6 Black-owned startups to watch in 2020 and beyond

| Poppy Aston

We’re excited to be partnering with Cornerstone Partners, Engage Inclusivity and Diversity VC on a new research project exploring VC funding for Black and diverse founders in the UK. This report will include data on how many Black and minority ethnic founders have achieved VC backing, as well as their experiences of securing capital. It’s scheduled for publication later this year — so do keep a lookout for it. If you’d like to be notified of its release, you can sign up to our newsletter here.

In the meantime, we’ve spotlighted six Black-owned businesses that have successfully secured equity fundraisings. From inclusive insurance to loyalty cards designed to support Black-owned businesses, these startups are on very promising trajectories.

 Marshmallow

Founders: Oliver & Alexander Kent-Braham & David Goate

Sector: Insurance services

Location: Camden

Logo Marshmallow

Marshmallow is developing insurance products that aim to use better data and technology to make insurance more affordable, instant and inclusive. The company was founded in March 2017 by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham, along with David Goate. All three had previously worked at digital security ID company Yoti. 

Marshmallow was initially started with the intention of helping people who have migrated to the UK find more affordable insurance, and whilst the company is still committed to accomplishing this, it has since expanded its mission to insure a wider pool of people that other companies won’t.

oliver and alexander

The FCA insurer has already achieved significant success by launching a 24 hours claim line, offering its services to foreign drivers with no-claims earned in other countries, expanding its team and reaching the growth stage of its evolution. 

On top of this, Marshmallow has raised £5.18m in equity fundraising, with investors including Growth & Acquisition Finance, Outrun Ventures and Passion Capital: in January 2020, it secured a whopping £3.45m in financial backing and has plans to insure other assets beyond cars.

 Pace

Founders: Jens Munch, John-Paul Clarke & Jason Pinto

Sector: Artificial Intelligence

Location: Hackney

Pace develops artificial intelligence technology  to optimise prices for hotels. Its machine learning and statistics allow real-time forecasting that enables hotel-owners to respond rapidly to supply and demand, ensuring they get bookings at the right price. 

Pace was co-founded in August 2016, by Jens Munch, John-Paul Clarke and Jason Pinto. The trio had spent the last two decades in very different fields: academia and research, venture capital and building companies. Together they have successfully designed the product from the ground up to disrupt the status quo in the hotel industry.

pace founders

To date, Pace has secured £4.51m in equity funding with Amadeus Capital Partners, Seedcamp, Speedinvest and InterGlobe. Its latest fundraising activity was in April 2019, when it received £2.01m led by Impact X Capital Partners.

 Despite only three years in the making, Pace has already released an hourly automated adaptive pricing model, expanded from 10 to over 30 employees and now counts hundreds of hotels including Best Western, Accor, a&o, Machefert Group and Generator as its customers. S

ince the outbreak of COVID-19 the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest sectors hit, however, demand is beginning to resurface as restrictions are lifted. Pace’s algorithms to empower hotels to easily meet changing fluctuations in demand,  so the company is well placed for future success.

 Predina

Founders: Bola Adegbulu & Meha Nelson

Sector: Artificial Intelligence

Location: Islington

Predina logo

Predina develops software which uses artificial intelligence to analyse the risk factors in different contexts when using autonomous vehicles.  The company was co-founded in September 2016 by Bola Adegbulu and Meha Nelson, who had both spent two years working on their product. 

With a background in Aerospace Engineering, Bola has spent most of his career as an entrepreneur building and commercializing new AI, data analytics and IoT Products across both B2C and B2B. 

Meha, a specialist in computer science and AI, was awarded MIT Innovators 35 under 35 in 2019 for her development of the Predina software, and has recently transitioned to the role of Technical Advisor to the company. That same year, both entrepreneurs were featured in Forbes Europe 30 Under 30 for Manufacturing and Industry in 2019.

predina founders

In September 2016, Predina attended the Entrepreneur First accelerator and three years later was recognised by the UK Government as one of the leading 29 AI startups to scale. 

