Inspirational founders remain the key to boosting ethnic representation in UK business leadership

Richard Bearman is the Managing Director of Start Up Loans, a government-backed programme, that launched in 2012 to provide loans to new and early-stage businesses throughout the UK that may have struggled to access finance (up to £25k) elsewhere

Ethnic representation in UK business leadership

UK Black Business Week is a key platform moment each year, when established and aspiring Black leaders within business community convene to connect with and inspire others. At Start Up Loans we have a proud history of championing Black business owners since our formation in 2012, just like we do in supporting other under-represented demographics and ethnicities. 

Since 2012, 9% of our loans have gone to Black founders and start up owners. In monetary terms that represents more than £73 million.  

We continue to partner with a number of our Black loan recipients who can inspire others thinking of starting an enterprise to take the leap into business ownership. One great example is Vese Aghoghovbia from Philly & Friends, she is inspiring because she has been selected as one of the Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch by NatWest & The Telegraph and was the winner of the 2021 Consumer & Luxury Rising Star of the Year award by Black British Business Awards. 

Vese will be speaking about her business journey at an event to celebrate the appointment of 12 new Start Up Loans Ambassadors (these are inspiring start up business owners from every part of the UK) in October. 

But it’s not just at these events that the experiences of Black business owners can inspire others across the UK. I’d like to highlight here two fantastic stories of entrepreneurs who have been helped by our programme that show just what can be achieved.

The first is Bolu Fagborun, a 37-year-old former professional rugby league player for Huddersfield Giants. He co-founded Fagborun Limited in summer 2022 after attending a business event where the British Business Bank spoke about finance options. He and his business partner, Craig Heravi, founded the business in BD5, one of Bradford’s most deprived postcodes, and have since taken on three staff members from the local job centre to drive vans for Fagborun Limited. 

The business makes deliveries on behalf of companies and also fulfils contracts with larger courier services like Evri and DPD. They received a £15,000 loan in April 2023 and used it to put deposits down on four vans, allowing them to expand, complete more deliveries and hire new drivers. 

Bolu told us, “Not enough ethnic minorities take out these loans. There are so many talented Black entrepreneurs out there who might be put off by the lack of available financing when all they need to grow and succeed is the capital. Putting Fagborun Limited in the spotlight will hopefully provide other people will the proof they need that they too can access the finance they need to set up their own business. As well as lending money, Start Up Loans helped me come up with a really solid business plan, which is just as crucial to success. My advice to other aspiring business owners would be to give it a go; if you don’t try you’ll never know!”

Next is Tolani Agoro, a 31-year-old from London who founded Chapman’s of London which sells non-alcoholic rum punch from Nigeria. Tolani created the recipe and sourced all ingredients herself. The business soft launched in August 2023 and September will be its first month of full-scale production. It is available direct to consumer and also through retailers currently including Somerset House until the end of September 2023. 

Tolani’s loan of £16,500 was primarily used to order ingredients, as well as for staff support. Her goal is for her non-alcoholic rum punch to go international and to see it stocked on the shelves in high-end retailers like Selfridges or Harrods.

Tolani said, “I love my heritage and I love fruity, sweet drinks, which led me to creating Chapman’s of London. I spent the end of last year designing the concept and then have spent this year working on the recipe, sourcing ingredients and marketing ready for the launch. My dream would be for it to be available in more than one country, to see it in the US or Nigeria would be amazing. I encourage anyone else thinking of going after their dream to go for it – and don’t let the small hiccups get in your way.”

If we want to see more Black business founders and leaders in the UK, we need to do more to give platforms to Black individuals who have the power to inspire others. Individuals like Bolu and Tolani are fantastic representatives of how becoming your own boss can be an exciting journey to embark upon and have direct economic impact in local communities through job creation. Meanwhile at Start Up Loans, we remain as committed as ever to enabling inspirational individuals who want to start a business to do so, no matter who they are or where in the UK they call home.  

Richard Bearman
Richard Bearman

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