Smiling Group Of Diverse Businesspeople, Networking

My name is Dayo Akinrinade, and I am the founder and CEO of Wisdom, a social audio app on a mission to democratise access to mentorship.

We are building an audio community of accessible mentors, to help regular folks overcome the barrier of the requisite “warm introduction”.

At some point in time, many of us have dreamt of starting a company, but few move from idea to action. In recent decades, tech has become more accessible and entrepreneurship has exploded in popularity. Tech founders are the new rockstars — Jeff Bezos is hosting glitzy celebrity-packed parties and yacht-hopping in Europe, and the media care enough to report on it. Startup culture is glamorised as a fast track to overnight success, but the brutal truth is that building a startup is less of a sprint and more of a marathon. A startup is a true test of mental and physical endurance, fraught with high risk and emotional highs and lows. Now strap on a weighted backpack to indicate the racial and gender disparities I face as a Black, female tech founder in the UK, where reportedly just 0.24% of venture funding went to Black founders.

To address the minority founder disparity, there are a multitude of diversity-focused accelerators, bootcamps and programmes. From my prior experience on the founding team of OneTech, London’s largest diversity in tech programme, I had the privilege of providing diversity consultancy to a number of programmes including Techstars, Startup Bootcamp and Space Camp. Given this experience, I applied to the Apple Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders with a healthy dose of pragmatism.

True diversity is intersectional

The world-leading accelerator programmes are at differing stages of their diversity journeys and tend to overwhelmingly focus on the ‘safer’ gender aspect of diversity, at the expense of ethnicity and other intersections. Apple’s approach boldly differs as the Entrepreneur Camp program includes cohorts for female, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx founders and developers from underrepresented communities. Additionally, the camp eligibility requirements include having a Black founder, cofounder, or CEO AND a developer from an underrepresented community — thus ensuring that the cohort composition moves beyond performative diversity.

Give black founders permission to dream

Traditionally, tech founders are expected to start out with a friends and family round. However, this is hampered by the wealth gap between Black and white households which is well documented in both America and Great Britain, where the Black African household median wealth was reported at £34,00 versus the white British household at £314,000. It’s not uncommon for Black founders to save money by living in with and financially contributing to their parents’ households or, to sending regular remittances to support family “back home”.

Startup founders are expected to have a moonshot mindset, and this can be challenging where many Black founders do not have a friends and family network capable of supporting their entrepreneurial dreams. Apple’s programme included a session run by an Apple Technology Evangelist, in which the insight and passion expressed was truly invigorating and inspired me to dream beyond my current limitations.

Indie developers matter

Tech startup programmes have entry requirements, and as the accelerator model has matured, the eligibility criteria of the top accelerators has increased. Currently, it’s not uncommon for programmes to require a full-time team and a functional MVP. This criteria often disqualifies Black founders, as it is not uncommon for minority founders needing to work full-time whilst building a startup as a side hustle. Uniquely, the Apple Entrepreneur Camp accounts for the reality that not every rockstar founder is an Ivy League dropout and gives different archetypes of founders a fair shot by allowing non full-time founders to participate. Helpfully, there is no charge nor equity taken to participate in Entrepreneur Camp.

Black founders need hands-on one-to-one support

A typical tech accelerator programme includes group lecture-style sessions on topics like ideation, legal and product. The content is often high level and founders leave the session with a to-do list to take away and implement. The Apple Entrepreneur Camp is described as “an intensive, hands-on technology lab where you’ll work one on one with Apple experts and engineers to significantly accelerate your app” – and this was accurate. My team benefitted from code-level hands-on support from Apple’s frameworks experts and found it invaluable.

Diversity without discomfort is performative: managers of diversity tech programmes must be equipped to facilitate the difficult conversations.

Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp is based on the thesis that “founders from underrepresented communities face unique challenges especially when starting and leading technology companies”. In my experience, most technology programmes fail to directly acknowledge these “unique challenges”, perhaps because it is impossible to discuss diversity in tech without discomfort. Surprisingly, the Apple Entrepreneur Camp did not avoid the hard conversations. It included a session where participants openly shared experiences of being Black in tech: showing up to a tech company headquarters and being mistaken as the valet, or in my case, I was mistaken as the janitor. We talked about the role of therapy and allyship, which was emotional, yet empowering.

Provide ongoing support and networks

According to NESTA, the main goal of tech programmes is “to provide intensive and time-limited business support for cohorts of startups”. ‘Time-limited’ characterises the duration of one to twelve weeks, and after the programme, there is usually no scheduled or guaranteed support. At best, the founder can contact the programme team on an adhoc basis for generic, non-specialist startup advice. One way Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp really stands out is when it comes to the ongoing support it offers to the cohort. This is particularly critical for minority founders who, due to systemic ethnic disparities, can lack access to mentors. This is where having the opportunity to tap into senior-level support and expertise – even after the scheduled component of the programme has ended – is beyond valuable.

For Wisdom, via the Apple Developer Program – I am able to access resources within the portal and get one-to-one code-level support from software engineers. I can not underscore how helpful this is – when you are building an innovative startup, one-off interventions are great, but to effect sustainable change, long-term support is required. That’s something that Apple’s global network provides and I believe this will go some way to sustainably addressing ethnic disparities within the tech startup ecosystem.

About the author

Dayo Akinrinade is the Founder and CEO of Wisdom. London-born with a Nigerian heritage, Dayo is a minority founder in tech and a former Big 4 IT Management Consultant. In 2021, Dayo launched Wisdom, a leading social audio app, to democratise access to mentorship through a diverse community centred on knowledge-sharing. Since its launch in October 2021, Wisdom mentors have shared over 600,000 minutes of insights and guidance, while listeners have absorbed more than 5.4 million minutes worth of knowledge.