Q&A: Championing Black-owned businesses in partnership with the Black Equity Organisation

Thursday 25 April 2024

Black entrepreneurs continue to face significant barriers that can hinder their success. Research by Extend Ventures showed that between 2009 and 2019, only 0.24% of capital in the UK was allocated to Black founders with just 0.02% to Black female entrepreneurs.

Since 2022, Sky has worked with the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) to tackle inequalities in funding for Black entrepreneurs and support them to grow and develop their businesses. Through the Future 100 Growth Fund, the partnership provides a tailored 12-week workshop and mentoring programme, investment of up to £15,000, and 12-months free Sky Business broadband and phone package, as well as expert business advice. So far, 54% of businesses supported by the Fund are female led.

Claudia Osei-Nsafoah, Sky’s Chief People Officer, Group Talent and D&I speaks to two women-led businesses, Mama Dolce and Philly & Friends, that have been supported by the Fund.

Claudia Osei-Nsafoah: Could you share the story behind why you created your business and what unique gap or need it addresses in the market?

Jane Visram, Founder, Mama Dolce: The genesis of Mama Dolce rather selfishly was my experience of a short-term dairy allergy. I really struggled to conveniently find anything that was indulgent and kind on my stomach. Most of the desserts I could lay my hands on that were free-from did not fit the bill for me and with 44% of British adults who now who suffer with at least one allergy, it seemed that this was a problem I could solve for many more people.

Vese Aghoghovbia, Founder, Philly & Friends: Becoming a parent in 2017 opened my eyes to the inequality in play. At the time, only 1% of children's books featured a Black main character. Seeing the hard stats ignited my fire to seek a different life for my little girl. I believe you have to be the change you want to see, so I launched Philly & Friends to make a difference.
I only wanted to write a 'love letter' to my little girl to let her know she's special and give her the gift of representation. So, I wrote Who Do I See in the Mirror? What I didn't realise was that I was writing a love letter to many children around the world and creating a brand they would eventually fall in love with.
What started as an idea for a simple children's book based on Philly, my daughter's nickname, has grown into a much-loved children's brand with giving-back embedded in our DNA and multiple awards under our belt.

Claudia: Jane, you mention being inspired by "wholesome, high-quality ingredients." Can you elaborate on your journey to create an ice cream brand focused on these values? 

Jane: Absolutely, I was keen to create a free-from brand that prioritised the comfort of those with allergies. We made thoughtful and conscious decisions about our ingredients and process to give consumers confidence in free-from desserts and create a new category for premium, free-from, plant-based desserts.

Claudia: From your perspective, what distinct advantages does the Future 100 Growth Fund offer to Black female entrepreneurs? 

Jane: Visibility. The opportunity to pitch and network has been invaluable. Sky and BEO have not only provided funding but tangible opportunities for me and my business to be seen.

Vese: The F100 Growth Fund empowers Black women to lead and offers Black female entrepreneurs visibility, access, and funding. Black women are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions and entrepreneurial spaces.  The F100 Growth Fund actively addresses this by showcasing success stories. The programme champions Black female founders, providing a platform for their voices to be heard and their achievements to be celebrated. This inspires young girls and aspiring entrepreneurs to see themselves reflected in leadership roles. Additionally, securing funding remains a significant hurdle for Black women seeking to scale their businesses.  The F100 Growth Fund provides critical early-stage funding to inject capital into businesses and fuel growth.

Claudia: Since receiving support from the Future 100 Growth Fund, could you describe any significant changes in your business operations or strategy?

Jane: We have secured business through a second listing with an international foodservice distributor. We will be able to service these orders partly through the funding we have received.

Vese: The Future 100 Growth Fund's support has been instrumental in driving significant changes at Philly & Friends, particularly in our supply chain efficiency. The Supplier Readiness workshop provided practical tools and insights that allowed us to completely revamp our inventory management processes. This resulted in stronger supplier relationships. We've built more collaborative partnerships with our suppliers, fostering better communication, and ensuring reliable service. We also achieved cost optimisation. By re-evaluating supplier costs, we've achieved a remarkable 65% reduction in manufacturing costs, directly impacting our product pricing and overall profitability. We've implemented a two-supplier minimum policy, mitigating risks associated with disruptions and ensuring we can meet customer demand.

