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30.10.20

Black History Month: Young, Black, British and running a business

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October is Black History Month in the UK, an annual event to challenge racism and celebrate the achievements of generations of Black British people across the world and in the UK.  

The initiative has been running for over 30 years, but in 2020 has taken on a particular importance as the global Black lives matter protests have shone a light on structural barriers facing Black people in the UK – a country where less than 1% of businesses are Black-owned, despite Black people making up more than 3% of the population. 

To find out what it means to be a young Black British entrepreneur in 2020, we spoke to Natasha, Jane and Antoinette – three young entrepreneurs receiving support from UK-based enterprise incubator, Hatch, through YBI’s COVID-19 Rapid Response and Recovery programme funded by Google.org. 

 Natasha Evita, show host of Talks with Tash podcast 

26-year-old journalist Natasha started her podcast, Talks with Tash, earlier this year. She now plans to start her own production company. 

Jane Visram, CEO of ice cream brand Mama Dolce 

Full-time lawyer Jane is also the  founder of Mama Dolce, a luxury free-from ice cream brand with a social conscience. 

Antoinette Ale, Founder of Haircrush 

26-year-old Antoinette is the Founder of Haircrush, a hair care platform for Black women. She also runs Haircrush Pro, a platform to empower Black hair stylists to build successful businesses. 

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): I think it's the one time where Black Brits get to educate one another and educate others about what Black history means. It's not only about being a Black British citizen – it’s also about what it means to be Black, whether that’s Black African, Black Caribbean or mixed race. It’s a chance for us to immerse ourselves in our history and of the pioneers that made it possible for other Black British people to express themselves in this country. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): When I was growing up, Black History Month didn’t really feel like a month. It might have been just one or two lessons about one or two key individuals that may not necessarily even have been British – so I think it's come on leaps and bounds. I think it's vital in terms of representation, for future generations to actually see themselves celebrated as part of British society. 

Antoinette (Haircrush): I think it gives an opportunity to get your message heard a lot clearer and push certain agendas forward. Haircrush runs campaigns to educate our partners and suppliers during Black History Month, because we know they’ll have much more coverage than at other times of the year. This year, for example, we’ve really focused on educating our partners about the importance of Black history and about white privilege and what racial justice actually means. 

Natasha Evita, show host of Talks with Tash podcast.

What is the elevator pitch for your business? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): Talks with Tash is where we have great conversations to empower others to hold space for themselves. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): Mama Dolce is a luxury free-from ice cream brand with a social conscience. We have six fantastic flavours that range from the traditional to the more unique and modern. They don't compromise on taste and they're free from dairy, eggs, nuts, gluten, soy, and wheat and we dare you to be able to tell the difference!

Antoinette (Haircrush): Haircrush is the hair care platform for Black women. We share healthy hair care tips, styling inspiration and latest trends. 

Tell us a bit more about your business. 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): In the podcast, we have authentic conversations where we laugh, learn and heal together. I speak to amazing people that are already doing well in their industries, who are already taking up space and are willing to educate others as well. I started it in lockdown in June by launching an episode a week and marketing it on social media. I've been getting around a hundred listener downloads a month and getting a lot of followers. People are resonating with the content, which makes me feel like I'm on the right track. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): What we’re hoping to do with Mama Dolce is make sure that free-from ice cream is really delicious. I think there’s often a misconception that free-from food is just functional. The whole idea behind our product development is that our ice cream is synonymous with the word ‘luxury’ and that people enjoy eating it, so I’m hoping to break the mould when it comes to free-from food. You can't buy it officially yet, but in the next four weeks you'll be able to buy it online. Hopefully, we will be in a major retailer near you in 2021!

Antoinette (Haircrush): At Haircrush, we focus on sharing content that helps women take care of their hair better. We share product reviews, recommendations for hairstylists and information that's not easily accessible to Black women. In mainstream blogs, mainstream media and mainstream publications, there's a lot of hair content, but none of it is focused on curly or coily types, or Black hairstyles like braids and wigs and weaves. We also have a separate network, Haircrush Pro, which empowers Black hairstylists to give them the business tools that they need. A lot of Black hairstylists are self-taught and work from home studios, so we help them to structure themselves as self-employed stylists with training and resources and other forms of support. 

