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20 under 20: European Gen Z founders turn their passion into profit during the pandemic

20 under 20: New research reveals that almost half of young people aged 16-25 in the UK have changed their career plans since the lockdown started. More than half find the concept of launching their own business appealing.

22% of those who have started, or are considering starting their own business, have come across a problem during lockdown that makes them want to start their own business. In addition, 41% claim that “feeling passionate about their business” is a key driver for their ambition.

The research comes from YouGov and TransferWise, which prompted the latter to launch the 20 Under 20 competition in 2018 to support young business leaders on their journey. Read on to learn more about the 2020 cohort of 20 Under 20.


  • 22% of 16-25 year olds that have started, or are considering starting, their own business, identified a unique problem during lockdown that inspired a business

  • 41% of those aged 16-25 consider their business plans ?passion projects?, claiming “feeling passionate about their business” is the reason they chose, or are choosing, to launch their business

  • TransferWise’s 20 Under 20 competition identifies the top young entrepreneurs across Europe, who have worked through the pandemic to launch and grow

About the 20 Under 20 competition

A high-profile panel of leading entrepreneurs, investors and advisors chose the 20 winners. Each entrepreneur will receive tailored mentoring and £1 million worth of fee-free transfers to take their business global.

Overall, the competition saw an increase of 300% in applicants from last year. Almost 50% of applicants are female founders and 66% of applicants from minority backgrounds.

Looking to build a green and inclusive future, sustainability and social entrepreneurship emerge as the key themes among these young businesses.

From the 20 finalists, the 20 Under 20 competition chairman and co-founder of TransferWise, Taavet Hinrikus, chose two overall winners who receive £12,500 prize money each for their business:

  • John McElhone (19) from Northern Ireland, co-founder of CropSafe. Today, farmers lose £400bn every year due to farmland mismanagement. John and his team empower farmers across the globe with the data to make better informed decisions. By evaluating millions of weather and agricultural data points and sending actionable real-time alerts to the user’s app, CropSafe seeks to innovate 21 century farming.

  • Henri Pihelgas (18) from Estonia, co-founder of DeepPeat. What started as research for a school paper regarding sea contamination, Henri has built a startup looking to clean the oceans from oil spills in a new efficient and sustainable way. DeepPeat produces reusable and eco-friendly peat-based mats which absorb 5-10 times more oil than current solutions and offer to repurpose the collected oil.

The young founders join the two previous winners Rose Dyson (2018), founder of cruelty-free beauty company Pura Cosmetics and Aime Clint (2019), founder of Books by Stellas, a social enterprise breaking stigma and raising awareness of Autism.

“The global pandemic and climate crisis have only accelerated the younger generation’s ambitions to find solutions for the most pressing problems that humankind face,” TransferWise chairman and co-founder Taavet Hinrikus said. “Both winners, John and Henri, are committed to making the world a better place and I believe their businesses can have a global impact.”

?Growing a business globally needs a ton of support and it can be tough for young founders to find the right people to lean on. To help the bright young talent on their journey scaling up, we are offering them practical mentoring, as well as creating an international network of like-minded innovators – a strong supporting network being one of the most valuable parts of the entrepreneurial life. I?m really excited about what lies ahead for all of our 20 finalists.

?”Winning the TransferWise 20 Under 20 has been a huge shock and an opportunity that I can see opening many doors for the future of CropSafe,” John McElhone, co-founder of CropSafe said. “With the prize money and mentorship, we are able to push forward with our plans to to roll-out our product globally to the users who need it most. TransferWise has made this possible for us with their support, and with our amazing team at CropSafe, I’m looking forward to what the future holds for us as a global business.”

?Participating in the competition and being chosen one of the finalists was a milestone for me. It shows that I?m working on the right thing and it inspires me to contribute even more to my company,” Henri Pihelgas, co-founder of DeepPeat said. “I?m also hoping this will inspire all teens to be more entrepreneurial and to dream big. Because you never know when these kinds of amazing opportunities come along. The prize money gives us the opportunity to further develop our product and start proper production.

The judges

  • Eva Maydell, member of the European Parliament

  • Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist

  • Roxanne Varza, director of STATION F and co-founder of StarHer and

  • Nico Rosberg, F1 World Champion and sustainability sntrepreneur

  • Amit Gudka, chief energy officer and co-founder of Bulb

  • Niklas Zennstr?m, co-founder of Skype and CEO and founding partner of Atomico

  • Bal?zs Vinnai, chairman of W.UP and co-founder of Codecool

  • Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder and chairman of TransferWise

  • Aime Clint, founder of Books by Stellas CIC and winner of the TransferWise 20 Under 20 2019

20 Under 20 in alphabetical order

1. :flag-tr: Arya Yurdacan, Entella

Sea waste collector

2. :uk:Ayush Sanghavi, Ayush apps

App development, Veggie Alternatives app

3. :flag-it: Chunxi (Derick) GUAN, Thinkers

Sustainable development through design thinking

4. :uk: Dandre Jones, Sadje Entertainment

Brain training mobile gaming creative media agency

5. :uk: Danielle Okine (and co-founder Princess Nwafor), the RACE network

Platform to open up the dialogue of race and culture

6. :flag-ee: Henri Pihelgas, DeepPeat

Peat-based oil collection mats

7. :de: Jannis Dust, epap

Digital receipts

8. :uk: Joana Baptista, She.

Children’s picture books reversing social prejudice

9. :flag-ie: John McElhone, CropSafe

App to create alerts for farm work

10. :de: Jonas Sander, Sharezone

Innovating internal communication in schools

11. :uk: Co-founders Katherine Terence and Shrey Parmar, MedApply

Video courses to help teens get into medical school

12. :flag-ee: Kevad Belle Saarepera (and co-founder Anna Kriger), Not Your Average

Superfood coffee and premium superfoods

13. :uk: Kirija Kandiah, Nebula

Educative fun books for kids

14. :flag-ee: Marilin Berg, M?nt

Zero-waste toothpaste tablets

15. :flag-hu:” Melinda Szegedi, e-F’sli

Smart compress-bandage

16. :uk: Michael E. Bryan, Lugo

Parkinson’s diagnosis app

17. :flag-ee: Mihkel Annus, Plyke

Revolutionising eco-friendly production, starting with friendly-sounding bicycle bell

18. :uk: Mohammad Karim, MMK Public Speaking

Public speaking trainer

19. :flag-nl: Stein Bongers, Snapput

Affordable homework tutoring videos

20. :flag-ee: Vladislav Virtonen, Edukoht

Coding courses for teenagers



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