Tech Nation’s newest growth programme; Libra 1.0, is an initiative to tackle the lack of diversity within the UK tech sector. With applications currently open (and closing on 30th June), Libra Programme Lead, Abi Mohamed, answers the burning questions that can help applicants assess if it’s the right programme for them. Abi has a wealth of experience in the tech sector, having previously worked as a software engineer and most recently as Programme Manager for the Tech Nation Cyber Growth Programme.
Why does the UK tech ecosystem need Libra 1.0?
“Over the last few years, I have been obsessed with finding role models that indicated and confirmed that I belong in the tech and startup ecosystem. In 2020, we saw the Black Lives Matter movement take centre stage around the globe, forcing us to look at the actual numbers in the UK startup ecosystem. From reports, we know there are racial inequalities in venture capital, especially if you’re a Black founder or co-founder, which correlates with the number of Black founded companies receiving VC funding. Access to capital is fundamental for a startup’s growth. Through the Libra programme, I want to balance the scales for teams with at least one Black or multiracial with Black heritage founders. As various reports and studies have shown us, as well as hearing about people’s direct experiences, if you sit in multiple intersectionalities such as socioeconomic class, gender, religion, regional placement and disability, your starting point is not the same. You face different obstacles and more challenges”.
“The Libra growth programme’s main aim is to increase access to capital, network and commercial. Additionally, the cohort will have access to Tech Nation cross-programme sessions; alongside our other growth programme cohorts. I believe once a Black founder gains access to capital and network, their businesses generally grow faster than traditional venture-backed companies. So, instead of talking about the problem, we are putting the hypothesis into action.”
How is the Libra programme different from the other programmes we offer?
“Compared to our more sector centric programme offering, Libra will have additional support for the cohort, creating a safe space for founders with similar scaling journeys. It will focus on the specific challenges they have encountered as Black founders, rather than similar titles or job functions. Like all our programmes, speakers will go through an in-depth due diligence process, and every session will be held under the Chatham House rules of honesty, intimacy and trust. What happens in a session stays in the session”
“As a Libra cohort member, you and your leadership team will also have full access to cross programme sessions, mixing with the Fintech, Applied Ai and Net Zero cohorts”.
Why should Black founders specifically apply for Libra?
“To understand why Black founders should apply for the Libra programme, I need to explain its background and how it is designed. In 2020, after the “Diversity Beyond Gender” Report, Tech Nation conducted some customer discovery to understand why Black founders receive the least amount of funding, which correlates with the number of Black founded UK based scaling businesses. The research included insights from founders, thought leaders, and investors and their thoughts on what Libra should consist of to best support the cohort”.
“We also looked at the data from The Black Report by 10×10 and Google Startups, which showed that Black founders, who participated in an accelerator programme that focuses specifically on the challenges they may encounter through their scaling journey, said that the incubator or accelerator was significant to their success”.
“66% of UK startups found that their participation in an accelerator or incubator programme was significant or vital to their success. The same report states that accelerator participation directly correlates with startup survival, employee growth and funds raised.” The Black Report by 10×10 and Google Startups
“Tech Nation knows how hard it is to scale a company, and when people encounter different challenges, they need other support, tools and networks to overcome them. Therefore, the Libra programme has been designed specifically to address Black founder obstacles (access to capital, commercial and network opportunities). The cohort will also be incorporated in the Tech Nation cross programme offering, mixing with the sector-specific cohorts”.
“Many founders who are eligible for Libra may also be eligible for our other programmes, such as Net Zero, Upscale, Future Fifty, Fintech and Applied AI. Therefore, we ask applicants to identify what programme they think will be the most beneficial for them, what they would be the most comfortable with, or even apply for multiple programmes”.
What is the purpose of the Libra programme, and how will we measure its success in the ecosystem?
“When Tech Nation partnered with Extend Vc and Impact X for the “Diversity Beyond Gender” report, one of the key discoveries was that Black investors experience a disadvantage compared to their peers. This leads to the underrepresentation of Black and Mixed Heritage venture capital partners and the underfunding of Black businesses through venture capital”.
“As Tech Nation was a part of publishing, highlighting and structuring this data, we felt the need to take active steps to resolve the issue. The report also shows that giving access to the right network, capital, and commercial opportunities is vital to creating a positive change for Black founders scaling in the tech ecosystem. The Libra programme is built on providing and strengthening these pillars, proving that these recommendations work”.
From a founder perspective, success would look like this:
- Closing their latest funding round
- Accessing and winning new commercial proof of concept or long-term contracts
- Belonging in a solid peer-to-peer network
- Have a strong international expansion strategy plan or expanded into international markets
Why is Tech Nation the right organisation to deliver a programme like this?
“To date, Tech Nation has supported more than 845 tech companies through their growth programmes, which have now collectively raised over £20billion. The list includes 20 unicorns, 11 IPOs and 30 M&As. Alumni include Checkout.com, Skyscanner, Transferwise, Darktrace, and Monzo. We’re in a unique position in the UK ecosystem, and we have seen great things happen when like-minded founders can be open, honest and transparent with each other”.
“Tech Nation also wants to actively address unfairness and inequality in the tech industry as a whole. Having the self-awareness as an organisation to make changes and facilitate more diversity and inclusion, both internally and throughout the tech ecosystem is a priority for us. As well as the recent publication of the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, the Libra 1.0 programme is one of the steps Tech Nation has chosen to take to facilitate and create positive change throughout the ecosystem for Black founders”.
How will the Libra programme be delivered?
“All sessions will be virtual, except our kick off and final dinner – if circumstances around Covid-19 allow us, we will aim for a physical meetup for these sessions and possibly an international trip if conditions allow. The good thing about this is that geographical locations will not affect the experience of the programme – no matter what your region or office structure”.
What types of sessions and learning will Libra 1.0 offer?
- Sessions, Q&As and fireside chats with expert speakers and scale coaches
- Peer to peer support with more practical elements such as workshopping
- Networking sessions both internally in the cohort and externally. We tailor the sessions to get cohort members in front of relevant organisations to support them on their scaling journey.
- Investor & commercial matchmaking. We will match founders to the right investor to have a more productive 1-2-1 chat.
Extra resource from Tech Nation:
- Support on International, if applicable.
- Visa Global Talent support. We know how important it is to find the right talent to scale your business. The Home Office has designated Tech Nation to endorse applications for the Global Talent Visa in digital technology. We can support employers who want to hire from outside the UK.
Do you think the Libra programme could be for you?
You can read more about the programme, eligibility criteria and what our supporters say on the Libra page. For specific questions or guidance around the application, check out our Tech Nation Application Guide. You can also get in touch with Abi by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.