Tell us about your personal journey to becoming a founder, and how you started your business. 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): I've always been quite chatty, but when you get into the working world, you have to tone it down! Friends of mine kept telling me I should start my own podcast because I’m good at having conversations with people and making them feel empowered. So when I went on holiday to Uganda last year, I started writing content for the podcast. I thought: “What can I lose? Let me just try it. If it doesn't work, I'll just let it go.” But once I started, I realised I have been called to do this. It might be my God-given purpose. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): I think it was more of a happy accident. Over the course of several years, I've suffered with a number of intolerances. Going out to restaurants with friends and family, it was quite difficult to find a nice dessert. Most of the time, what was on offer was very limited which more often than not resulted in me having a fruit salad for dessert, which is great, but not necessarily very exciting! So I was really tired of not having any choice available, and decided to take matters into my own hands which is why I started making ice cream in my kitchen. And from there, I plucked up the courage to start speaking to various industry experts and restaurants, and realised that there was quite a bit of traction in the idea I'd come up with. Now, we’ve found a fantastic factory working with great people who are helping us to wholesale our product. 

Antoinette (Haircrush): It came quite organically. I didn't think I want to be a hairstylist, but I picked up a lot from being around my aunt's salon. When I was at uni, I realised I could make extra money from it because there were no stylists that did Black hair, so other women were coming to me to get their hair done. And I felt like I was always getting asked questions: “How do I do this?” and “How do I do that?” There wasn't a platform I felt was readily sharing information that Black women could use to help them build healthy hair routines. So that's how Haircrush was formed. And it completely took off when it started, because it was the only platform that was there.  

Tell us about the support you received. How has it helped you? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): Hatch put me in touch with a lady who works at Google who’s now mentoring me. She’s got lots of experience and actually has her own podcast. We catch up once a month to talk about my goals, and she’s my accountability partner as well. She gave me the idea to start a production company – I actually had the idea in my head, but I sort of left it lingering. But she’s been encouraging me and helping me define my purpose, mission and pitch. She was also able to connect me with some of the people already in the industry that I don't have access to, which is really, really helpful. She also sent me some links to different Google programs. So it's been a massive help. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): My Google contact’s person’s background is in intellectual property law, which is a very specialised area that would be helpful in the first instance, but they also have expertise in business as well. That level of experience is priceless, really, so it’ll be great to be able to pick up tips and tricks as we go forward in our relationship. 

Antoinette (Haircrush): I have had support from a mentor who was amazing and really, really took the time to understand how Haircrush operated. She asked loads of really good questions about what I was currently doing, how I was managing, the opportunities that were coming in, and how I was pitching. She also really helped me with my financial modelling and made something that felt so daunting so easy. So that was really helpful. 

Jane Visram, CEO of ice cream brand Mama Dolce.

Tackling structural inequality in the UK is a big focus for Hatch. How do you see Hatch doing this? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): Even when I’ve spoken to some of the people from Hatch, I can tell that they have a diverse bunch of colleagues and workers. So that makes me feel happy and fulfilled. It makes me feel confident because we share the same backgrounds and experiences. They're an organisation that really believes in building other businesses from diverse backgrounds, especially Black backgrounds. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): Hatch’s accelerator programmes are fantastic. They have accelerator programs specifically focused on people from BAME backgrounds and women. Often the founders run social enterprises themselves, which are usually focused on underrepresented groups. And a lot of the programming that Hatch puts on has speakers that are either from underrepresented groups or talking about that subject. I think Hatch are continuing to shine a light on the fact that we have quite a bit of progress to make. 

Antoinette (Haircrush): I think they've got really good partners. I feel like they are in tune with certain organisations and they're able to tap into the right networks to reach the people who need that support. I think sometimes there are organisations that provide support, um, but they don't know how to reach the people that need it the most. You really need to kind of have the right networks in order to reach the right people, and Hatch do that. 

Who are your favourite figures from Black history, or from the present day? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): I would say Madam C. J. Walker because I think she's amazing from a business sense. She developed a marketing line of cosmetics and Black hair care products for Black people, what's not to love about that  what a queen! She accomplished so many things in the time she lived in and I hope to follow in her footstepsAnd Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Claudia Jones, Akala… I could go on forever! I would also say Diane Abbott, to be fair. She has really fought and proven herself to be a formidable black politician, changing the stereotypical norms of how the Black diaspora are portrayed in the UKI think she's a powerful Black woman. People look down upon her, but I admire her hugelyshe's a real trailblazer. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): Someone today that I think has been a really good role model is Akala. I really like some of the content he puts out on social media, and his book, Natives, is fantastic: he goes through his life story while giving some extremely valuable social insights, and it’s really easy to read because of the way he writes. I think he's done a fantastic job in being an advocate, but also working in the community and walking the walk at the same time. A historical individual would be Claudia Jones. She was a fantastic lady who came to the UK from Trinidad and Tobago, who became an important activist and she founded Britain's first major black newspaper, West Indian Gazette. 

