After being booted out of the Love Island villa in 2017, narrowly missing out on a place in the final four couples, Montana Brown was determined to set up her own business.
Unlike many of her peers on the ITV reality show, she didn’t want to use her new-found fame to stick her face to someone else’s brand.
She wanted to create something of her own.
But as Brown – who has now been taken on as a business mentor by Virgin Start Up – quickly realised, founding your own firm isn’t easy.
Montana Brown has now been taken on as a business mentor by Virgin Start Up
On top of all the usual challenges, 27 per cent of prospective entrepreneurs are being put off from following their business dreams because of the cost of living crisis, data from Virgin Start Up revealed.
Another 35 per cent said they didn’t have the money, while confidence is a particularly big issue for women, deterring 27 per cent of would-be female founders compared to 18 per cent of their male counterparts.
But as the UK stares down the barrel of a recession, the Government will be increasingly reliant on Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit and army of small businesses to push the economy through a tough few years.
Though it may sound surprising, an economic downturn can be a good time to start a business. Higher unemployment means workers are often easier to come by, while new opportunities can present themselves as behaviours shift. General Motors, Burger King, Uber and Airbnb all launched during a slump.
Likewise Brown started her business shortly before Covid struck.
The idea for Swim Society came when Brown, now 26, was on holiday with friends in the Maldives.
Having recently been thrown into the social media spotlight, and experiencing the trolling and abuse which that brings, Brown was having a body image crisis.
She and her friends found themselves complaining about the fit and quality of their swimsuits – and in 2019, she decided to do something about it.
Initially, Swim Society began working with fashion brand Skinnydip to create her own line. Most of the complexities of the business were taken care of by Skinnydip, and Brown was working around two days a week to help with the design and direction of the swimwear range.
Virgin Startup selects nascent businesses in need of money and advice, hands out loans from the government-backed Start Up Loans company, and provides mentoring for founders
But she was adamant that she wanted her swimsuits and bikinis to be made ethically, from recycled materials. Here, she butted heads with Skinnydip, whose staff were worried about the extra costs and complications this would introduce.
So in 2020, less than a year after starting the business, Brown decided to go it alone.
‘It was definitely a really scary time for me,’ she says. ‘I had no business experience, and I’d never really had a full-time proper job.
‘So it was a daunting time – and then Covid happened.’
So what spurred her on? ‘I think a lot of it was naivety,’ she laughs. ‘I thought, ‘Yeah, I can totally do this, it’ll be fine.’
‘I’m quite a spiritual person, so I just thought what will be will be. I was so passionate about representing people who were under-represented that I didn’t really think about running the business.’
For a while, it was a struggle. But Brown managed to build a network of useful contacts, and had two staff with her from the beginning who proved to be invaluable.
Many other would-be entrepreneurs also suffer from the feeling of not knowing where to start – which is where mentoring comes in handy.
Brown is working with Virgin Start Up to advise other founders – and her role as an influencer means she is awash with knowledge on social media.
Part of Richard Branson’s group of companies, and part-funded by the billionaire himself, Virgin Start Up is a not-for-profit organisation trying to build Britain’s next generation of entrepreneurs.
It selects nascent businesses in need of money and advice, hands out loans from the government-backed Start Up Loans company, and provides mentoring and classes for their founders.
Aside from social media, Brown will also be offering budding entrepreneurs advice on how to raise finance after she successfully won over investors during the pandemic.
She says: ‘I think there are so many ways to get investment now that some people are moving away from focusing on the figures and focusing more on a partnership where it’s more of a collaboration.’
The Government – as well as venture capital firms and later-stage investors – still has a lot to do if it wants to help British firms grow from minnows to giants.
But with the likes of Brown championing entrepreneurialism, the UK’s small business scene looks as vibrant as ever.