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How These Black Women Founders Raised Over £7 Million In 12 Months

A year ago, these founders were about to start fundraising for their businesses, today they have collectively raised millions. We catch up with them 12 months on…

By Isobel Van Dyke

6 April 2022
A

year ago this month, The Stack published a list of Black Women Founders who were all about to dive head first into their next funding round. 12 months on, we decided to check back in with those same women, to see if they secured investment, and more widely, to talk to them about how their business has evolved in the past year.

Not all from the original list returned to give us an update. However, 10 of them did, and each has seen huge developments to their businesses - whether they secured funding or not. Those who didn’t may have pivoted their company’s trajectory in some way, whilst some are even exploring new career pathways altogether.

That being said, some of the women who partook have grown their businesses exponentially. Simi Lindgren of Yuty for example, in September became the 10th Black female founder to gain VC backing - raising £500k in pre-seed funding.

In November last year, Mariam Jimoh (featured below), raised £3.4 million for her grocery delivery service, Oja. Rachael Twumasi-Corson and Joycelyn Mate of Afrocenchix, went on to secure £1.2 million in funding in the months following our last shoot, whilst media company founded by Tobi Oredein, Black Ballad went on to raise £335,000.

Over the past 12 months, we have heard success story after success story from our Stack World members. From securing investment to making your first hire; from finding a new business partner at one of our meetups, to hearing one piece of advice that changed your entire strategy; success comes in many variations within our community and it’s our aim to support you no matter what stage of your career you’re at - particularly in the face of such bleak statistics for women.

At the end of last year, it was reported that only 0.02% of VC funding in the UK has gone to Black female founders in a decade. During this decade, only 10 Black female founders received VC funding.

Despite these odds, young Black women are at the helm of some of the UK’s most exciting new businesses. In the US last year, funding to Black startup founders quadrupled - however, though funding went up to a total of $1.8 billion (from $0.6 billion), this figure still only makes up 1.2% of the total venture capital invested in US startups.

Since April last year, the women featured in our previous photoshoot have raised over £7 million collectively. Below, we catch up with them to find out how their businesses have evolved, the biggest challenges they’ve faced and what their next steps will be.

Join us this evening, for a live event with Eight Roads investor, Lucile Cornet, where you’ll get the chance to ask an investor all of your burning questions to help guide you through the fundraising process. RSVP now.

Sign up as a Stack World member today and never miss out on our events.

Josephine Philips - Sojo

Josephine Philips - Sojo
Josephine Philips - Sojo

Founder: Josephine Philips

Company: Sojo

@sojo_app

Founded in 2020, Sojo is a fashion-tech startup for the circular economy. Its app and cycle-powered delivery service uses a Deliveroo-style model to connect customers to local seamster businesses, taking a commission from the seamster’s services and charging the customer a delivery fee to cover collection and drop off.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

When we interviewed last year I was still the only full-time team member of Sojo and now we’re a full-time team of five and over the coming months we’re going to grow to a team of 10+. That’s pretty major when I think about it. We were also pre-investment and were still only focussing on a direct-to-consumer proposition. Now we’ve raised investment from some incredible angel investors and we’re also working with fashion brands to help them embed more circularity into their business model.

How much have you raised for your business in the past year?

We secured £300k in an angel investment round at the end of last summer from a roster of incredible individuals who have all played a really strategic part in where we are today. We’re also currently fundraising for a larger pre-seed round which is going to be another incredibly exciting chapter for us.

What were the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge has definitely been trying to learn how to be a good manager. Starting Sojo at 22, straight out of university meant that I’ve never actually been managed myself, so I’ve felt quite unequipped to be managing a team. All I want is for them to feel fulfilled, happy, challenged and like they’re growing and learning everyday - but it’s easier said than done!

What’s the next step for your business?

We really hope to close our pre-seed fundraise soon, and after that the main focuses will be: hiring an incredible team, working with brands to really develop and refine our B2B proposition and also really building out our community to get more people using the Sojo app.

Josephine Philips - Sojo

Jasmin Thomas - Ohana

Jasmin Thomas - Ohana
Jasmin Thomas - Ohana

Founder: Jasmin Thomas

Company: Ohana

@ohanaskn

Founded in 2019, Ohana is the culmination of Jasmin Thomas’ deeply personal mission to create efficacious skincare for women with auto-immune diagnoses.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past year?

Over the last 12 months we took a step back and thought about how our business contributes to the world from a sustainability and innovation perspective and in response to our community needs we have pivoted the business to have a more impactful change and support to the autoimmunity community.

