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Founder Stories

Meet Nathaniel Wade, Co-Founder of Wakuda

Meet Nathaniel Wade, Co-Founder of Wakuda 2560 1708 OneTech

Meet Nathaniel Wade is a serial entrepreneur based in the London Borough of Lewisham. He joined the OneTech Pre-Accelerator with Foundervine to develop his e-commerce business, Wakuda. In this OneTech Story, Nathaniel shares the origin story of Wakuda and how he navigates the tech world as a non-technical founder.

Tell us about your business

Wakuda is an online marketplace that connects shoppers with a goal of discovering and amplifying Black and diverse UK talent. As a platform that connects buyers to sellers, it provides everyone with the opportunity to access amazing Black-owned brands. But more than that, we are working towards an equitable sustainable eco-system where supporting independent Black-owned businesses isn’t a reactive act that’s done in surges but one that is just as instinctive as purchasing from any other mainstream brand.

Where did the business idea come from?

My Co-Founder and I have always discussed the lack of representation and support for Black businesses in the UK. Last year, after George Floyd’s death and the worldwide protests, we noticed a shift in awareness of the challenges faced by the Black community and wondered how we could translate that shift to meaningful impact. Because we are business focussed we created the marketplace as a way to see diverse talent widely celebrated and empower our community.

What stage is your business at now?

We launched in September 2020 and are now at traction stage. We have nearly 300 businesses on the platform and are gaining new users daily. We are building awareness and making technical improvements.

We create partner relationships with vendors and have quite a few different channels of marketing to customers through social media, blogs and features in the press. We see innovative partnerships as the best way to build the brand into a robust model, before seeking further investment.

How has your background and your community and influenced your business journey?

I’ll definitely say my background is a driving force for me. There is a lack of representation in terms of Black entrepreneurs to aspire to. You have to search quite hard to find someone who looks like you. That’s definitely a problem we want to solve. We want members of our community and our children to see people that are doing things for themselves and give the inspiration that we were missing. There is so much talent that just hasn’t received the right exposure to go mainstream.


Historically, the more typical successful entrepreneur is a white man. They often have access to certain circles where they are able to absorb information or see how family businesses run. When you don’t have that background or have certain people in your circle you are starting off at a deficit. We need more education, upskilling and awareness. Information about how to get to market, brand positioning, how to make a profitable business.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

There have been a lot of challenges. One of them was the fact that we were both non-tech founders. My co-founder’s background is in digital marketing and my background is electrical and mechanical engineering. So we needed a lot of external input to make the platform fit for purpose with the customisations we required. We had problems with our first developer being inflexible but we moved on and have secured a better tech collaboration.

Another challenge for me was marketing. Coming from a property investment business to running the e-commerce marketplace required a lot of adaptation. I like to learn a lot so it’s literally been a case of just doing the research, getting on programmes like OneTech, and talking to other founders. My experience is that everyone’s willing to take time just to talk and share tips.

We launched during the pandemic so we didn’t get the opportunity to go out and meet brands face to face. We’ve had to do a lot of relationship-building on social media.

What did you get out of the programme?

It helped us to redefine our focus in terms of value proposition and brand positioning, to break things down and to know we are going in the right direction. Initiatives like OneTech and Stride are important to support innovation in South London. We need to improve awareness, nurture communities and create spaces where collaborations and partnerships can be sparked. More signposting is needed to the tools out there to help individuals grow businesses.

I think community is a massive thing. One of the initiatives we plan is to host monthly drop-in sessions as an opportunity for the vendors on our platform to share wins, losses, strategies, problems and of course to celebrate working together. We understand that it is a long, tough journey, and want to provide support from an authentic place. We don’t just want to be a stand-alone platform for product listing, but more of a hub. Our ethos is very much to challenge the status quo. Our bottom line is that we want all the businesses on Wakuda to be successful.

Initiatives like OneTech and Stride are important to support innovation in South London. We need to improve awareness, nurture communities and create spaces where collaborations and partnerships can be sparked. More signposting is needed to the tools out there to help individuals grow businesses.

Nathaniel Wade

What are your dreams and plans for the future?

