Google reveals innovative Black-led tech startups receiving the Black Founders Fund
Google for Startups has announced the 30 tech businesses receiving its £1.5million Black Founders Fund for EU Black-led tech startups.
With less than 0.25% of venture capital (VC) funding going to Black-led startups in the UK and only 38 Black founders receiving VC funding in the past year, GoogleFfor Startups' Black Founders Fund aims to help address this lack of funding and work towards a more equitable future.
The selected recipients will receive up to $100,000 in non-dilutive cash awards paired with up to $220,000 per startup in Google Ad Grants and Cloud credits, as well as a 12-week mentoring programme including mentoring, tailored workshops, support network and community building sessions.
With close to 800 applications received, the 30 selected tech startups are set to transform a diverse range of industries including healthcare, gaming, food, education and fitness. 20 UK businesses are among the selected founders.
1. Afrocenchix (UK): safe and effective products for afro & curly hair
Bio: Rachael Twumasi-Corson, Co-Founding Managing Director (CEO/CMO role) - born in London and overcame severe dyspraxia & childhood adversity to get into Law school at the University of Birmingham, where she met Joycelyn. When Joycelyn shared an oil blend which helped Rachael with her eczema, Rachael encouraged her to start a business to help other people like her. When Joycelyn initially said no, Rachael offered to help!
Bio: Joycelyn Mate Co-Founding Managing Director (CFO/COO role) - born and raised in Hackney to immigrant parents. Started mixing natural oils to grow back bald patches. Studied Sociology at the University of Birmingham and met Rachael (the other Black girl in halls) and began doing her hair, then shared some oils to help Rachael with her eczema. Now lives in East London with her accountant husband.
2. AudioMob (UK): provision of non-intrusive audio ads in games
Bio: Christian (Forbes 30 Under 30 2021) is the CEO and co-founder of AudioMob, the world’s first non-intrusive gaming advertising solution that allows game developers to monetize their audience via audio advertising. AudioMob, a VC backed company who recently closed $2m in funding, is tackling an $18bn dollar opportunity.
Before founding AudioMob in Q1 2020 Christian worked at 2 of the best companies in the world. He was a strategist at Google managing up to $100m in advertising spend. At Facebook, a marketing science partner, using cutting edge solutions to measure the true value of advertising.
0.2% of applications get to work at Google and Facebook and 0.05 percent of startups get funded. While achieving this before the age of 28 was difficult, Christian hasn't always been considered a high flyer. After failing the majority of his A-Levels and attending Kingston University through clearing, Christian has rigorously studied methods to increase his aptitude, training the mind to overcome mental barriers that hinder success. As a result of his successes, Christian also runs a mentoring scheme alongside AudioMob to pass learning over to the younger generation.
Outside of running AudioMob and mentoring schemes, Christian enjoys video game development, producing hip-hop / jazz music and break dancing!
Bio: Wilfred is a Co-Founder and CTO at AudioMob. Creating and developing technical solutions has always come naturally to him.
At the age of six he could be found with my brothers adapting and customising our only computer; a Dell Dimension L500r. Although he was young he knew his interest in computers was not temporary, and his love of computers led him to study Computer Science at the University of Sussex.
He gained a number of positions and roles at leading organisations, which include Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Bloomberg, Teach First and Google. After graduating he was headhunted by Google to be a Programmatic Account Strategist in Dublin, where he was promoted and moved on to a job as a Customer Solutions Engineer at the Google London Office.
All of these achievements have gained him various accolades including being identified as a ‘Forbes 30 under 30’, ‘Future Leader’, ‘Rare Rising Star’ and ‘Top 10 Computer Science & Analytics Undergraduate’.
3. Augmize (UK): claims, risk and policy management
Favour Mandanji Nyikosa
Bio: Favour (CTO at Augmize) has been practising machine learning and software engineering for the last 10 years. He read for a PhD in machine learning at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He worked on probabilistic and interpretable ML models with applications in financial markets and deep learning. Favour is a distinguished research prize winner from Imperial College London's Advanced Computing programme and started his career as a software engineer working on big data problems in Zambia.