Our mission is the same. We want to change the health and lives of millions of women living with autoimmune disease, however instead of physical products, we are now building technology to put women back in control of their health.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

I put a pause on our raise as I focused on the pivot of the business. We received a few Angel commitments who are following through on our current raise but instead of putting my focus on raising 12 months ago I really needed to build a business plan, gather market data, market size and everything we would need for our new iteration of Ohana.

We launched a million pound pre-seed round a few weeks ago and have 30% of the round committed and are now speaking to VC’s to decide on who will be our lead.

We are really keen on receiving support from a Fund or VC that really believes in the healthcare space with a focus on women and that is ready to step out of the usual pillars of female health that receive the majority of Femtech investment.

How much have you raised for your business in the past year?

We have 30% of our current raise committed.

What were the biggest challenges?

Raising as a Black female founder is always difficult. The stats are not in our favour, however I believe in our mission to my core & know health tech/ Femtech is a growing industry and we are within the next wave of innovation this sector has to offer.

Where would you like to be in a year?

In a year, I would like our app to be up and running, giving women power and ownership of their own health.

Jasmin Thomas - Ohana

Rebekah Clark - Happy Marlo

Rebekah Clark - Happy Marlo (Rebekah wears LABRUM)

Founder: Rebekah Clark

Company: Happy Marlo

@happymarlolife

Happy Marlo is a wellbeing platform with a monthly subscription model, created specifically for six- to 11-year olds (encompassing approximately 2.3 million families in the UK).

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

The biggest change has been a pivot in the focus of our execution. The vision for Happy Marlo – to empower young children by giving them tools to better manage their emotional wellbeing – remains strong and unchanged, but the ‘how’ of our purpose is evolving. We have moved away from the development of an app, for now, and are focusing on direct support and interventions. As we come out of lockdown and start exploring what life looks and feels for us now, families are telling us they want in-person experiences, tailored solutions, and more ways to help them emotionally connect with their children. We’re developing programmes to bring more Happy Marlo practitioners on board so that communities can be supported on a local level.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

Unfortunately, not. Despite positive feedback I wasn’t successful at securing a lead investor to set the price for the pre-seed round, and to signal confidence to the potential investors I was speaking to. After the initial disappointment, I took the opportunity to reflect on what was working, explore what more could be achieved whilst bootstrapping, and most importantly to lean into the activities that were bringing me joy, and to do more of those.

What were the biggest challenges?

Having a very small team means there are many things we want to do, but simply don’t have the bandwidth to do them all. It means we follow a two-pronged approach of responding to what our community is telling us and supporting them in the ways that we can, and also following our intuition on where to prioritise our resources. Will this make our audience happy, and does it make us happy? It’s well-reported that a founder’s journey is a challenging one, and an emotional rollercoaster all of its own. As my coach told me last year, the clue is in the brand name, Happy Marlo. Follow the happy!

What’s the next step for your business?

In lieu of investment, strategic partnerships have been an exciting avenue to explore. There are so many brilliant individuals and brands who share our vision, and we see amazing opportunities for collaboration, rather than viewing them as our competition. There’s room for us all. This is manifesting right now in filmed content opportunities, major events, and storytelling content, all of which have featured in my pre-Marlo communications career. It’s wonderful to see the different experiences and contacts from my earlier work coming full circle and making a new kind of sense in the Happy Marlo context. There are no accidents!

Rebekah Clark - Happy Marlo

Lottie Whyte - MyoMaster

Lottie Whyte - MyoMaster
Lottie Whyte - MyoMaster

Founder: Lottie Whyte

Company: MyoMaster

@myomasteruk

MyoMaster is a sports tech company which has created a fleet of massage guns and other technologies to ease muscle and joint pain.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

We've evolved and learnt so much. The biggest single change has been scaling the team, I thought I could do it all but you simply can't scale a business without excellent people and growing our team has been the most powerful move we've made. Not only that but we scaled by 150% in the last 12 months.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

Yes, we secured investment from an incredible mix of athletes and experienced Angel investors.

What’s the next step for your business?

We are focused on three things: launching new product innovations, we've got some really exciting products coming out this year. Growing our team - we are currently hiring two more team members across brand and ecommerce and scaling the brand internationally, we get asked everyday about when our products are coming to other countries so we are going to give the people what they want and open up internationally in the next quarter. Big things ahead.

Where would you like to be in a year?

