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Some Upbeat Awards for Founders to end 2021


Did you know 2021 was officially the United Nations Year of Peace and International Trust? Yep. It’s either a delicious irony or a triumph of hope over reality. Either way, 2021 was also the year of NFTs and the metaverse, the year Captain Kirk got into space, and a year some serious people started to look like they’re serious about the climate crisis. But you park the cynicism and we'll refuse to bow to the pessimists. Here’s The Supper Club’s Positively Upbeat Founders' Awards for 2021.


1. The business resilience award

Winner: all founders

This one goes to you all. Really. Having survived in 2020, so many founders started 2021 full of optimism and looking to thrive. Vaccines had landed and we were looking forward to the great unlocking and life returning to normality. It almost came true. Or it came true in a measured way for a short while. Then a new variant came and we took a step back. Another round of boosters later and we may yet break free in 2022. Throughout the year (as in 2020) business founders across lots of sectors have shown remarkable agility and resilience, born out of what the authors of a new book call “radical adaptability”. For some in the entertainment and hospitality sector, the cruel timing of Omicron’s arrival may be a blow too far. And with government coffers looking a little bare, it will again require founders to dig deep into their ingenuity and adaptability to save the day.


2. The space race award

Winner: Jeff Bezos

2021 was peppered with news stories about the part-heroic, part-ludicrous business billionaires throwing bold new shapes as they raced one another into the final frontier. Branson got there first, and Musk has a noble mission to get people to Mars. But the award goes to Bezos, because he used his ever-so-phallic Blue Origin rocket to take Captain Kirk into space. There is something tragic about grown men playing like this their latest rich-kid toys – Prince William hit the nail on the head when he suggested the energies, brains and resources might be better spent on solving problems here on earth. Yet, these new adventurer philanthropists are the heroic archetypes we have created for ourselves and, who knows, all these space games may yet deliver a breakthrough towards solving the earth’s major problems.


3. The climate award

Winner: Geoff Van Sonsbeeck, co-founder and CEO House of Baukjen

In the end, plenty of time, energy, brains and resources were thrown at the climate crisis in 2021, via the two weeks that briefly made Glasgow the centre of the world. Cop 26 was, in the words of Supper Club member and CEO of sustainable fashion brand House of Baukjen, Geoff van Sonsbeeck, “set-up to fail, with expectations that were beyond what could be achieved.”

It was tempting to award this one to a visiting dignitary such as Al Gore, whose opening remarks included a great line on how "the sustainability revolution will be of the magnitude of the industrial revolution, but the speed of the digital revolution”. Or we could have selected Mark Carney, whose ability to wrangle big money owners into joining his GFANZ project may yet have a powerful impact. But Van Sonsbeeck was at Cop26 to collect a UN Global Climate Award and if it's good enough for the UN, who are we to argue? And he remains positively upbeat that it will be founders of private businesses and their capital that will ultimately fix the climate crisis, not governments, regulators or policy wonks.


4. The keeping it unreal award

Winner: Mark Zuckerberg

In the week before Cop kicked off, Facebook’s awkward billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg made a big virtual splash, as he rebranded Facebook as Meta. Overnight, he took the concept of the metaverse from an obscure term used by sci-fi geeks and tech nerds, to one the world and its grandmother was comfortable with. Less comfortable was the presentation itself, which featured the most toe-curling exchange of the year, as former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg “dropped in” on his new boss to share some killer banter about his metaverse. “It’s such visionary stuff,” said Clegg, with the all the sincerity of a Boris Johnson apology. Zuckerberg may be hoping he can hide a hatful of recent bad publicity in the metaverse, but nevertheless it got lots of people talking about things that need to be talked about. As various metaverses spring up, the world continues to go crazy for virtual items, including digital artworks and clothes for their avatars. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) was one dictionary’s word of the year, and while it leaves me colder than a bitcoin in the snow, the money just keeps heading in that direction.


5. The sports and money award

Winner: Emma Raducanu

Back in the world of conventional media, over 31 million people in the UK watched the Euro 2020 Final on TV on a wet Sunday evening in late June. An advertisers’ dream, it was the highest viewing figure for a televised event since Charles and Di’s wedding. If, like the marriage that followed the wedding, there was a certain sad inevitability about the eventual outcome, it was uplifting to see Gareth Southgate’s young and diverse team get that far. And, after the shabby and shameless attempted money grab fiasco of the failed European Super League, the tournament was refreshingly enjoyable. A minor cleansing of football’s soiled and corrupt soul.

But the award goes to an event at the other end of the summer, as young tennis sensation Emma Raducanu sailed through the entire US Open tournament without dropping a set. In winning, she smashed all kinds of records, and - following a slightly grubby exchange where a sponsor highlighted the amount of her winnings as she handed over the cheque – Raducanu then set about breaking records for media coverage, global endorsements and predicted lifetime earnings. Not technically a founder, but surely a worthy winner all the same.


6. The no one can agree the catchphrase award

Winner: The Great Resignation (AKA the Great Resign; the Big Quit; The Workplace Exodus)

It’s clear that people left the jobs during 2021 like never before, and did so all over the world. Some jumped to new roles for more cash, some opted for a better life-work balance and headed to a new location. Many left the workforce completely. In the UK mass departures from the market were driven by Brexit and by a post-pandemic re-evaluation of lifestyle. Everyone agreed it was a phenomenon, but no-one could settle on a name. On the upside, there has been a new boom in entrepreneurship, as more people get their founder vibe on. It’s not great for those already established businesses looking to hire talent (with unemployment at record lows and vacancies at record highs, there are huge inflationary pressures), but there are always upsides in more people taking the leap to start and grow a business.


7. The local business award

Winner: Local petrol station owners

This is meant to be an upbeat end to the year. So we needed to find a positive from the supply chain and logistics crisis that has caused shortages and pain across the economy. Many founders have had to fight like crazy, paying through the nose for stuff that last year was cheap and easy to get. When the fuel crisis struck – which was a temporary, but highly visible aspect of this supply chain crisis – like many people I rediscovered a smaller, local petrol station I had previously ignored. The crisis showed the value of this network of local community suppliers. Not all local station owners acted the same way, but this award goes to the good ones, the small local petrol station owners stayed up late and worked so hard to provide a service helping out those of us yet to switch to an electric car as we managed our new-found range anxiety.