“Black owned businesses earn significantly less in median turnover than their peers of other ethnicities”

Nathaniel Wade (L) and Albert Larter

Here at Business Leader, we recently spoke to Nathaniel Wade, Co-Founder of Wakuda, a website that gives black-owned retailers a platform to share and sell their goods to a diverse market, about the challenges facing black-owned businesses in the UK today.

What were you doing before Wakuda was founded, and what were the reasons behind forming the company?

My background is rooted in engineering, however my entrepreneurial journey started over a decade ago and includes property investing, starting a property management company amongst other not so successful ventures. Albert’s (Albert Larter, Wakuda’s other Co-Founder) background is in digital marketing and he has built a successful digital marketing agency over the past 5 years.

Forming Wakuda was a great way for us to elevate black-owned businesses. We (Albert and I) both having been serial entrepreneurs for over 10 years were often frustrated by the disparities faced by the black community within the business space, both with underrepresentation and lack of support.

This wasn’t limited to our lived experiences either, we had experienced many peers who had great business ideas/products but stalled at certain points either due to lack of finance or the right type of business support. We often discussed what we could do to create a sustainable solution for change that could dramatically improve the economic position of members of our community.

The murder of George Floyd was a catalyst which led to a global shift in awareness of the disparities faced by the black community. Albert and I discussed how we could use this pivotal moment in time as a way to create real tangible impact for the black community from a space we were familiar with, business.

What are the challenges facing black-owned businesses in the UK today?

Black-owned businesses earn significantly less in median turnover than their peers of other ethnicities. There are several contributing factors for this, from access to finance, to social capital, household income and more.

An example of this is less than 0.25% of venture capital funding went to black-owned businesses between 2009 – 2019. The outcome of these factors lead to lack of representation of black-owned businesses and substantially worse outcomes of black entrepreneurs.

What needs to be done to overcome these challenges?

Within organisations diversity at all levels is a key element to overcome the levels of inequality that currently exist. I find that racial equity and social justice is often still seen as something organisations want to be seen as compliant to, rather than an opportunity.

This not only enables better decision making but also statistics show it increases the bottom line for organisations. To get this message across requires education and needs to be demonstrated consistently through practices and messages from the top down.

I think equitable solutions like Wakuda are a great way to really celebrate diversity from an economic perspective but there are many other aspects which require attention, around team building, upskilling and providing additional resources for those who are disadvantaged or come from various socio-economic backgrounds.

How are you using technology to help black-owned businesses?

At Wakuda we have built an online marketplace where black-owned businesses can register and upload their products quickly and easily. A vendor can be live and running in 30 minutes ready to sell their products to a wider audience. Historically black-owned businesses would often be left undiscovered due to the haze of the mainstream, our mission at Wakuda is to connect these brands to a global, ethically aware and diverse audience.

What sectors need the most support?

There is a lack of black-owned businesses in sectors such as construction, finance and manufacturing. The reason being is due to the lack of support and resources that are provided.

There is a genuine struggle to get access to these resources, therefore facing a disadvantage in being able to excel and seeing more black-owned businesses in these sectors. If there were more black businesses in this sector, the representation alone would encourage more black people to have interest. Providing the support and resources for people to gain more knowledge to find a career and grow in these sectors would be great.

Like what we are doing at Wakuda, we are showing representation by being two black co-founders and providing the support and resources that will help more black-owned businesses flourish and grow. These steps will help build confidence in the community and close the wealth gap.

Over the last decade, has there been an increase in opportunities for black-owned businesses to grow?

In the last decade there have certainly been attempts to support black-owned businesses but nothing as prominent and consistent as most recently. We have seen organisations providing various types of targeted support and grant opportunities for black-owned businesses as well as other types of funding.

Another really good example of this is organisations that have been collaborating with us at Wakuda in order to help support and improve the outcomes of black entrepreneurs. I think the increase in opportunities has been due to more research being done and more of an understanding of some of the pain points a black-owned business typically faces. We’re seeing a lot more meaningful action being taken as opposed to a lot of the external posturing that happened historically (though this still is happening).

What impact has the pandemic had on Wakuda?

As we launched during the pandemic we didn’t get the opportunity to meet prospective vendors face to face and build rapport before launching on the platform. Instead we engaged with people through other channels, like social media or email, though not as effective this has brought us to over 300 vendors on our platform to date.

One interesting thing which may have contributed to this is the significant increase in businesses launching during the series of lockdowns. Now that things are starting to ease we plan to engage with the public through different means, like pop ups and other initiatives to empower as many different audiences to discover black businesses as possible.

Do you have any future plans for the company?

The disparities and lack of representation of black-owned businesses are not limited to the UK. We plan to bring this equitable initiative to the rest of the world in order to bring black-owned businesses to the rest of society on the global scale to create a huge impact for the black community and to empower all of society to play a part in this, as well as discovering some of the untapped talent of the black community.