Our mission is twofold. 1 is to bring Black-owned businesses to the mainstream. 2 is to address the large disparity in income between entrepreneurs of Black and other ethnicities. Recent British Business Bank research showed that Black entrepreneurs experience far worse outcomes, on average and have significantly lower median turnover. Through empowering individuals, we aim to narrow that gap.

What is your message to inspire other underrepresented founders?

Just get started. I find a lot of people developing ideas for years and years and then look back and think ‘Oh, if only we had done this’. There’s nothing worse than looking back and not knowing if you could have succeeded. Even if it fails you at least know you tried.

 

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Meet Damilare Bakinson, Founder of Genuine Gratitude

Meet Damilare Bakinson, Founder of Genuine Gratitude 1657 1734 OneTech

Meet Dami Bakinson who found her purpose by founding Genuine Gratitude - an empowerment-centred photography startup based in the London borough of Southwark. In this OneTech Story, Dami shares her entrepreneurial journey so far, the insights she has learnt along the way and her ambitions for the future.

Where did your business idea come from?

In 2017 I started my Digital Design degree and that taught me a lot of the fundamentals of photography.  When I took portraits of my own children I got an amazing reaction to them. I started researching and developed this idea of photographing children in order to appreciate important moments and called my business Genuine Gratitude, to represent these thankful moments for myself and everyone else. The purpose is to photograph children as a way to empower them and strengthen their sense of identity and self-love.

Since then I’ve been learning as a freelancer how to run a business. I’ve been able to join several different entrepreneur programmes, got some grants to buy equipment and build my portfolio.

What stage is your business at?

At this present moment, there is a lot of juggling between my studies, running my business and being a parent. I am embarking on a Computer Science teacher training course in September to further embrace my passion for helping young people grow and increase their self-esteem. Fortunately, I’m quite organised!

My clients come to me through my web and social media presence and through friends and family.

How has your background and your community influenced your business journey?

Growing up I was just passing time at secondary school. I left school not knowing what to do with myself and it left me in a few bad places in my teen years. I think that a light bulb switched on for me when I got pregnant with my son at 22. That’s when I realised I couldn’t keep playing games with my life anymore. I needed to find myself and a sense of appreciation for all the gifts in my life was what was going to get me forward.  

Genuine Gratitude is a response to that experience. It’s not just photography. It’s actually more psychological and a way to support young people, especially children of colour, to show them they are important and beautiful. It captures a moment in their life as a celebration, digitally designed and framed on their wall.

It is for girls, boys and their families. Something that concerns me massively is that young boys are passing away through knife crime, not going to school, not knowing what they want to do and just finding themselves in the streets. I want to try and target that from a younger age, to nurture self-esteem to help them find what they want to do in the future.

What challenges have you faced in your business journey?

My initial challenge was having to accept that I wasn’t in a great place in my teenage years. But encouragement, listening to motivational speakers, accessing support and resources really got me through the negative thoughts and directed me towards solutions. I strongly believe that there’s a solution to every problem.

I would also say running a business has been a challenge for me. I have only got myself with many other responsibilities. I still believe that it is possible because I plan a lot and organise. I literally allocate my hours to be able to do everything. 

How did the Stride OneTech programme support you? Did you develop any new skills?

I first heard about the OneTech programme when information was posted in a group that I am in called ‘She connects’ which is linked to a woman’s inspirational group called ‘She is you UK’.  I participate in their workshops and really believe in the benefits of being part of these kinds of peer networks.  I applied and was so happy to get a place. I enjoyed every session and think it has been life-changing.

What are your dreams and plans for the future?

I’ve got lots of dreams.  By the time I finish my teacher training next in July I would like my business to have a good workflow. I’ve already got a strategy in place that helps me consistently produce content, get clients and deliver. In the longer run I also plan to write a book, to go into schools and companies to talk to young people, to empower their growth. I would eventually like to go international, especially to Nigeria, to speak about self-love.

Genuine Gratitude is a response to that experience. It's not just photography. It's actually more psychological and a way to support young people, especially children of colour, to show them they are important and beautiful. It captures a moment in their life as a celebration, digitally designed and framed on their wall.

