Posted 18 April 2023
Mention Zoié Dash
Mention Abigail Maria Sol
Mention Piarvé Wetshi

Three entrepreneurs share their experiences as part of the Black Business Incubator at Somerset House

Since 2020, grassroots organisation Mentor Black Business has been helping Black creative entrepreneurs make their ideas a reality. One of their key programmes, Black Business Incubator at Somerset House – produced in partnership with the London workspace and sponsored by Morgan Stanley – seeks to help early-stage Black business owners develop their creative enterprises through offering seminars and physical space for their work and business. As the incubator opens for their fourth round of applications, three entrepreneurs and programme alumni share how the incubator scheme has helped them, as well as tips for those interested in applying for the programme.

A hybrid programme based both in London’s Somerset House and online, the year-long Black Business Incubator programme provides participants with monthly expert-led masterclasses, mentorship from industry specialists, free access to a co-working space, as well as a variety of community events. Seeking to foster a supportive and inclusive creative community, the opportunity is open to a wide breadth of would-be business owners of any age who identify as Black or Black mixed-race.

With the fourth round of applications closing on 28 April, below, three recent participants of the incubator programme share their experiences of applying and subsequently using the space, mentorship and seminars available to them.

Zoié Dash, founder, Quote Bags

An actor and writer by trade, Zoié set up Quote Bags with the goal of “connecting people and telling truthful narratives.” Adorned by original quotes that are inspirational, debatable or funny, Quote Bags cover subjects such as culture, identity, London, individualism, self-care, gentrification, society and many more. Due to demand, Zoié has branched out to develop a clothing line for her quotes.

Tell us about why you set up Quote Bags.
I started Quote Bags because I wanted to tell people’s stories, views and opinions. I found that strangers don’t make eye contact with each other, but will look at bags. My bags are “walking billboards for how people feel”, a customer said to me. Couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

What was the process of applying for the Black Business Incubator programme like?
I was actually approached by a former Black Business Incubator coordinator who had found my details on a Black business directory, and felt my business would be a good fit for the incubator. To apply, I had to fill out an application form which asked me about my views of where I feel my business is going, how I started my business and what I needed help with and how I would utilise the space to advance it.

There was no interview process – it was just an application form. I found it one of the easier applications I had to do because I was talking about something I had created and felt passionate about.

“The incubator programme was one of the easier applications I had to do because I was talking about something I had created and felt passionate about.”

Quote bags creativelivesinprogress

Quote Bags, designed and sold by Zoié

Quote bags creativelivesinprogress 2

Quote bags creativelivesinprogress 3

Quote bags creativelivesinprogress 4

How was your experience participating in the programme?
The programme included varied activities such as classes and offered us the use of a working space. I appreciated that the incubator had a varied range of seminar topics, from accounting to building a brand and creating a community.

I had a mentor for six months, who I am still in touch with. Initially, I didn’t know how we matched because she was in a different industry than me, but her skills were highly transferable and she shared some valuable experience and advice on how to progress my business and delve into the corporate side of branding.

I’ve also branched out through organising events in the spaces at Somerset House that have been provided to incubator participants. I now do a regular event, The Recharge, which allows underrepresented groups of creatives to connect through multidisciplinary means. The feedback I’ve got from participants was that the event was needed. It has managed to shine a light on my business as well.

Any tips for entrepreneurs looking to apply to the Black Business Incubator programme?
My tips for anyone who wants to apply to the program, as cliche as they sound, are to speak your truth and have a clear plan of where you want to see your business. Know what you need help with and how the incubator can help. Also, focus on building a community in the programme. A year goes quick, so do not waste it – take up space in the working space!

Whether you are successful or not, send the application knowing you did your best.

Find out more about Quote Bags here

Abigail Maria Sol, founder, Deya

With community and creativity at the core of her practice, theatre and film director Abigail founded Deya, a platform that connects Black creatives with career-defining opportunities and resources, whilst cultivating community spaces and connection. Having sent out waitlist invitations in January, over 500 Black creatives had signed up within six weeks.

Tell us a little about why you set up Deya.
Deya is here to solve the problem of underrepresentation and inequality within the creative sector. This work is fuelled by the belief that access to art is a human right, and a valuable tool for us to imagine and create new realities.

As a director of theatre and film, I tell stories to inspire and empower audiences, and my work typically centres on coming-of-age stories about Black women and girls. I often work alongside other Black creatives that Deya seeks to support, which means our offering is peer-led and grounded in first-hand experience.

Whilst growing the community at Deya, we are rolling out early-stage offerings, such as free portraits to support community members with personal branding. Later in the year, we will reveal our game-changing new offering for the Deya fam! This work has been made possible with support from the Black Business Incubator at Somerset House, WeTransfer’s Supporting Act Foundation and Arts Council England.

“What are your business’ main pain points and how can Black Business Incubator help? Knowing this will help you communicate why you’re a perfect fit.”

