy, and social enterprises.

As the 2020/21 programme draws to a close, Peter Birkett, Somerset Catalyst Programme Lead and Mentor, said: “It has been incredibly rewarding to work with such a diverse and talented group of entrepreneurs over the course of the programme. Despite the challenges of 2020, they have not only survived but thrived, and we have no doubt that they will continue to get stronger. We are really excited about the future for each and every one of them.”


The six-month programme saw each entrepreneur receive 1-2-1 coaching, take part in weekly peer group workshops, and present their developed business plans to carefully selected experts with in-depth knowledge and skills relevant to their industry.

Since joining the Somerset Catalyst programme, Yumello, the Atlas Mountains-inspired nut butter brand, has seen a 350% YOY growth and secured two investments, each worth over £100,000.


Esther Lopez, Co-Founder of Yumello, said: “Since we joined the programme we have grown very fast. One of our main objectives for 2020 was to raise investment, and we managed to raise £250,000, some from our online community and some from angel investors. I can hand on heart say that without the Somerset Catalyst programme we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”


IN Reality is a virtual reality business that specialises in rail operator training. Since joining the Somerset Catalyst programme they have secured an initial six figure contract with a major international rail operator.


Chris Jones, founder and CEO of IN Reality, said: “We have been on a few national business support programmes and the Somerset Catalyst programme has been the best by far. I would say to any budding entrepreneur, if you’ve got a business idea then get on the programme.”


Indy Fear started on the programme with an entirely different business idea but seeing the impact the pandemic was having on the mental health and wellbeing of young people, she went back to the drawing board and created Next Steps Generation, a social enterprise that promotes and supports the positive mental wellbeing of children from a young age.


Indy said: “During such uncertain times, this programme could not have been better timed. I was stuck wondering where my future was, and I needed the support and help to nudge me into gear. I cannot thank my mentors enough. They have boosted my confidence and given me the tools and information I needed to stay focused. There really aren’t words for how grateful I am for this programme. My dream really feels like it might come true.”


Ashmira Botanica is based in Taunton and produces a luxurious range of natural waxing products for salons and spas across the UK and overseas.


Tracey Smith, the founder of Ashmira Botanica, said: “I didn’t realize until I joined the programme that I’ve always had a small business mentality. I’ve always wanted to have a big business, but I didn’t actually know how to do it. The team at Somerset Catalyst managed to pinpoint for me where I’ve been going wrong and showed me the steps that I needed to take to grow. I’m really, really excited about the future.”


Simon Whitehead started his franchise Zedify Bristol during the programme. He said: “It was a privilege to have been selected to take part in the programme and I would thoroughly recommend it to future applicants. There needs to be more of this available for startups and small businesses, especially in rural areas like Somerset. There is a heap of talent out there who just need a bit of a steer, support and extended knowledge to encourage them to take the leap and achieve their business goals.”


Karen Jolly is the founder of Eskeez Thermals. She said: “The Catalyst programme has breathed new life into our activities. Working in a confidential environment with companies across a wide range of activities has broadened our contacts and demonstrated that despite being in different industries, we can help and support each other.”


To find out more about the Somerset Catalyst programme and how to apply for the 2021 cohort visit: www.somersetcatalyst.co.uk.

[1] Full list of companies in Notes to Editor.