To date, Predina has received £295k in fundraisings through four rounds backed by Entrepreneur First and Ada Ventures. In January 2019, it clinched £100k in funding from Impact X Capital Partners: this Black-owned-and-run venture capital firm was launched with the aim to reverse the lack of funding for startups led by, or serving, women and People of Colour. Since then, Predina has launched an app for its users, expanded its employee count, and has plans to sell to big businesses and car manufacturers across the globe.

 Three Tables Productions

Founders: David Chikwe, Himesh Kar & J.T. Wong

Sector: Film and Television

Location: City of London

logo three tables productions

Three Tables Productions aims to produce stories you can’t find anywhere else. Its TV dramas are targeted at the international market, and the team is currntly developing projects with France.tv studios and the BBC. Despite only being a fledgling UK independent studio, Three Tables secured £250k in equity fundraising in July 2018 (the same year it was founded). 

The company was founded by award-winning film and TV executives: former Leopard Pictures head of development David Chikwe, film Council executive Himesh Kar, and entrepreneur J.T. Wong. 

Three-Tables Productions founders

Drawing from its distinct perspectives and diverse backgrounds, Three Tables champions both established and emerging talent with the mission that embracing difference lies at the heart of the stories they tell. 

They currently have around 15 projects in development and are co-developing with Fremantle mystery thriller novel ‘The Robber Baron’s Daughter’. In April 2020, Three Tables signed a multi-year distribution deal with Entertainment One; this will enable them to develop and produce original scripted programming for eOne to distribute worldwide.

 Jamii

Founders: Khalia Ismain

Sector: Consumer Goods

Location: Ealing

logo jamii

Jamii operates an e-commerce website, alongside providing a loyalty card scheme, aimed at promoting African-Caribbean owned businesses to consumers. Launched in July 2016 as a way to catalyse enterprise within the Black British community and meaning ‘community’ in Swahili, Jamii is the brainchild of entrepreneur Khalia Ismain. 

The idea for Jamii came after Khalia saw the headlines about the activist movement #BlackLivesMatter which focussed her awareness on the need to support Black-owned businesses. Struggling to locate these businesses, Khalia was inspired to create a directory of them and provide a discount card for customers to encourage them to return again. 

khalia ismain Jamii

The Jamii card gives holders access to discounts of up to 40% for an entire year, online and offline, at participating black-owned businesses. Based in London, the network now includes over 150 business owners across beauty, haircare, skincare, clothing, greeting cards, fashion and lifestyle. The long term mission of the company is to make shopping at Black-owned brands as seamless and instinctive as any other.

Jamii raised £65k in equity finance in November 2019, followed by another £65k in April 2020. 

 Black Ballad

Founders: Tobi Oredein & Bola Awoniyi

Sector: Online Publishing

Location: Newham

black ballad logo

Black Ballad is empowering the united voice of UK Black women in Britain through content, community and commerce. Co-founders Tobi Oredein and Bola Awoniyi came up with the idea for the online publication in May 2014. They had become increasingly frustrated at the lack of representation of Black women within mainstream media — which at the time was 94% White-British.

Run by only a small team, CEO Tobi currently looks after the commercial, partnerships and investor-facing side of the business, whilst Bola leads on finances and operations. The company has commissioned over 150 Black female creatives and bloggers, and worked with brands including the Financial Times and Waterstones to better represent the Black community.

black ballad founders

For several years the platform was offered for free, but in December 2016 Black Ballad ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to transition into a membership platform. 

In August 2018 the founding duo attended the prestigious King’s20 Accelerator and featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 for Media and Marketing. 

Black Ballad achieved further success when it was awarded a £70,000 grant from the Future of News Fund, powered by NESTA & Bethnal Green Ventures to better empower, create for and serve Black women outside of London. Whilst Black Ballad is already Britain’s leading digital lifestyle subscription for Black women, it is on a long term mission to be the number one publishing house for Black voices across Europe.

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