4. Axela Innovations (UK): data enhanced healthcare
Nicholas Kelly (Founder)
Bio: I have the vision of changing the way people view healthcare by supporting the care lifecycle and making care accessible to all. For a long time, I wanted to make a difference, which initially took me into the world of advertising and then technology and finally back to care. My journey to healthcare started from a child having been in a car accident and spending 11 months in hospital and then in my early 20’s being in a motorbike accident. After nearly 1 year spent in hospital and more major operations that I can remember, it made me reflect on growing up and watching my mum work her way through the ranks as a porter, nurse, care worker, manager and owner of a care company.
Setting up my first care agency allowed me to take some of the learnings from other industries and bring them across. We set out to create a system that everyone said couldn’t be built. What we have seen over the last 6-8months is a real shift to people owning their own data and wanting it to be a part of their care. cAir:ID is a product that is one place for all health and social care information to be held on a person, allowing them to control how that data is interacted with. cAir:ID allows for proactive care, by monitoring and supporting the changing needs of a person, something I think is very unique at the moment.
5. Bosque (Germany): direct-to-consumer plant business
Bio: Deborah Choi came up with the idea for horticure in 2018 when trying to fill her flat with beautiful plants — and, very importantly, keep them alive. After spending a few weekends searching across several plant stores for specific plants, lugging soil and heavy pots on trains and in taxis, setting the plants up in her home and then (like many busy people) traveling and (like many beginners) over- and under-watering . . . the indoor jungle quickly became the indoor plant cemetery. She believed there could be a better way for busy people and ‘beginners’ alike to become successful plant parents. The initial concept was simple: bridging plant owners with qualified and friendly horticulturists to support any issue affecting their plants, with the aid of technology.
From this initial idea, horticure also dived into the sourcing problem and offered a direct-to-consumer selection of easy care plants. In late 2020, horticure merged with Bosque, with the shared vision of greening up indoor spaces across Europe.
Deborah is a Co-Founder of Bosque, a graduate of the University of Chicago and a mother. Born in Nigeria, raised in America, she's called Berlin home for the past 5 years.
6. Circuit Mind (UK): AI that designs electronics
Bio: Tomide Adesanmi, CEO - Tomide was an electronic systems engineer developing high integrity augmented reality display systems for jet fighter pilots at BAE Systems. He has always loved solving complex hardware problems and wanted to build a hardware startup. Unfortunately, many investors believe that hardware is hard, which led Tomide to (with Basilio) make developing hardware easy. This was the origin story of Circuit Mind.
7. Clustdoc (France): smart customer onboarding software
Marie Assé (CEO)
Bio: Marie is a passionate entrepreneur at heart. Born in Africa and raised in Europe, she worked in the banking industry before joining PayPal for 5 exciting years where she met Karim.
After having bootstrapped many startup ideas, she co-founded Clustdoc - a single place where global organizations can centralize and remotely run client-facing onboarding workflows.
Karim Bakoumé - CPO/CTO
Bio: Back in Cameroon, Karim founded his first digital project as a teenager when the internet was barely a thing. After coming to France, he worked at several leading tech organizations and created a mobile development startup which didn't take off. As a pragmatic, resilient problem-solver and entrepreneur, he quickly leveraged this experience to create Clustdoc with Marie and build a product that professionals love. Headshot:
8. Contingent (UK): AI platform which predicts, monitors and manages supplier risk
Bio: Founder - CEO.
9. Define (UK): Legal technology optimising contract drafting and reviewing
Bio: Our CEO Nnamdi started his career as a solicitor at Magic Circle law firm Freshfields where he spent 4.5 years as a Finance lawyer and was selected in the inaugural EMpower Ethnic Minority Future Leaders List in 2017. At Freshfields, he met his cofounder, who was one of the few registered blind lawyers practicing as a solicitor in the City of London. Together, they set out to discover a way to increase the accessibility of legal documents to those with visual impairments and realised their innovation had a much broader use case for anyone reading legal contracts, not just the visually impaired. Starting a business with a blind/disabled co-founder has naturally brought many challenges in addition to the usual ones faced by most founders e.g. building and selling a product, growing a team and raising capital, but by staying focused on our mission, we have been able to overcome many of the obstacles that we have faced.
10. Freyda (UK): SaaS platform automating manual data entry and simplifying workflows
Bio: I’m Danielle Lawrence, the founder & CEO of Freyda.io and I’m on a mission to help digitise the asset management industry. I do it by helping teams to automate data processing from complex, unstructured documents because we are shifting to a data-driven economy, and it’s no longer acceptable for critical information to remain trapped in documents.