We would like to be continuing to help athletes of every level unlock their full potential with incredible recovery products, content and community events but doing it on an international scale. In terms of funding this time next year we will be looking at our Series A.

Lottie Whyte - MyoMaster

Zainab Sanusi - FRO

Zainab Sanusi - FRO

Founder: Zainab Sanusi

Company: FRO

@growwithfro

Founded in January 2021, FRO is a beauty community with a mission to redefine the textured hair experience for Gen-Z and millennials, creating haircare products that simplify the styling and upkeep of natural, textured hair.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

So much has happened in such a short period of time! The most significant from a company perspective is probably that I now have a co-founder, Mamy Mbaye, who I am incredibly grateful for because I can't imagine doing all of this alone.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

This time last year we were gearing up to raise a Friends and Family Round of pre-seed funding to essentially test our thesis, work with a cosmetic scientist to build our first few products, solidify our brand and build out our community of 'Fro Friends'. We set out to raise $50K and I am happy to announce that we ended up raising just under $80k - it was very reassuring to see the investor appetite for what we are building.

What were the biggest challenges?

I had originally expected that getting people to buy into the idea was going to be the biggest challenge. But because we did so much outreach in the lead up to the raise and we had also put a lot of work into fleshing out our business case once we formally opened the round it closed quite quickly. Perhaps one aspect I did underestimate was the administrative effort required. That easily took 3 months alone. Each round of funding is a joint agreement and so we could not actually close the round and use the funding without getting everyone to agree, sign all the documents and transfer the funds. This was further complicated by the fact that we had a few international investors. But I will give a shout out to SeedLegals - the platform we used to manage this round. They massively simplified the process so I can't imagine what raising would have been like without their platform. We were able to onboard all our investors onto their tool and house all our legal documentation centrally.

What’s the next step for your business?

We are currently in building mode. We have the first version of our platform launching in April which we hope to use to position Fro as a thought leader in our category and a resource in a space where consumers are constantly being exploited for their lack of knowledge or do not have the information to empower their decision making. We also want to use the data insights we hope to generate from our platform to get a better understanding about what consumers actually feel is missing in the space and how we can better help.

Where would you like to be in a year?

Preparing to raise or having already successfully raised our Seed round from institutional investors. We also still have some headway to make in terms of our products and testing but we are well underway so I can't wait for the public to actually get their hands on everything!

Zainab Sanusi - FRO

Lola Okuyiga - Wonder

Lola Okuyiga - Wonder
Lola Okuyiga - Wonder

Founder: Lola Okuyiga

Company: Wonder

@gaptoothgirl

Wonder is a multi-brand e-comm marketplace specialising in luxury, contemporary and street/sportswear fashion.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

I’m obsessed with Blockchain/Web3 and the opportunities it brings for women/marginalised communities. We came up with the term ‘3commerce’ to describe our approach to things and we just soft launched some merch as part of Metaverse fashion week with Boson protocol on Decentraland.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

Yes, my Angel round was oversubscribed which was great! I have some amazing investors! From former big brand VPs and basketball royalty female entrepreneurs!

How much have you raised for your business in the past year? What were the biggest challenges?

Honestly, I should’ve raised more so I could hire the amazing folks I wanted to from day one like a lot of the businesses who’ve achieved the scale and impact I’d liked to and believed in myself more.

Self-belief as a young black female founder doing it on her own can be challenging when you have so many things to build and no platform under you. Mental health too: the amount of anxiety I’ve experienced over the past year has been wild but thankfully my friends, family and advisors have been great. But I know I’m 100% doing the right thing and would like to be able to be a tiny example of what is possible in the space.

What’s the next step for your business?

Launching our platform and raising my pre-seed/seed round so I can hire the amazing people I need to get to the next level and create real opportunities for the groups I represent.

Where would you like to be in a year?

Seed round closed and over subscribed.

Lola Okuyiga - Wonder

Mariam Jimoh - Oja

Mariam Jimoh - Oja

Founder: Mariam Jimoh

Company: Oja

@OjaHQ

Oja is a digital supermarket transforming access to cultural groceries and world foods via fast delivery. With a background in finance, Mariam Jimoh (one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Technology for 2021) wants to fill the gaps for communities that are largely under-served, by improving access to the products they love but struggle to source.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

Going from zero to one. We had a strong proposition and idea but this year has been about making it a very real reality.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

Yes, we raised $3.4m in a pre-seed round led by LocalGlobe, we also welcomed other angel investors including CxOs of Deliveroo, Taster, Sainsbury’s and Ocado – it’s been a journey!

