Founders Unite: Meet Foundervine – supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs
Virgin Unite launched the Founders Unite Award at the end of 2022 to find organisations working to tackle the systemic barriers facing entrepreneurs from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities. Virgin Unite has since announced the three finalists for the award, who will present their ideas at a roundtable event later this month.
One of the finalists is Foundervine, which works to support founders from underrepresented communities. We caught up with CEO Izzy Obeng, COO Cecil Adjalo, and Head of Programmes and Community Indie Gordon to find out more.
Tell us about Foundervine.
Foundervine was set up in 2018 to respond to what we saw as a real challenge with a lock of diversity and inclusion within the start-up ecosystem at the time. We were attending networking events and not seeing enough people who looked like the rest of London on these panels. We had founders approaching us who had a lot of challenges accessing the networks, training and resources that they needed to grow successful businesses. So we set up Foundervine as that first friend if you have an idea but don’t know where to start, and also to support growing businesses with what they need to scale.
Now we work with industry, and we work with the government to build programmes and initiatives designed to help more founders start and scale.
The founders we work with might be first or second generation immigrants, they don’t have lots of wealth behind them – but they have brilliant ideas. And unfortunately where founders who have wealth and backing can afford to spend time on something that potentially might not work out, founders from underrepresented communities don’t have that luxury. So we exist almost like a cushion for them to be able to pursue opportunities by providing those to them.
How are you supporting underrepresented founders?
We deliver a host of activities from accelerator programmes to standalone networking opportunities. And we also offer things such as office space to help our founders.
When we think about the underrepresented, the underserved it’s in everything we do. For example, our Barclays accelerator programme caters to Black founders, but our Lloyds immersed programme supports everyone and anyone who doesn’t have access to the tools and resources they need to be able to develop their business.
For us, it’s not just about the overall programme – it’s about the long term support as well. Our Foundervine community is by far one of the biggest things that allows us to stand out and create lasting relationships. And within that community it’s about offering peer-to-peer support and mentorship, not just from founders but from relatable role models in terms of expert industry leaders.
The advocacy work we do has such a major impact as well. Some of the stuff we’ve done over the last few years is phenomenal. We’ve spent time in Parliament and at Number 10 advocating for those that want to develop and grow but don’t necessarily have the voice or the space to do so. Us being able to be in these spaces and have a voice within them to create change is such an important thing.
Why do you think it’s important to support underrepresented founders?
We often talk about the challenges that exist and looking at the numbers, you just can’t help but find them really disappointing when it comes to opportunities for founders who come from overlooked communities who are running businesses in sectors that are under invested and undersupported. We now that less than 2% of venture capital funding goes to all female founder teams. After everything that we’ve been through – all the reporting, all the data that exists – we’re still facing challenges with women getting to the table and finding the support that they need to access the right investment. And when it comes to Black founders, research shows that in the 10 year period between 2009 and 2019, only 38 Black business received venture capital funding. The statistics are dire.
Plus, without the support we’re giving to underrepresented founders, the whole population misses out on innovation. We work with founders who have amazing innovative new products and they’re getting on the shelves in the biggest supermarkets in the UK thanks to our programmes. These are products that don’t currently exist and they offer variety for everyone. So if we don’t exist to do this, or if someone isn’t handling this then we lose out on that innovation, we lose out on new products.
Why have you entered the Founders Unite Award?
We really appreciate the mission of Virgin Unite with this award and what it is trying to do.
Back in 2020, a lot of organisations were thinking about how they responded to the Black Lives Matter movement. And a lot were doing quite tokenistic gestures. I think what we appreciate about the work the Virgin Unite is doing is that it’s genuine and it’s an opportunity to build real relationship with organisations doing the work on the ground and support growth.
Working with Virgin is an opportunity for us to reach more community spaces that we haven’t been able to reach yet. There is so much learning for us and there are so many things that we want to create and embed so that we can create that community feel. We want to help founders develop businesses in local communities, empower people and turn them into their own ambassadors where they can do great work in their communities. We recognise that in our steady growth over the last five years there’s still so much to learn. And to be able to learn from an organisation that has done so much and has such a powerful impact would just be a really important opportunity for us.
The Founders Unite roundtable event will take place during April 2023, where the winner will be selected by attendees, including Holly Branson and Karl Lokko. The winning organisation will receive a package of support from Virgin Unite to help further their work in levelling the odds for Black, Asian and other minority ethnic entrepreneurs.