I’m passionate about more efficient ways of working, because for much of my career, I was someone who spent more time than I’d like to admit manually reading, extracting and interpreting data from unstructured reports. It turns out that I’m not alone, according to McKinsey up to 49% of work in financial services involves this type of mind-numbing work. And it’s a problem for employers too, often leading to high churn and high recruitment and training costs.
A few years ago I started exploring the world of ‘Artificial Intelligence’, where recent breakthroughs in the technology and computational processing power were enabling more and more complex problems to be solved. Could this finally be the moment that could finally eliminate tedious manual data entry.
I initially started working with engineers and data scientists to test it out. We tried and tested every technology out there against complex financial reports for privately held investments. OCR and parsing tools, open source libraries and machine learning platforms, but all of them failed to produce compelling results. It seemed as though we were still far away from a solution that was fit for the asset management industry.
A breakthrough came when we received backing from Innovate UK to build our own platform. I was able to build out the team and we quickly developed a culture of experimentation and rapid iteration, collaborating with PhDs and University professors to build our MVP and testing it with early clients. Fortunately after many attempts and many learnings, we developed a proprietary algorithm that extracted data from highly complex tables with up to 99% accuracy. With our ‘secret sauce’ perfected we were able to surpass results from even the largest tech giants!
Today, Freyda helps asset managers and fund service providers to process data from their documents 12x faster and for half the cost. Founded by a team of financial professionals, technologists and PhDs, the Freyda platform leverages machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence to help organisations and their workers free up time and resources for high-value, high-impact work.
11. Heex Technologies (France): SDK for embedded architectures, APIs and a web platform
Bruno Mendes Da Silva
Bio: We believe we have a unique balanced founding team for a business-driven tech solution, assembling our complementary backgrounds in entrepreneurship, research, and finance to bring the perfect set of skills for us to grow fast and scale internationally.
In fact, Bruno Mendes Da Silva (CEO) is a serial entrepreneur and previously founded a mobility company called Greenlux Car. Arnaud de La Fortelle (CTO) is the robotics lab director of Mines ParisTech and has been working in autonomous driving for the past 15 years, while Etienne Boutan (CFO) is a former private banker and has also spent some time as a VC. All the founders also had the chance to spend some time in the Bay Area, where the heart of our market is: Bruno as an entrepreneur and member of the RocketSpace accelerator, Arnaud as a visiting Professor at UC Berkeley, and Etienne as a student at Skyline College before transferring to UCLA. Finally, we have demonstrated our ability to successfully attract top-notch industry talents such as Pierre Maillot (VP of Business development, ex-Bosch San Francisco), Yves Dzialowski (Investor and Advisor, ex-Argo AI and Princeton Lightwave), or Romain Grave (VP engineering, ex-Thales and Dassault Systèmes).
12. HomeHero (UK): an operating system for the home
Bio: I grew up in a large entrepreneurial family, with 7 siblings and both parents were entrepreneurs. In particular, my mum was a great inspiration as she came from very humble means running a market stall in Nigeria to running her own business selling African goods all over the world. I have an identical twin brother who also pursued a similar path - in fact we were
both in Seedcamp! My childhood instilled the value of hard work and also a competitive spirit which led me into excelling in sports and winning a sports scholarship to attend university.
Losing my job propelled me into setting up my own thing. I was progressing in merchant finance and everything was on track professionally. Then early in the financial crisis, I was told it was possible I would be made redundant. That moment took away the agency over my future that I thought I had. I realised that your identity - often bundled up with your job - can be undermined in a heartbeat, if you allow it to be. This shock to the system prompted me to look more deeply into philosophy (stoicism) in a bid to get some grounding that could make me unshakeable in business. I really think a big part of having the courage to create HomeHero, and deal with the daily challenges, is adopting this stoic philosophy early on. What I set out to do with HomeHero was solve a problem I personally experience in the home, the admin and mental burden associated with moving in and maintaining a home.
13. Hutch Logistics (UK): fulfilment and operating system for ecommerce brands
Sait Cham (CEO)
Bio: One of the key moments of my career is building a business in which I'd say I didn't have 'founder market fit'. The business failed and it was a sharp but necessary awakening that reminded me of the advantages of operating within your wheelhouse. My wheelhouse is 'logistics problem solving' and Hutch comfortably lives within that. This experience is what allowed me to take a 40sqft storage container and ship 15 orders a day to a large warehouse shipping 20,000+ orders.
