Smiling Group Of Diverse Businesspeople, Networking

Six things tech programmes can learn from The Apple Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers

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.


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Encouraging diversity in development

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There was a time when the thought of a developer conjured up images of a dark room full of graduates in hoodies. Times have changed, but the perception lingers. As too does the presumption that it’s a male dominated industry.  

Mobile app developer for 6B, Daniel Edwards challenges this attitude, explaining that the sector is now full of possibility for those serious about a career in the sector, irrelevant of gender.

Daniel comments: “I remember it well. The suggestion that developers were geeks, usually men and spent much of the time in a dark room wearing headphones unable to communicate confidently off screen.

“Like any industry, we attracted this reputation and it stuck, but things have moved on massively since then.

“Coding has become an accepted term, and although often referred to in its most basic form, there is a greater understanding of what can be achieved when you work with a professional developer. There has also been a lot of work done with STEM subjects at schools and colleges. Particularly opening up the dialogue to young women to showcase the appeal of a job in tech.”

Providing insight into the complex skills that a developer needs and the technical knowledge, Daniel explains why this should encourage rather than deter anyone who wants a career in the industry.

He comments: “The reality is that you need to be a multilinguist. That is, you have to be able to write code in different technical languages and speak to customers too. This isn’t a skillset that is driven by gender, it is about commitment, attitude and willingness to learn.

“When I went to University, you would learn a bit of everything and then decide what you wanted to specialise in. Anything else, you learnt on the job. With access to the Libraries and Frameworks that we have now, such as React Native, a junior developer could come in and work on a wide range of projects, from mobile applications to websites and web-apps.

“This makes them a more versatile member of the team, while also giving each candidate the opportunity to work across a variety of projects on multiple platforms. Never has there been a better time to grasp at the chance to work in an industry that literally never stops evolving.”

Daniel explains how opening up the talent pool and providing opportunity for a generation of developers can also benefit business.

 He comments: “Having so many developers that can work across several projects at once impacts positively on outputs. Knowing that we can have a truly diverse mix of personalities, with different thoughts and experiences, makes our job all the more exciting.

“You don’t want to work with a team of clones that will churn out the same old stuff. We want innovative ideas that are influenced by the people working on that project. Male or female shouldn’t come into it. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute and to make a difference.”

Daniel explains that although these changes are positive, they don’t make development any the less complicated. As you still need specialist knowledge and technical skills when you work on larger scale projects, he explains why this should encourage future talent, male and female, to want a career as a developer.

He comments: “While it sounds like we have taken several languages and created just one simple dialogue between all platforms that isn’t the case. Access to frameworks certainly gives developers greater scope and opportunity to work across a range of projects, but when it comes to larger scale briefs, the need to be a specialist remains.

“As the purpose of coding has become better understood, with websites having greater functionality and businesses using apps to create value and to support customer experience, client expectations have also followed suit.

“It’s no longer about putting five pages together with a gallery and a video. Organisations now recognise that their website reflects their brand. There is a direct correlation between the perception a shopper will give from an online experience as from a face-to-face interaction. If the functionality isn’t there or the navigation is poor, then it will leave a bad impression.

“For me, the significance of what a developer can create is now better appreciated than ever before. Seeing more female developers coming into the business just enhances that further. I would expect this to encourage the next generation of talent to consider a career in tech.

“I can think of nothing better than working in a job that pushes boundaries and challenges my capabilities to become the best that I can be in a truly diverse team of people, all with something different to bring to the table.”

6B is a development agency working across a range of private and public sector accounts. The company is a 30-strong team of digital specialists. For more information about the agency and its work, please visit: https://6bdigital.com/


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