Dami Bakinson

Are there any entrepreneurs or businesses who have inspired you?

Lisa Nichols is a motivational speaker. She is my role model. I’m always connecting with what she’s speaking about and how she runs her business.

What is your message to inspire other and other underrepresented founders?

You have to decide what you want to do then work towards it. You have many purposes in life but you just have to pick one and keep people around you that can support you and push you towards that goal.

I also think everybody should start a business. It gives a sense of achievement and helps you grow in many ways that you wouldn’t expect because you’re putting yourself out there. It’s incredibly rewarding when your customers enjoy what you create for them.

Finally, mental health and self-care are vital.  You can get really busy with all your plans and stuff but if you don’t take care of yourself it won’t work.

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Meet Gabriel Moreno, Co-Founder of Fiquetex

Meet Gabriel Moreno, Co-Founder of Fiquetex 2048 2560 OneTech

Meet Gabriel Moreno, who was born in Colombia and grew up in Wandsworth. Together with his father, he is the co-founder Fiquetex, a textile company with a production plant in Medellin. Fiquetex produces 100% sustainable, renewable and biodegradable non-woven textiles made of fique fibre and natural rubber latex.

Where did your business idea come from?

One day we opened a cupboard at home and a mountain of plastic bags fell out. Then I kept hearing facts like by 2050 there will be more plastic bags than fish in the sea and the Pacific garbage patch is bigger than the size of France.

My father has worked in textile engineering for about three decades, so we wondered how we could come up with a way to solve this problem and make it more sustainable. We were walking through the hills of Medellin one day looking at the Fique plant. It grows very well everywhere and needs almost no maintenance, so that’s where the idea started for a new product. My dad got to work on the chemistry and here we are.

Fiquetex is an innovation. There are other sustainable alternatives, but this is affordable, atheistically pleasing and durable with a wide array of possible applications. It uses much less energy to produce than other sorts of sustainable bags. For example, for recycled paper, you need to boil and bleach it. You need to change the pH levels, and then the final product is flimsy and weak, and can only be used once or twice. Other supposedly vegan leathers use high amounts of unsustainable plastic ingredients too. All of these things add up and can still damage the environment whereas Fiquetex uses less energy to produce and totally biodegradable. Furthermore, we are using a waste product and help rural communities, as farmers currently discard the small fibres that we use.

 

What stage is your business at?

We have a fully automated production line where the raw material goes in at one end and creates several products.  Fique Fabric is a stylish textile that is also long-lasting and economical. It can be adapted for numerous purposes, such as packaging material, eco-friendly carrier bags, scouring pads for washing up or even outdoor agricultural use and flower wrapping.  Fique Vegan Leather is an adaptable and durable alternative to bovine and synthetic leather. Its design and appearance are equal to animal leather, without the negative environmental consequences. Once the textiles have reached the end of their useful lives, they can be planted in the group and can decompose in just 100 days, becoming nutrients to the soil. Hundreds of companies are already in touch with us, including some major fashion retailers. We plan to make it more affordable per square metre than what’s currently available, meaning if designers put in orders for thousands of metres, they will be saving the environment and money at the same time – everybody wins.

We will target the Latin American market as a starting point to test it and get feedback, as it’s easier to transport and get things running without shipping complications. Then we plan to bring it to the UK, USA and Canada. There are lots of green targets and incentives to push for it here connected to recycling and eco-friendliness. We have an investor for the machinery that needed to be imported and for raw materials.  

How do work together as a family business?

My father takes care of engineering and technology whereas I studied started marketing and business and recently completed a masters in Latin American Economics. My grandfather, who was a figurehead in the Latin American Non-woven industry, also offers us his support and guidance.

The logistics can be complex. There are a lot of phone calls! He’s in Colombia which is about 5-6 hours behind so when he finishes his working day at the production line, he will give me a call and update me on the day’s progress. But obviously, for me, that’s about midnight, just when I’m trying to wind down, and my head gets filled with all these ideas!

How has your background and your community influenced your business journey?