14. iknowa (UK): Connecting property owners with tradespeople
Bio: Keano Chang (Co-Founder, President): Technology adoption is influenced by its nature to be complementary or disruptive to an industry. At iknowa, we chose to work with our market to create a platform built upon trust, transparency and safety. Put simply, our users want a solution that provides opportunity, while eliminating the current risks associated. Keano Chang,
President and COO of iknowa, cut his teeth as a cognitive specialist and transformation strategy consultant, for IBM. “iknowa is the only company that is dedicated to addressing the concerns related to quality, reliability, and the miscommunication associated with building and renovation projects head-on, while simplifying the otherwise convoluted building and renovation industry.”
15. Kwara (Germany): digitises the world’s financial cooperatives
Bio: Cynthia Wandia - CEO - Born in Kenya, encountered inefficiencies in power generation and financial services first hand, but also incredible innovation growing up with M-Pesa - the world's first mobile money service. Her first startup involved BD across 15 countries in Africa, and having lived and worked across multiple emerging and developed economies, formed a theory of change focused on the similarities between markets and the ability for tech to enable people and communities to be financially independent.
16. Lalaland (Netherlands): using AI to create synthetic humans for fashion ecommerce brands
Bio: Michael Musandu (CEO) grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa before heading to the Netherlands to study computer science as an undergrad and then Artificial Intelligence in graduate school. While shopping for clothes online Musandu had the experience, as many do, of never seeing someone like himself in the smiling fashion scenarios that were presented on his phone and laptop. For Musandu, it was yet another example of the lack of diversity and inclusion in the world he saw around him. His response? He would build the "people" he never had a chance to see. So, like any good technologist, and in his case, a technologist with a focus on machine learning, Michael went about finding a way to create the world he rarely saw - one which reflected himself. The result is a company, Amsterdam-based Lalaland, which generates hyper-personalised ethnically and body-size inclusive models.
17. Line (Belgium): hybrid cloud SaaS for creative pros
Nancy de Fays
Bio: Quentin and I started off a little garage in Belgium back in 2016. We wanted to build something useful for creators and came up with our first product, LINEDOCK. We had nothing but a DIY and no idea whether this would take off or not. We launched a crowdfunding campaign to validate the product-market fit, and were blown away by it. We had no experience in hardware but we knew we wanted to build Apple-quality products with a special signature : sustainable and beautifully designed products that were bringing a real value in the daily life of content creators. We decided to go to China for a month or two. We stayed two years. That's how we learned the hard way pretty much everything around product ideation, design, engineering, manufacturing and retail. We ran out of cash many times and bootstrapping was our everyday bread. Looking back at it, we made many mistakes. And we still do. But what a journey. Today we have a steady and selling product on the market, we're growing the team to 30 people and we have two new products in the making. What makes us special is our resilience, our obsession to build excellent products with no compromise on experience, environment or quality.
18. Modularity Grid (UK): AI platform that makes energy systems resilient
Bio: I founded Modularity Grid to create digital tools that can give energy providers the ability to deliver high quality energy that is affordable and clean, to low income communities.
Before that, I co-founded Mandulis Energy, an energy provider funded by the United Nations Capital Development Fund and Total among others, that operates renewable energy infrastructure for low income communities. So, I have a deep understanding of the day to day challenges faced by energy providers serving such communities. I have also worked in research at Imperial College London, and Oxford University where I also studied.
I know first hand the struggles of low income communities living without access to energy, having fled war in Northern Uganda and later South Sudan with my family as a child.
19. Movemeback (UK): connecting hidden opportunities & talent in Africa
Bio: Founder & CEO
Bio: Founder & COO
20. Kami (Optimum Health) (UK): virtual support system for parents
Bio: Our CEO Erika is a leading industry voice in parental wellness, mum of 5 children, an MBA, and a PhD in Psychological Behavioural Science at LSE. As the founder of Karisma Kidz Ltd, she created a digital gaming platform teaching children emotional intelligence. It was preloaded to 15m devices and scaled to 8 million users. She has been Sky News’ Parenting Expert for 6 years, appearing on 100+ news segments.
