Black women-owned firms win chance to expand

By Ella Hopkins

Two black women-owned start-ups have won a prize to grow their inspiring businesses.

The entrepreneurs received a £10,000 digital makeover after winning a public vote for the Virgin Media Business awards.

Joint winners Kelly-Jade Nicholls from Brixton, and Annie Amusu from Greenwich, founded their businesses after discovering a crucial gap in the market.

Former stylist to the stars Ms Nicholls founded black children’s book subscription Woke Babies, which sends subscribers a selection of black children’s books each month.

She decided to set up the business after finding out that only five per cent of children’s books in the UK feature main characters from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

Ms Nicholls said: “Representation is something that has always been important to me. Growing up, my mother made sure I was always surrounded by positive black images as a child.

“Wanting other children to have access to the same positive upbringing, I decided to self-publish my own black children’s book.

“While promoting the book at fairs and events and speaking to several families, it became clear that many parents struggle to find books featuring characters that their children can relate to.

“I wanted to come up with a way to solve this problem while also helping authors reach their audiences – which is how the idea for Woke Babies was born.

“I feel extremely grateful to be receiving this digital makeover and consulting package from Virgin Media Business, it will help me in so many ways.

“My advice for other black entrepreneurs would be to take risks and put 100 per cent into everything you do, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to change direction if you need to.”

Ms Amusu established Epiphannie A, the UK’s first black haircare and beauty comparison site, from home during the nationwide

Feeling frustrated by the lack of choice and expensive price-tag when buying her go-to hair products online, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

She said: “We are a UK-based community where savvy black women can come to compare the best prices for their favourite hair and beauty products while discovering new products that better suit them – saving them both time and money with our specialised directory platform.”

“Before lockdown, only 17 per cent of UK BAME women bought their hair products online. As such, there is a severe lack of data on how and where this demographic shops.

“Not only are we making it easier for BAME shoppers to access products in a time where we rely on online shopping more than ever, we’re also offering brands and retailers unique data insights on shopping behaviours so they can better serve their community.

“I was so shocked to find out I had been chosen as a winner and feel proud that my company has resonated with so many people outside of my friends and family. The digital makeover and consulting package from Virgin Media Business will help me accelerate my website further and continue to improve the user journey.”

BLCK VC, a non-profit supporting black investors, says that just one per cent of venture capital investments go to black-owned businesses.

Leanna Edwards, the chairwoman of Virgin Media’s empower network which was behind the programme, said: “We launched this initiative to support black-owned businesses and drive awareness of the black business economy so we’re thrilled to announce Woke Babies and Epiphannie A as the deserving winners.

“Both businesses are making waves in their industries after less than a year of being in business. By using their online platforms to connect with communities and customers, they have enormous potential and we can’t wait to see what they get up to next.”

Pictured top: Kelly-Jade Nicholls from Brixton. Inset, Annie Amusu from Greenwich

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