What was your main reasoning for launching Levels 2020?
Levels 20/20 was as a result of my own personal journey and how difficult it was to break into the creative industry initially. I was looking for mentors, people to support and guide me on my journey to becoming a film marker and reached out to people that looked like me and came from similar backgrounds in senior leadership position, they were not able to help me but I did find help from a mentor that didn’t look like (i.e. Caucasian, middle-aged executive) me but who saw the passion, drive and ambition in me, he took me under his wing.
I made up my mind that once I attained a bit of success, I will give back into my community and do the same for young people with creative aspirations as I had. it started with the creative industry and grew into every major industry across the country. While supporting young driven individuals with sustainable employment, I discovered many of them had side hustles that they were keen on pursuing as viable businesses. That’s when we expanded the business to represent young black and under-represented founders, connecting them with business mentors which have helped them grow their business and even helping them launch it. Having officially launched 20/20 in 2013, we started the mentorship programme in 2021.
In your experience have you seen any improvement in the access to funding available to founders of a black origin over the last 5 years in London and the wider area?
Yes, however not enough and the percentages are still very low in comparison to the funding pool available for tech founders i.e. the next Unicorn coming from perhaps a founder of black origin. However, our focus at 20/20 is to support the under-represented and overlooked founders that won’t get accepted into tech accelerators or draw down from big tech firms but rather founders looking to build a small to medium business that could employ 10-25 employees.
In your experience what do you think are the major challenges faced by founders of a black origin when looking to start a businesss especially in this current climate?
It’s network, access to funding, resources, a mentor, understanding the business landscape, lack of social capital and not knowing how to do things in the right way; Mentoring can help curb a lot of these concerns. A lot of black entrepreneurs don’t have access to family networks that they can really on for business advice, support or access to funding. We aim to teach them business fundamentals and provide access to equity free funding so they can prove their concept and go as far as introducing them to angel investors as a result of them going through the programme. They can confidently pitch for investment and this allows them to grow their business effectively.
Can you talk me through some of the initiatives Levels 2020 run specifically to support founders of a black origin with fundraising and building their profile…
We have our Levels 20/20 Business Development Programme which is a ten week mentoring programme which touches on a number of different areas.
- We cover personal and business development, helping a person build their profile, build their confidence, explore whether their business is viable.
- Then we connect them with a suitable seasoned mentor specific to their business needs- an expert in that area/industry
- The mentoring journey is for 3 months.
- They are taken through 4 masterclasses – Business Basics, Marketing Matters, Finance Fundamentals and Perfect Pitch
- 5 out of 25 in the cohort will be chosen to pitch for equity free investment
- Winner walks away with “2.5K investment to take their business to the next level
(Side note: We are looking for a sponsor for 2024’s grant, so if you would like to work with us in supporting our next batch of cohorts, reach out to me)
We run this programme three times a year, therefore helping 75 young people build and scale their business ideas.
Can you share a particular success story from a founder that has been through the 20/20 programme.
Absolutely, I will take us back to when we first had the idea of the 20/20 Business Development Programme.
Prior to the 20/20 Business Development Programme, we were running the Levels ‘I am Change Personal Development Programme’ and a young man had been through our programme and shared his business dilemma with me. He wanted to set up an electrical and heating business with his co-founder and they rivalled British Gas in the area of building subscriptions i.e. people paying to get their boilers fixed via subscriptions. Their subscriber base and business were growing at scale but because they lacked initial funding, they borrowed money that was pegged at fairly high interest rates. They were making profits but feeding it back into the business. They reached out to me and I shared their profile with my network and my mentors liked the idea and invested in their business. Their loans were cleared off and they are now operating a seven figure business. That is where the idea for the Level side of things grew when we realised that we had an untapped marketing of young people that we supported with businesses but were struggling to take it to the next level.
How do you think communities such as Home Grown/Adoreum have helped to support improved DEI strategies and the work that 2020 are doing?
Home Grown and Adoreum have been instrumental in supporting the work that we are doing. Home Grown and Adoreum have supported us and in turn, we support them by providing access to a diverse group of people within their membership space. But beyond that, we’ve provided businesses with a different perspective when it comes to recruitment practices and how we can help them diversify. Because they strongly believe in the work 20/20 does, Home Grown and Adoreum have introduced us to their members that are seeking ways to improve their DEI strategies. We host various events and mixers bringing out 20/20 community and the membership networks together. The inclusion and serendipity of not knowing who you’re going to meet and what the conversations will lead to make it an exciting place to be.
The next 20/20 cohort will begin their programme in February 2024, if you wish to be a business mentor, you can sign up here
If you’re interested in enriching your entrepreneurial experience and finding a strong community of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders then contact our membership team at Home Grown.