My mother and I came to the UK at a time when Colombia was unsafe. Unfortunately, my country is often in the news for the wrong reasons. The bad press and some of the negative stereotypes can be quite difficult. I have been the butt of so many jokes about drugs when people hear I’m Colombian. In reality, we have some of the best musicians, authors, sportspeople, doctors in the world. We also want to showcase our own Colombian innovation.  The media is also very patriotic and really keen on promoting us.

What challenges have you faced in your business journey?

Apart from negative perceptions of Colombia we also have the challenge of getting people to believe in Fiquetex. We now have prototypes, but it was initially hard to secure investment and sales with quite an abstract idea that needed over a million dollars in investment due to the importation of high-tech machinery.

Also, the pandemic has created significant delays in production.

How did the Stride OneTech programme support you? Did you develop any new skills?

It was great to hear all the other ideas and network with other founders. I think it improved my public speaking. It gave me a good insight into the overall picture of the business. It also clarified how to sharpen the business identity- what do you want people to see when they look and think about your business? It needs to really emphasise the whole green and quality aspect. When people go on our website now straight away, they see eco-friendly products.

Have you had a moment when you knew you would be successful?

I won a competition for the best new innovative entrepreneurship idea at Oxford University.  I was in the postgraduate category so there were a few people in groups with doctorates who are the experts and world leaders in their fields. So, when we won that it was ‘OK if these guys think it can go far, then it’s got legs.’

Also, when I launched the website, we got a high volume of sample orders with zero paid marketing. It was just the Instagram account. That’s a good sign.

The STRIDE OneTech programme improved my public speaking. It gave me a good insight into the overall picture of the business. It also clarified how to sharpen the business identity- what do you want people to see when they look and think about your business? It needs to really emphasise the whole green and quality aspect. When people go on our website now straight away, they see eco-friendly products.

Gabriel Moreno

What are your dreams or plans for the future?

We’d like to be exporting in at least five countries soon, so that will be Colombia, UK, USA, Canada and Italy. We want to get exposure at the fashion shows like London Fashion Week, Paris, New York and work with fashion academia. If we get a decent following on our website, we can have guest writers to grow the company and awareness and get involved on a global scale to get this brand out there as much as we can. But most importantly I hope we can make a difference and save some animals and reduce pollution. From saving cows for their leather, ocean life from plastic waste, or land animals from less global warming and landfill pollution, then the efforts will have been worth it.

What’s your message to inspire other founders especially founders who are from underrepresented communities?

Network, network, network! Reach out to people -obviously in a polite way. The worst that can happen is they don’t reply. I’d say go for it and you’d be surprised how many people are willing to help.

It definitely is hard work to balance everything because the business takes over your time, especially working in a different time zone. I remember a quote that business is the ultimate sport. A football match lasts 90 minutes whereas entrepreneurship takes up 24 hours a day.  All-day you’re on the phone or emails. It’s important to know when to have a rest and take time out. To be able to think, take a step back and look at it from a different point of view to see what we’re doing right and how we can improve.

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Meet Maya Lingam, Founder of EcoSpot

Meet Maya Lingam, Founder of EcoSpot 2048 2560 OneTech

Maya is the Founder and CEO of EcoSpot, a community platform for climate action. The platform helps young people and their families develop lasting sustainable behaviours, at school and at home. 

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

There have been a few challenges.  One is being a non-technical founder, although it makes you more resourceful and careful with what you build. For instance, I built a lot with no-code tools.  

The second challenge would be bootstrapping. But, in fact, it was a good move not to rush into fundraising, and the focus on sales is paying off. We’re recently backed by Bethnal Green Ventures, which I’m super happy about. This will be a real game-changer for EcoSpot and it’s amazing to have value-aligned investors.

Then of course Covid has been a challenge. We had lined up pilots, then the pandemic hit and there were lots of delays due to changing guidance for schools and lockdowns of course. 

 

Do you feel that anything in your background has been an advantage or disadvantage in your journey?

Obviously, there is a clear disadvantage to being a black female founder. Looking at the data, the numbers regarding access to venture capital are so astoundingly bad they are almost funny. And my parents don’t have the cash to offer a few thousand pounds to fund my startup. But, actually, in the early days, whatever background you are from, I don’t think fundraising should be the priority or your top marker of success. Know your customers first and focus on them.