Claudia: What new opportunities have you been able to seize with the support of the fund that were previously out of reach? 

Jane: Thanks to the funding we will be able to complete some new product development we are currently engaged in as well as servicing larger orders this year. We have also been able to hire someone to do our marketing. We knew that marketing was essential to business success but we just couldn’t find the hours in the day, so being able to have an expert looking after it has been transformational.

Vese: Previously, I wore many hats. The Fund allowed us to hire talented individuals to manage social media, community engagement, and business development outreach. Being able to delegate these tasks frees me up to focus on strategic partnerships, cultivating long-term partnerships with key industry players to expand our market reach, and amplify our impact.

Claudia: Based on your experience, what advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs considering applying to the Future 100 Growth Fund or similar programmes? 

Jane: I’d highly recommend this programme. I have been able to make great connections through entrepreneurs and the programme, I have been able to make connections that would not have been accessible before the programme.

Vese: The F100 Growth Fund was a game-changer for Philly & Friends. From the very beginning, it was clear the focus was on empowering Black businesses to thrive. It wasn't just about funding – they provided a comprehensive support system designed to propel growth. This programme goes beyond financial support – it equips you with the tools and network to succeed. I learned strategic marketing techniques and honed my leadership skills which have been invaluable for Philly & Friends' growth. I'd encourage you to apply to the Future 100 Growth Fund, your business will thank you.

Claudia: What are your long-term goals for your business? What are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges you see in your niche for entrepreneurs in the coming years?

Jane: Continue to grow Mama Dolce as a brand that is synonymous with premium free-from dessert. One of the challenges is continuing to scale in a manageable way that allows our ice cream to be accessed conveniently.The opportunities lie in partnerships and new product development. We already differentiate on flavour. We have created unique award-winning combinations such as Banana & Lime and Coconilla, we offer indulgence without repercussions.With the rise of Natasha’s Law, we continue to prioritise having no precautionary labelling, this innovation addresses the needs of not only those with dietary restrictions but also flexitarians who choose health over necessity.

Vese: Our aim is to create a thriving community of parents, educators, and caregivers who share a passion for promoting diversity in children's play and are committed to raising inclusive and culturally aware kids through the power of play. We aspire to see our products stocked in homes worldwide and integrated into educational systems to teach children about identity, cultural differences, and the value of diversity.

Claudia: Jane, how do you plan to differentiate your brand and maintain sustainable growth with increasing competition in the plant-based ice cream market?

Jane: We will continue to create a very clear message with our brand. Mama Dolce is about offering delicious, safe, and inclusive dessert options to everyone, regardless of dietary restrictions. By aligning with the movement towards sustainable food choices, Mama Dolce continues to redefine the perception of free-from ice creams and establishes a strong presence in the market. We embody innovation, inclusivity, and indulgence, making luxurious ice cream accessible to all.

Claudia: And Vese, as the toy industry evolves, what innovative strategies do you plan to implement to stay ahead of the curve and continue to foster a strong sense of community?

Vese: At Philly & Friends, we understand that the toy industry is constantly evolving. To foster a strong sense of community, we aim to focus on trend spotting and community-driven ideation to identify emerging trends in play patterns, educational needs, and technological advancements. This will allow us to develop toys that resonate with children and integrate innovative features for a richer play experience.

Claudia: Finally, what advice would you give to female entrepreneurs?

Jane: Your self-worth should never be determined by the rooms you walk into. I have had the business for three years. There are things I couldn’t do at the beginning that I can do now, but that doesn’t mean I was any less valuable then. You must know your inherent value; other people haven’t lived your experience, so they don’t know what you’re bringing.

Vese: Just start. There are no bad ideas and everything leads to something. Even if you start a business and it closes, everything is a lesson for something else to come. Whatever you do brings value. Even if you make one person smile, that’s a good thing and that is adding value to the world.