Antoinette (Haircrush): Someone who I'm really inspired by is Emma Dabiri, who’s an author and academic. I find her very inspiring as she's an advocate for a lot of things that I believe in, and I’ve also read her books. Akala is also someone who I look up to a lot. He is incredibly intelligent and articulate, and again, an advocate for black British people. Those two are very key figures in the UK for me, but there's so many more. 

Which are your favourite Black-owned businesses, social enterprises or charities that work to combat racial injustice? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): There are so many! There’s Treasure Tress and the Black Young Professionals network. There's the Frontline Therapist as well, which provides therapy specifically for Black people to normalise seeking help and thy.self which is all about actualising self-love, self-care + diversifying wellness, providing wellness for all. There’s Kallure Consulting who are bridging the gaps between black creatives and black businesses together. There’s Elegance in Elevation fitness. And how can we forget one of the biggest, the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK right now and Black History MonthBlack Pound Day too is a moment for businesses to really come together and support one another and solely invest in Black owned businesses. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): A charity I really love is We Belong. They help immigrants that have come to the UK and don't necessarily have legal status. A lot of the time, it may just be a combination of not knowing the process and not making the right registrations when they first arrive. But many young people find out that they're not legally UK citizens just before they go to university, just when they need financial help and assistance in the form of student loans. It can be an incredibly stressful time as these years are pivotal in any young adult’s life.  

Antoinette (Haircrush): Lendoe is one of them. They are dedicated to providing underrepresented business founders with access to finance. They have so many amazing stories about businesses that have been funded and have grown and done amazing things. Another organization called Kwanda, essentially crowdfunds from the Black community to fund Black-related issues, like therapy for people affected by the Black Lives Matter protests. They've really enabled the community to invest back into the community. My last one is TreasureTress, a monthly subscription box for curly hair products allowing women with curly and coily hair to discover new brands. They now ship globally and have completely taken off. It's really inspiring. 

Antoinette Ale, Founder of Haircrush.

What are your future hopes and expectations for your business? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): Soon we're going to start doing little Instagram videos and IGTV. Then we're going to take it to YouTube, so the whole show will become a chat show, and then we’ll have merchandise. I feel like personally, I have to break boundaries and barriers for myself. I'm not just going to wait for someone to come and give it to me like, you know, the opportunity to have my own show and have my own full-time production service. I'm actually trying to build my own podcast studio at the moment! I've got so many different ideas, and even though people think it’s just a podcast, it's a business. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): Eventually, it'd be lovely to be able to work on Mama Dolce full time. I think that’s anyone's aspiration when they start a business. But in terms of goals, we're looking to start our crowdfunding campaign in the next four to six weeks and start to trial our product and get feedback and data to continue to refine it, to make it the best that it can be. I’m hoping to secure a retail brand too, and to continue to expand the company's social conscience. We're also looking to formalise our internship program so that we can continue to increase diverse representation in the industry. It's something that's super, super important to me. 

Antoinette (Haircrush): I want Haircrush to be the go-to platform for Black haircare. I want it to be a safe space where Black women can come and feel inspired, because hair is such an important part of a Black woman’s identity. In terms of Haircrush Pro, I want to see Black hairstylists be empowered and have all the resources that they need to build successful businesses. 

What are your hopes for the future of Black-owned British business? 

Natasha (Talks with Tash): That there will always be a space for us. That there is space for us to be heard. That there is a space for us within the economy to make money. I just really want Black businesses, Black people, Black Brits, Black companies, Black corporations, Black workers, Black employees, and Black kids be listened to, and to be heard, and to be valued. However junior we are in a role, wherever we work, we deserve to be heard just as much as the next, because we matter! It's as simple as that. 

Jane (Mama Dolce): If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it is that economic recovery will need to be driven by innovation and this encompasses diversity of thought on every level. The future of business is ensuring that individuals from all walks of life, especially those from underrepresented groups are given equal opportunities: whether that be by giving them equal access to finance or opportunities in the marketplace.   

Antoinette (Haircrush): I just want Black British founders to feel empowered and have access to the same resources as their counterparts. Levelling the playing field is about accessing things that you just typically wouldn't have access to, because of the type of network you would have or because of the way you grew up. I really want us to be able to access the same level of finance and the same level of support, and to be aware of the opportunities that are out there for us. 

If you are a UK-based founder that has a business question or issue that you would like support with, visit: www.hatchenterprise.org/our-programmes 

 

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