Another disadvantage is the micro-aggressions. On my first day at the co-working space, a man approached me and asked me to clean up, assuming I was staff.  People don’t expect you to be the owner of a business, they definitely don’t expect you to be working in the climate space. Or they expect there to be a male CEO who’s in charge and you are Robin to his Batman.

But these disadvantages can be advantages – I think they make you scrappier, more of a hustler.

 

Where did your business idea come from?

There are 2.2 billion children on earth today who are the least responsible for climate change but are going to be the worst affected. It’s critical that future generations are equipped with both the knowledge and behaviour to live sustainably and protect their futures.

A recent study showed that 1 in 5 children have nightmares about climate change. We need resources that are positive about the things that you can actually do to protect the planet and that aren’t terrifying for children.

I went along to a climate strike and was very taken aback by the numbers and the passion. I started to think about all the co-benefits of climate action for your home, your well-being, for saving money and being more connected to your community. This is where the concept of EcoSpot was born. It changes the narrative to show the impact people can have when they act together as a collective. We have the opportunity to teach young people sustainable behaviours at school that are modelled back to their families at home and the wider local community. We’re using tech as a bridge between these environments, so far we’ve launched an iOS and a web app.

 

What’s your business model and what stage are you at?

We sell to schools on an annual licence who then distribute the platform to students and staff. Local authorities are also a key market as they have net-zero by 2030 or 2050 targets which nearly all involve public behaviour change.

I work on the business full time. After bootstrapping for a while, EcoSpot was selected for Bethnal Green Ventures’ accelerator. We will be raising a pre-seed round later this year.

 

How has OneTech supported you?

I saw the FoundersDoor Pre-Accelerator programme on Twitter and decided to go along, not knowing what to expect. 

I hadn’t thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I definitely wasn’t one of those kids who sold sweets in the school playground! But the programme took us from scratch to the first version of MVP.  It gave us a grounding, time to test ideas out, make mistakes and figure out what we should do differently. That was over a year ago and my mentor from the programme still supports me on a monthly basis today.

Having free office space through OneTech was amazing, I was there seven days a week. It was the same space as the OneTech team so there were always friendly faces checking on how we were getting on, rooting for us.

Through OneTech I also got a hardware grant so I was able to buy a laptop and an iPad which has been crucial to building and testing the product.

Through OneTech I met a black female founder for the first time. Even though I'd been working in tech for over 2 years, I'd never met a black woman or man in management.  I clearly remember that day thinking "Oh yes, I can do this". You cannot underestimate the power of seeing someone who looks like you in a position that you aspire to be in.

Maya Lingam

 

What are your plans for the business?

I want to build a mission-driven business that scales. I’m really passionate about creating something purposeful that is also for profit, and working towards an amazing exit. We want to strengthen communities and reach those who are least engaged with the climate conversation but will be the most affected by it.

 

What is your message to inspire other underrepresented founders?

Meet people and let them know what you are working on and how committed you are to it. In the past, if I had a question, I wouldn’t know where to go. Now it’s the opposite.  

Through OneTech I met a black female founder for the first time. Even though I’d been working in tech for over 2 years, I’d never met a black woman or man in management.  I clearly remember that day thinking “Oh yes, I can do this”. You cannot underestimate the power of seeing someone who looks like you in a position that you aspire to be in. That mindset grows quickly once you have access to a diverse community of founders, like YSYS, Colour in Tech.  It’s just flipped my network entirely.

Before OneTech I wasn’t part of any of those communities at all.  After OneTech, it was like the doors opened to an interconnected world with lots of amazing support.

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Meet Mohammad and Vamsi, Founders of Edicat Learning

Meet Mohammad and Vamsi, Founders of Edicat Learning 2560 2048 OneTech

Edicat Learning is an AI-driven platform that designs personal plans for students to identify and address their individual learning needs.

Where did the business idea come from?

As experienced tutors, we have collectively delivered over 6,000 hours of one-to-one teaching to students and we saw the immense impact that it can have on student performance.

Unfortunately, at a cost of £900-1000 a year, a private tutor is a luxury most parents cannot afford. 