Deya 04 creativelivesinprogress

Deya creatives

Deya 03 creativelivesinprogress

Deya 02 creativelivesinprogress

Event with Deya

Deya 01 creativelivesinprogress

How was your experience participating in the Black Business Incubator programme?
Being part of the Black Business Incubator has unlocked new opportunities for Deya. I have accessed training for many practical and soft skills that you typically need to learn on the job. This support has up-skilled me as a leader and enhanced my capacity to deliver on the business’ ambitious plans. We’ve also benefited from Somerset House’s Exchange Programme, where I have accessed in-kind accounting and legal advice and developed new meaningful relationships.

Any tips for entrepreneurs looking to apply to the programme?
If you’re thinking about applying for the Black Business Incubator programme, go for it! You’ve nothing to lose and so much to gain. Bring yourself to the process, as people will be just as interested in who you are and your ‘why’. Also, have a think about what you want to get out of the programme and why it’s right for you right now. What are your main pain points and how can BBI help? Knowing this will help you communicate why you’re a perfect fit. Good luck!

Find out more about Deya here

Piarvé Wetshi, co-founder, Colèchi

Together with her sister, Piarvé runs Colèchi, a collective and research agency pushing for sustainable development in the fashion industry. Initially dreamed up as a clothing collection, the project gradually developed into an events series and community in response to the sisters’ frustrations about the secretive and gatekeeping nature of the fashion industry. During the pandemic, they adapted by working on research projects about fashion and community.

Tell us a little about why you set up Colèchi.
Colèchi was officially set up in 2020, but it has been a long series of conversations with myself and my sister. At the time, I was in-between jobs and my sister was studying. We decided to set up a series of events where we invited people from the industry to talk about fashion and bring along other people who were curious. We thought that, if we couldn’t access this information, we were probably not the only ones.

Our events, in 2018, sold out in days! At the time, nobody in the industry was talking about inclusivity or even vertical collaboration [two or more businesses working together] – everything was top-secret.

We built a community of people that wanted to do fashion better. As we were running our events, the desire to start a fashion brand simmered, and what we really wanted to highlight was how big the industry is. Now, we actively work in the industry in other ways, such as research projects that revolve around fashion and community. We enjoy sitting in between the art and business of fashion and the research.

I’m also a mum, so I’m juggling a job, side hustles and motherhood all at once.

What was the process of applying for the Black Business Incubator programme like?
My friend Kashope, a jewellery designer whom I worked with on a project during the pandemic, sent me a link to the programme and said, “girl, you need to apply!” It was very timely as Colèchi had to move out of our ‘meanwhile’ space in Bermondsey, yet we had just started growing a team, so it felt as if we were about to lose the ability to regularly meet up.

The process was just a form, and they got back in a few weeks. I had forgotten that I had applied! I was just very honest with my situation and the skills I could bring, and I am glad that I applied.

“Be truthful and show your passion for what you are doing. Show that you care about what you do, be loud and clear about the change you want to see and why you are the best person doing it.”

Colechi clean fashion sustainable creativelivesinprogress

Clean Fashion exhibition organised by Colèchi

Colechi publication pages creativelivesinprogress

Colèchi’s first printed journal

Tina wetshi colechi talk creativelivesinprogress

Co-founder Tina Wetshi speaking at Colèchi’s Clean Fashion Summit 2022

How was your experience participating in the programme?
The programme is a little like going from college to university. They give us access to space, a mentor, plus monthly, insightful masterclasses (that have been very beneficial) and a classic WhatsApp group with the whole cohort.

It is all about how you make the opportunity work for you whilst making the most of the resources. Jerell and Akil, who were running the programme and our key points of contact, were both so amazing. They were always on hand, sharing opportunities and tips and offering one-to-ones for participants and our businesses.

The first thing Colèchi did was host an event at Somerset House that we invited our contacts to. This was an opportunity for us to share who we were and it helped us raise our profile. Our team asked for access to space – so much of our time was spent building our internal culture as Colèchi.

My mentors [offered by the programme] have been very useful. Although they are not directly related to our industry, they have acted as a sounding board; ironically, they both deal with marketing, which is what my career has been.

Any tips for entrepreneurs looking to apply to the programme?
Be truthful and show your passion for what you are doing. I would be doing Colèchi whether I applied for the scheme or not, so I think it is about showing them that you care about what you do, being loud and clear about the change that you want to see and why you are the best person doing it.

Most importantly, show what you can provide them. Often, we think that we are just participants, but there is so much that you can bring, too – even if it is just enthusiasm. Also, if you are successful with applying to any incubator programme, think about what you need for your business, what you have planned for it and openly ask people for them. If they cannot help you themselves, often they would want to signpost you to someone that can.

Find out more about Colèchi here

Applications for the Black Business Incubator close on 28 April. Interested in learning more about the programme or want to sign up? Find out more details on their site.

Mention Zoié Dash
Mention Abigail Maria Sol
Mention Piarvé Wetshi