Equality & Inclusion
Raphael Sofoluke: Disrupting an Industry
Raphael Sofoluke is a serial entrepreneur and author on a mission to ensure equality and inclusion for black professionals and entrepreneurs. The success and growth of his UK Black Business Show since its launch in 2017 has been prolific, and in 2021, Raphael is expanding it to become the UK’s first ever Black Business Week. Here he tells us how it all began and why he is confident that a fairer, more representative world is possible.
By Raphael Sofoluke – Founder & CEO of the UK Black Business Show.
By 2017, I had been working on and attending large scale events and exhibitions for several years. These exhibitions were full of rich networking opportunities, insightful talks and spaces to learn and create. I was hooked on the industry. However, a realisation had quickly set in during this time. These shows, regardless of what sector they focused on, all had one thing in common - where were the Black attendees and speakers?
The same excuses were continually being farmed out by organisers such as “We just can’t find any Black speakers” or “We don’t know how to target the Black community.” So I embarked on a journey to prove them wrong. I wanted to create a platform to inspire and connect Black business owners and professionals. I knew that to be successful, I would need to do something that had never been accomplished before. Disrupt the entire industry. An industry where it was very rare to see hundreds or thousands of Black professionals and entrepreneurs gather in the same place for a business event in the UK.
Using my sales experience and knowledge from working on very prestigious exhibition events, I got to work. After completing my market research and utilising many of the connections I had made early on in my career, the UK Black Business Show was born. I was able to put together a show within 6 months with a line-up of some of the leading Black entrepreneurs and professionals within the country, as well as showcasing some amazing businesses founded by people from the Black community.
In its first year, the show was endorsed by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and David Lammy, a Member of Parliament. There were 25 exhibitors and just over 500 attendees. Despite the assumption that many Black professionals and entrepreneurs would not come to an all-day business event, the UK Black Business Show proved in its founding year that there was certainly an appetite for Black professionals and entrepreneurs to gather together in a business setting.
Access to finance is one of the key barriers for entrepreneurs when starting up a business and for Black entrepreneurs gaining access to finance is even harder. Many Black entrepreneurs believe that banks and other financial institutions see Black entrepreneurs as higher-risk candidates, compared to their white counterparts. Bootstrapping is a term defined as “building a company from the ground up with nothing but personal savings and using the cash coming in from the first sale”. The UK Black Business Show epitomised this business model and its success bore fruit in the profits I was able to invest year on year to increase the marketing, branding and general quality of the show.
2018 saw the UK Black Business Show’s proliferation as the number of exhibitors more than doubled to 57 from across the UK and Europe, showcasing their work to over 1,500 attendees, with the show garnering enough attention to be shown on ITV News and other media outlets. The next year’s edition saw us almost double in size again with 110 exhibitors displaying their work to over 2,500 attendees and Hollywood star Wendell Pierce coming to deliver a talk at the show.
As the UK Black Business Show continued to grow, I wanted to find even more ways to champion the Black community, especially in industries where the Black community is underrepresented. I decided that Tech was the first sector I wanted to focus on and in February 2020, launched the Black Tech Achievement Awards. The award show was set-up to celebrate and acknowledge Black role models & innovators within the tech sector, helping to illuminate the pathways for greater Black representation of the community within Tech in the future. The show was the first dedicated awards show for Black professionals in Tech in the UK.
Today my passion has allowed me to work with and talk to large companies on how to make their company a more diverse and inclusive workforce; it has also led me to writing a book, which is being published by DK (Penguin Random House). Focusing on Black entrepreneurs and professionals in the working world, the book Twice As Hard, which I am writing alongside my wife, is an exploration of Black identity in the working world and a blueprint for success. Readers will learn what obstacles limit the opportunity for Black professionals’ progress, how to understand and overcome racial stereotypes, be productive, find purpose and ultimately succeed in business.
My hope is that all the initiatives I create and projects I work on will be a step in the right direction for equality and inclusion for Black professionals and entrepreneurs. We are not looking for an advantage. We are just asking to be treated the same and given the same opportunities as our white counterparts. Being the founder of the UK Black Business Show has given me access to some of the leading Black professionals and beyond. With this access, I can confidently say that there are enough Black role models to start kicking down doors in 2021 and well into the future.
Article published: February 2021
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