21. Playbrush (Austria): digitising oral care
Bio: Tolu (CTO) met Paul at University and became CTO at the foundation in 2015, when he joined from Amazon. Since then he has developed the full technology stack and consequently revolutionised toothbrushes and smart oral care. He is responsible for 5 patent families and millions of lines of source code, which are the basis of Playbrush's strong tech position. He is further a master of ecosystem strategy and has integrated our smart toothbrush data with ecommerce subscriptions as well as the first parametric dental insurance.
22. Remote Coach (UK): digitising personal training
Bio: Ben Camara - CEO /FOUNDER.
My name is Ben, and I am a serial entrepreneur. I started my first business at 15 whilst growing up in Devon, and although my father, a West African immigrant who came to Europe at 18 on a boat and a mother from London who grew up working class instilled work ethic and a hard attitude of 'Do more than you need to', the moving onto what I call the 'table of business opportunity' and was something attitude alone could not teach.
I went to a comprehensive high school here, and did not go further into higher Education - I left home at 16 to pursue a career as a professional footballer, of which I did until injury at 7 years later.
After retiring from football I joined the fitness industry and 18 months later in 2009, I started and bootstrapped the No1 Fitness chain of gyms. On minimal investment, I built the brand and the business to multiple locations in just over three years, in central London. I was fortunate enough to win the prestigious award of Mens Personal Trainer of the year and have looked after the fitness of the likes of Madonna, Kate Moss, and numerous faces from tv, film and sport. Alongside the gyms I launched an education platform globally which has now educated over 500 trainers from all corners of the globe, and launched a corporate wellness program which is focussed on sharing the knowledge personal trainers have to employees who struggle with wellness.
After retiring from football due to injury and feeling at rock bottom, I personally saw the difference of how having someone educate me on keeping a structured lifestyle can help in all aspects of life. Starting off working on the gym floor of a mainstream gym I have done every role within the ‘job’, from front of house, sales to managing a team of 28 full time trainers.
I grew the business and revenue year on year with annual recurring revenue in excess of £1.4 million (circa $2M) from 2018.
My experience as both being trained to then being the trainer, and then managing and teaching trainers gives me a unique understanding of this specific segment of the fitness industry, both from client, trainer and then entrepreneur.
Although I do not have a formal background in technology, my experience at every level of the personal training industry both operationally and client facing gives me a deeper understanding of the needs and key gaps in the market that the technology will be filling.
Experiencing all elements of the industry for over 11 years and seeing the impact it has is what fuels me and I am as passionate today as day one.
23. Robin AI (UK): using AI to automate editing legal contracts
Bio: I became a lawyer because my Uncle was in a band called Music Youth and, at age 13, he wrote a song called 'Pass the Dutchie'. The song was a global hit, but when I was studying at university, he explained that he'd been involved in a long and protracted court battle over the royalties. I couldn't believe someone had to spend millions of pounds just to prove they were right. I became a lawyer to master the law, but I couldn't shake the feeling that access to world-class legal advice was just too expensive. I wanted to build a company that used technology to significantly reduce the cost of legal services so that anyone could access world-class legal knowledge.
24. Scoodle (UK): a platform for education influencers
Bio: Ismail Jeilani, CEO, joined Google's marketing team after graduating from King's College London. While funding his degree, Ismail built Satifs which helped raise over £900,000 for charity and interest-free student loans. He was ranked as one of the ‘top 100 coolest people in tech’ by Business Insider and the top 100 minorities in tech by the Financial Times.
25. Suvera (UK): virtual support service for long-term care
Bio: Suvera began with myself (CEO) and Will (COO) training to become doctors. While at Medical school we studied how to treat patients but also become viscerally exposed to all the problems that the
healthcare system were unable to solve. Alongside our studies we become obsessed with these systemic problems and interned at over 6 startups between us trying to solve these problems with technology. Will last worked at Havas Group on the redesign cancer treatment health campaigns and I was last at DeepMind on healthcare trying to productise DeepMind's AI algorithms.
Eventually, with our dual discipline in healthcare and technology we thought we could build something ourselves. And so we co-founded Suvera with Diana (CTO) and Ryzard (CDO) with the intention of tackling the most pressing issues for the system with the most complete solution we could create. Tapping into the best of technology and design.
In truth, Suvera stems simply from our original desire to become doctors and care for patients. The goal of Suvera is to allow us to do so at scale.
