Meet the entrepreneurs backed by the Barclays Black Founder Accelerator
Since its launch in 2020, the Barclays Black Founder Accelerator has supported more than 100 business owners across the UK. Five innovative entrepreneurs from the latest cohort discuss the highlights of their experience.
When I found out that I’d been accepted, I was over the moon.
Founder and CEO, Veriom
“Ecstatic.” “Shocked.” “Excited.” These are a few of the words used by entrepreneurs to describe how they felt when they were selected to take part in Barclays’ Black Founder Accelerator programme.
“When I found out that I’d been accepted, I was over the moon,” says Nuria Manuel, Founder and CEO of Veriom – a platform that recognises software risks and improvements using machine learning. “It really got me excited about where the business was likely to go.”
Between 2009 and 2019, less than 0.25% of UK venture capital went to Black founders – and it is estimated that just 3% of venture capital firms’ UK staff is of Black origin. Launched in partnership with social enterprise Foundervine in 2020, the Black Founder Accelerator was set up to support early-stage tech businesses, founded by Black entrepreneurs who are facing these barriers to growth. The 12-week programme offers masterclasses, one-to-one mentoring and tools designed to help founders scale their companies – with the aim of championing diversity in business.
Now approaching its third year, the accelerator continues to support founders in the technology sector. Natalie Ojevah MBE, Eagle Labs Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Barclays UK, who led the programme’s launch, explains how the Black Founder Accelerator has grown since its early days: “In 2020 we got 201 applications, the following year we received 341, and this year we received 409. It just shows that people need programmes like this.”
Manuel was one of several founders to apply and be accepted onto the 2022 accelerator. “For the longest time, especially because I’m a solo founder, I felt like I was alone in this process,” she says. “I had to find communities or put myself in spaces – and, finally, there was a space that opened its doors to me.”
Like Manuel, Hellen Chiuriri was part of the 2022 cohort. Her company, Allergi-lert – a digital platform which enables parents and caregivers to better communicate allergy care information – was inspired by her own child’s experiences with allergies.
While she had the knowledge and vision to design what her solution would look like, Chiuriri says she “didn’t have the right business acumen behind me in terms of how I would push it forward”.
This is where the Black Founder Accelerator came in. “I didn’t know accelerators like that existed,” she admits. “I applied and that’s how the journey started.”
It’s through a combination of expert-led masterclasses, dedicated Barclays champions and mentors, and access to networking events, that Chiuriri and the other founders in her cohort have been given the tools to help take their business to the next level.
Foundervine CEO Izzy Obeng, who helped bring the programme to fruition, says the accelerator exists to “remove the guesswork from scaling a business, and supports founders in learning what it takes to build a global business from day one”.
But, what has been the highlight of the experience for the entrepreneurs? For Yasin Alimam – Founder and CEO of HotPatch, a platform that allows people to rent space on demand across a number of sectors, and helps business owners monetise underutilised space – the masterclasses have been the highlight of the experience. “They’ve all provided the chance to interact and discuss,” he says, explaining that he was particularly enlightened by the range of classes, from supply chains to social media. “Everything has been fantastic.”
Meanwhile Kevin Helton, Founder of LOT SIX, a collaboration tool and financial marketplace that enables artists and brands to finance projects through strategic partnerships, says that he was most excited about the programme’s networking opportunities.
“Our business is based on collaboration and the communal sharing of resources – and ultimately bringing society together in real and relevant ways,” he explains. “Eagle Labs and the Black Founder Accelerator programme have given us a unique opportunity to engage with other founders and build meaningful relationships across the Barclays network.”
The programme culminates in a Demo Day, where some of the founders in the cohort are invited to pitch their businesses to an audience of industry professionals and potential investors.
As the accelerator was first launched in the early days of the pandemic, 2022 marked the first time that the event was held in person, at Barclays’ head office in London, UK. Ojevah is enthusiastic about the joy of seeing “the fruits of her labour” come to life: “I think there is a power in face-to-face networking and face-to-face events that you can’t replicate. You really felt that energy at the Demo Day,” she says.
And while the Black Founder Accelerator 3.0 has come to an end, its participants are keen to encourage those who have their sights set on taking part in 2023. “To anyone considering applying to the programme, I would say apply, apply, apply. The wealth of information that you will gain is vast,” says Chiuriri.
“To have organisations such as Barclays and Foundervine backing you and wanting the best for your business, and just that knowledge that they have selected you, as a business, to go forward – it almost feels like some of the barriers have been removed and doors have been opened.”
I would definitely encourage people to do it – you've got nothing to lose, and you've got so much to gain as a result.
CEO of Pomi and Seeds
Tukiya Mutupa, CEO of the sustainable and ethical lingerie brand Pomi and Seeds, agrees, telling entrepreneurs to be “committed to having that faith in yourself” when they apply.
“I sometimes think that imposter syndrome can prevent people from applying because they are not where they want to be yet – but that’s the journey of the founder,” she says. “I would definitely encourage people to do it. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you’ve got so much to gain as a result.”
Looking ahead, Obeng points to the exciting plans the team has in the works. “In 2023, Foundervine and Eagle Labs will be investing in increasing access to networks, advice and knowledge that help founders scale. We want the accelerator to be a natural option for all talented founders building breakthrough innovations that can transform our economies.”
“This year, we’ll strengthen the work that we’re doing for Black founders to help level the playing field,” adds Ojevah. “One thing that I can say is that we are just going to get bigger and better.”