What were the biggest challenges?

Daring yourself to go for what you deserve and more.

What are you most proud of?

My team and all we’ve achieved since launching 4 months ago! We’ve sold over 4000 plantains, 15x our order volumes and grown to a team of over 30.

Where would you like to be in a year?

More plantain sales, more growth and more friends turned family on my Oja team! Really delivering on our mission to transform access to foods from all cultures with a click of a button.

Mariam Jimoh - Oja

Natalie Otwoma - Venture Capital Fellow

Natalie Otwoma - Venture Capital Fellow (Natalie wear Bianca Saunders)

Founder: Natalie Otwoma

Venture Capital Fellow

Since TSW's article in April 2021, I have since evolved and moved out of my business and into the world of investing.

The main driver of this decision was that I fell out of love with what I was building and became more intrigued with exploring the startup ecosystem as a whole. Along the way, I have had the privilege of getting to meet startup founders at the earliest stages of their journey, investing money, time, and knowledge into them (some of whom were also featured in the first article).

With a taste of the potential VC has to drive change on a massive scale, I took a chance and applied to Included VC's competitive 'MBA-style' program which has the aim of radically diversifying the VC ecosystem. I was incredibly excited and humbled to learn I was accepted as 1 of 75 out of a global pool of 3000+ applicants (<3% acceptance rate), and would now have the opportunity to upskill myself in the financial side of VC, especially coming from a background in Chemistry.

My hope is to make the most out of this experience as I get to learn from incredible funds across Europe (such as Creandum, Notion, Seedcamp) and as the fellowship goes by, I want to explore careers in VC further.

Natalie Otwoma - Venture Capital Fellow

Winnie Ogwang - Living Proof

Winnie Ogwang - Living Proof (Winnie wears LABRUM)

Founder: Winnie Ogwang

Company: Living Proof

@livingproof.world

Living Proof is a youth-led insights consultancy, founded in December 2020 by Winnie Ogwang alongside her co-founders Rosie Baker and Miriam King. They bring together a wide range of experience in innovation consulting, consumer and tech sales, marketing, operations and local government.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to your company in the past year?

We've worked with clients across industries and challenges as diverse as developing a new banking product for Gen Z, to building a new app for young unemployed job seekers in the digital sector.

We've expanded our product offering beyond research and co-creation to include customer testing, recruitment and events. We're looking forward to scaling these this year.

And most importantly to us, we've built a community of talented, diverse, creative young people. We're excited to keep putting our money where our mouth is by supporting the next gen.

This time last year you were either raising or about to raise, have you secured investment for your business?

We decided to bootstrap. We've been fortunate enough to build a profitable business early on, so there isn't financial pressure. Plus we value the ability to make independent decisions, which align with our vision on our timeline. We've discussed a few cases for seeking investment, but we'll be rigorous about who we allow onto our cap table and when!

What were the biggest challenges?

Growing a business remotely during the pandemic.

We've worked hard to build incredible relationships across sectors, but it's much easier to delve into a business's challenges face to face. Plus delivering projects 100% remotely was demanding. However, it allowed us to develop a project model that we know works both remotely and in person, as well as include a wider variety of voices. We're excited to embed these principles as we continue to grow.

What are you most proud of?

Providing dozens of opportunities, so young talent that's often overlooked can gain skills, experience and get paid (always). Plus, delivering winning products and experiences built FOR young people BY young people. 90% of everything built for the new gen is crap - they deserve better. Not to mention, celebrating our 1st birthday party in December with everyone that has supported us and our mission. Watching members of our community perform for a room full of their peers, alongside our family and friends helped us round off the year on such a high!

Where would you like to be in a year?

Year one completely surpassed our expectations. We want to continue to grow at the pace we are - that means our partners, our community and our revenue! Most importantly, it means more skills, confidence and money in the bank for young people.

We’ve got plans to create a permanent community studio where we work, but that’s also always open to our young people. They deserve a space where they can hang out, meet like- minded peers and work on their creative projects.

Lastly, we want to continue to build our reputation as a company that’s opinionated, brutally honest and unapologetic in our belief in the new generation. We're custodians of this company - we’re building as fast as we can so they can take over. We can’t wait to make our first permanent hire directly from our community.

Winnie Ogwang - Living Proof
Winnie Ogwang - Living Proof

The Short Stack

Since last April, these women have collectively raised over £7 million.

By Isobel Van Dyke

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