26. Syrona Health (UK): digital health company
Bio: Anya and Chantelle met during their masters at the University of Cambridge. We connected on our shared experiences with chronic gynaecological health conditions and we set about making a change. We've faced many challenges being two women from black and asian backgrounds operating in a space for women and people with uteruses.
27. TradeIn (France): a collaborative trade risk management platform
Bio: I'm an African-European, born and grew up in Africa with a background mixing Engineering, Finance and Insurance expertises in International corporation.
I'm able to address different topics from technology to finance with the ability to think outside of the box with a strategic approach on anything I'm pursuing. I'm a hard worker and a continuous learner, I really like learning new things everyday.
Making executive study along my career to get the degree I thought to be key to reach my next goal to build the transversale vision I have today in different industries, all that with a team of 3 children and my wife.
The main challenge was to be able to navigate in a big corporation where most of the time I was the only black man who had to promote its idea and make the difference.
28. Vanilla Steel (Germany): a digital auctions platform for excess steel
Bio: About four years ago, I moved to Berlin. I already had six years of management consulting behind me, and I wanted something new. My ideal scenario was to meet the perfect co-founder and come up with a great idea to start a company but I had not yet found a problem that I wanted to solve. Around the same time a friend of mine had just launched a startup in the manufacturing tech area and was looking for a senior team member to help build up Sales and Operations. I jumped at the chance to take on operational responsibility while learning the ropes in early stage venture building.
After a great 2.5 years, I decided it was time to move on. I met my co-founders when we were recruited by a large steel company to advise on digital distribution models for the steel industry. We worked together for 10 months and together developed a passion for solving challenges in the steel distribution value chain through innovation. We therefore decided to continue our journey and after a short ideation period, we launched Vanilla Steel in June 2020 with a focus on the excess steel market in Europe. Headshot:
29. Wild Radish (UK): delivering a consumer-facing cook-at-home service
Anthea Marie Stephenson
Bio: Always under my Mum’s feet in the kitchen at a young age, it’s where you’ll still find me – in the kitchen, that is. I’ve faced a number of challenges to date, but you’ll have to discern for yourself what makes me special.
Cooking was something I pursued naturally as a hobby (starting with making scrambled eggs for my (alarmed) parents when I was 2 ½ as breakfast in bed, endless biscuits at 7 and not quite nailing fudge, repeatedly at 10) but having first generation Jamaican parents meant that anything vocational wasn’t really an option early on. They were working flat-out so I could be afforded a good education and the best shot they could give me for a successful life which they knew, for a black girl like me, meant working at least twice as hard, and performing academically better than my peers to avoid becoming a statistic. Getting at least a bachelor's degree was the path laid out (back when going to university meant you might actually get a job at the end of it, maybe) – so that also put pay to my offer from my textiles teacher of getting me recommended into the London College of Fashion and starting right after high school.
After university riddled with the classic student debt I jumped into the City, looking for a job I could do where I could excel for being tenacious, shrewd, where my work would overshadow anything about my race, gender or age, and be in charge of my own earnings. I landed a job as a headhunter quickly working out the angles and became top biller. I was doing new business development and growing a team too, so it was all go – but (between the raucous nights out) I was miserable. With friends who were mainly arts-based, still training, and living out in the suburbs where I grew up, I was on my own living in the City, doing something I’d chosen to do, but also...hadn’t chosen to do, and becoming someone I didn’t want to become. I was aping the characteristic bravado of bid-time white City men which is how I felt I needed to be to hold my own at the time; despite my performance, I still felt I had to compensate. After almost 5 years, I resigned and spent the next 6 months soul searching and shaking off the talons of the City.
I almost got offered a job as a corporate fundraiser for the African education equality charity PEAS but a candidate with specific experience got the role instead. I considered a career in wine and completed the WSET Intermediate course but fancied it as more of a hobby. Really, I was craving a skill – something I could hone, develop, and would enrich my life without being just a job. That year I went to Leiths School of Food and Wine, completed their 1 year Diploma in Culinary arts and with my eye on Michelin experience, I started in the kitchen.
After spending time in the kitchens of the Ledbury, Sketch, Locanda Locatelli and Chez Bruce trying to find a good fit, I spent 1 year cutting my teeth in a british-French fusion gastropub which was the full unglamourous, insanely hard work, 15+ hours each day, no weekends, forgetting to eat properly for days, but incredibly satisfying world that serious cheffing can be. My sous chef, Steve, was amazing. But it wasn’t Michelin...if I was going to be a chef, I had to be in a Michelin kitchen (that’ll be my upbringing shining through!)