Currently, students are being taught in large classrooms at the same pace and in the same order which does not meet their individual needs. When a student misunderstands a topic early on, the class simply forges ahead, progressing to more advanced concepts that demand a robust understanding of the previous topic.

We realised that we could leverage the latest advancements in psychometrics and machine learning to enable access to high-quality personalised learning for all students, irrespective of their socioeconomic background. 

How does Edicat Learning work?

Firstly, students can use our adaptive assessments that intelligently selects’ questions to ask students based on previous responses to identify their individual knowledge gaps. 

Thereafter, students, parents and teachers will be provided with live performance reports that highlight which learning outcomes in the national curriculum are holding them back.

Finally, our platform uses machine learning to design personalised learning plans for each student that tells them precisely which concepts they need to work on, starting from the most fundamental concepts, to maximise their performance.

Have you raised funding?

We are grateful to have been selected by Queen Mary, the University of London for the Build It Award, where a £10,000 grant was provided to develop the product. 

We are also humbled to be part of the AWS EdStart Accelerator, where we received $10,000 worth of credits. We also received a £1,500 special grant from Santander Universities for being a socially-oriented venture.

How has OneTech supported you?

The OneTech ecosystem has been extremely helpful. FoundersDoor gave us a community to share and refine our idea as well as develop our ability to communicate it to the stakeholders. 

Yes, we benefited a lot from OneTech. An important part was understanding how start-ups operate at the early stage. One of the most important mindset shifts that we had in product development was taking an agile approach, where you build a product with a minimum feature set, test it in the market, get feedback from customers and then continue to iterate until you have a product that customers love.

We also took part in accountability circles. It was great to be part of a group where sharing failures was celebrated as a learning opportunity. This allowed us to pool our knowledge together and support each other on our entrepreneurial journeys by ensuring that everyone learns from each other’s experiences. 

Above all, OneTech has given us access to a powerful network of experts who have an understanding of the industry that we’re operating in and that was monumental in gaining validation and traction.

How have your backgrounds have influenced your journey so far?

We are both really passionate about learning and teaching. We want to democratise access to personalised learning.

What challenges have you faced?

While we’ve had our challenges, as all startups do, we’ve managed our challenges strategically. One example is the struggle we had with recruiting technical experts to implement our vision. We’ve thankfully managed to recruit an experienced and passionate tech team. 

A capable team with a diverse skill set is critical to the success of a startup. We also place a high priority on the culture we create in our team, especially given the disproportionate impact a new member has on a small startup. It was challenging to foster the right culture, to be open and critical, relentlessly passionate yet flexible, but we have been lucky to create that.

What are your dreams for the business?

We are driven fundamentally by the vision that one day every child will have equal access to high-quality, personalised education irrespective of their socio-economic background. We have high-minded ambitions on democratising personalising learning based on prior knowledge, ability and preferences to meet individual student needs by intelligently bringing together the strengths of psychometrics, machine learning and cognitive science. Every decision we make as a business is evaluated on whether it takes us closer to achieving this goal.

Further, we are very excited about eventually delivering a blended learning model where our technology can empower teachers in their classrooms to pivot their pedagogy and achieve improved student learning outcomes. We also aim to prepare our students with 21st-century skills to ensure they face real-world challenges with great confidence.

What’s your message to inspire other founders?

The first is to persevere. The second is to connect. Talk with as many people as you can because everybody has something insightful to share. The third is, it may sound cliche, but it is of paramount importance to understand your user. Understand what their needs are and develop your strategy around addressing those needs.

My advice is to regularly and critically reflect on everything that you do. Is this the best way of achieving our objectives? Are there alternative methods that incur fewer costs? What value are we actually delivering to students? Since when we started this project, critical reflection allowed us to pivot in the right direction

Discover the stories of other great entrepreneurs we have supported through our programmes:

OneTech Stories

OneTech is committed to challenging inequity and the lack of diversity in the Tech Start-Up ecosystem. We offer a range of free programmes and activities to empower underserved tech talent and entrepreneurs. We are on a mission to Change the Face of Start-Ups! Come, join us:

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