I was about to start at Marcus Waring’s Berkeley restaurant as a pastry chef to follow my love of sweets when I heard from The River Cafe who wanted to see me. The Head Chef Sian was very convincing. The River Cafe was where I should be, she insisted, I’d hate the Berkley. They did pastry too at The River Cafe, she told me, but I’d also learn to make pasta, prepare whole fish, proper butchery, really understand what it is to make exceptional food, and just become a great cook. It was one of the nicest trials I’d ever had. The rest is history. While the early years were hard (I still had some City in me and had some work to do on my communication), I was there for almost 6 years and still find myself talking about The River Cafe almost every day.
Latterly, I did a short stint as Head Chef at Polpetto just before the group ran out of money which forced closure which gave me direct experience of creating a whole food and wine menu to give diners a true experience; showcase truly great ingredients, from progressive suppliers who were trailblazing with sustainability and supporting independent producers. Basically, what I’d learned at the River Cafe, but with a different hat on.
Back at the River Cafe I began wondering how I could bring together the skills I’d learned to-date; I felt I could achieve more if I combined all my knowledge, but didn’t know how or what that looked like. I’d also spontaneously started reading a lot about the parts of Black British history you don’t get taught at school at the time, as well as Akala’s “Natives”, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race”, and Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke’s “Slay In Your Lane” and was a bit angry with the UK, but also empowered. I needed clarity and some headspace so I decided I needed a change of scenery, completely.
In May 2021, I got a job as a founding chef at a new sustainable hotel in Amsterdam and began the journey of working out how I was going to emigrate before Brexit locked me in the UK forever (haha). It was while I was in Amsterdam on my penultimate visit to do the impossible – find somewhere to live in Amsterdam – when I got a message from James via LinkedIn about his idea for what was then called ‘Box’d Chef’.
We met a few times, and it was interesting. We’re very different, also quite far apart in age, but the idea of creating gorgeous dishes which could empower home cooks had me, and it was ticking all the boxes (bar escaping the UK). He had recently fundraised, had the core idea, an initial brand, and some collaborative chefs on board to get things going. I joined James in June 2020 and from then we worked together for 6 months under the initial idea. I was creating the 12 recipes with the chefs and writing them in the way I wished recipes would be written when I was learning to cook (properly…), finding home-cook testers to come to the test kitchen in a Clapham Youth Centre so I could see first hand what was enjoyable or stressful for a home cook, and cooking the dishes off for a 2-day photoshoot each month. The box wasn’t selling, something was off.
I realised we needed to do more research, properly work who it was for, price-points, and the problems we were going to solve. I led 3 months of R&D with a test-group of 50 people, planned out our budget and set our roadmap before orchestrating the rebrand and hiring a small team to support the launch. Wild Radish launched last October and to me, this is the culmination of an entire lifetime of different endeavours, allowing me to be engaged with what I love (food, making people feel good and subtly influencing habits for the better in very much a global warrior we're-running-out-of time-to-make-meaningful-changes kind of way). I manage the product, marketing and sales, budgeting and finances, and strategy, and am on every photoshoot cooking the dishes and checking they’re on point and the recipes are right; I also work with a team every day who really care which, as I learned at the River Cafe, makes all the difference.
30. Xtramile (France): delivering one-click job ads
Stephanie Nenta Mbianda
Bio: Stéphanie Nenta (COO) grew in Cameroon surrounded by a family of business owners which sparked her interest in entrepreneurship. Following a 10 year tenure in finance, she decided to follow her dreams and launched Xtramile with Xavier Ragage, her ex-coworker at JPM (CEO), which initially came as a response to the recruitment process of banks and large corporations which are still obsolete and rely on a "post and pray approach".
Xtramile transforms the HR and is built on a revolutionary data-driven platform and proactively proposes the job to the active candidates. Despite years of hardship(fundraising, technological barriers, etc), Xtramile's technology has successfully emerged and brings together marketing, finance, and recruitment. Thanks to their backgrounds in finance and their leadership skills honed during their time in finance, the 2 co-founders have assembled a team of seasoned and top-notch profiles in data science, HR, and sales to build a successful business.