Oxford launches new initiative to promote equality and equity in entrepreneurship

Image description: The gate to the Bodleian Library through which the Radcliffe Camera can be seen. 

A new Entrepreneurial Fellowship Initiative from the Oxford Foundry aims provide dedicated pathways for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students to enter entrepreneurship and senior leadership positions. As well as being supported by world-leading Ambassadors, and mentors from different sectors, the scheme will give 20 BAME students the opportunity to undertake funded summer internships.

The Oxford Foundry has launched a new Entrepreneurial Fellowship Initiative to proactively ensure that more people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds achieve senior leadership positions within business, start-ups, and venture capital.

The Parker Review (March 2021) found that nearly a fifth of FTSE 100 companies lack board-level ethnic diversity, and only five ethnic minority directors occupy a CEO position, compared to six ethnic minority directors that held CEO/Chair positions in 2020. Reports have also shown that in the last ten years, less than 1% of venture capital investment in the UK went to Black entrepreneurs, and Black female entrepreneurs received just 0.02% of investment.

Beginning July 2021, 20 Oxford University students from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds will undertake funded eight-week summer internship placements with high-growth start-ups from the Oxford Foundry’s portfolio of accelerated businesses. The start-ups are tackling world-scale problems including climate change, healthcare equity, and cybersecurity.

The OXFO Entrepreneurial Fellows will focus on venture building areas including product development, customer acquisition, financial modelling, and sales and marketing. They’ll also be given training in entrepreneurial and leadership capabilities including creative thinking, complex problem-solving, building resilience, and leadership under pressure. 

The initiative will also focus on helping Fellows to identify their personal and professional goals and ambitions and will provide tailored opportunities and pathways to help them achieve them. Crucially, the programme aims to provide Fellows with a platform and strong support community of peers to help navigate and combat the barriers and biases which regrettably still systemically exist in entrepreneurship.

World-leading entrepreneurs and business leaders have been brought together across geographical boundaries, disciplines, and sectors to provide active support as Ambassadors to the Fellows. They, along with a Mentor Network of more than 50 exceptional people at different stages in their careers, including Oxford University alumni, will support the Fellows with their key learning and career objectives, and provide a lifelong community.

The Ambassadors include Ric Lewis, Executive Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Tristan Capital, Baroness Shriti Vadera, Chair of Prudential plc, Dr Acha Leke, Chairman of McKinsey’s Africa region, Angela Ahrendts DBE, former Senior Vice President of Apple Retail and former CEO of Burberry, and Biz Stone, Co-founder of Twitter, and Chair of the Oxford Foundry Advisory Board.

The Oxford Foundry aims to scale the Entrepreneurial Fellowship Initiative to a larger number of participants from other under-represented groups in the coming years. 

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Oxford University, said:

“The under-representation of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students in higher education, academia and entrepreneurship, is well documented, and something that the University continues to strive to address. Closing the opportunity gap for all Oxford students and promoting inclusion and fairness in entrepreneurship is at the heart of the Oxford Foundry’s mission. This fantastic programme will take that work a step further towards supporting and guiding the careers of the innovation leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

Ana Bakshi, Director of the Oxford Foundry, praised the initiative as an opportunity to substantially improve fairnes within global entrepreneurial ecosystems:

“Companies with the most ethnically and culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits. Our new Fellowships provide dedicated networks, opportunities, and support to set Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students up for life, and get them on an equitable footing in what is unfortunately still an unfair and inequitable world of work. Change is not happening fast enough. We need collective action not just intentions, and that is why having role models and mentors from every level, and at each stage on our Fellows’ journeys, is so vital.”

“Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not – and that is the primary focus of our Entrepreneurial Fellowship Initiative; to provide access to the support and career pathways all students need to succeed, when they need it most. Now is the time to invest and to make this a reality. We have the potential to dramatically shift the landscape of people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and other under-represented groups within senior leadership positions, and to substantially, and sustainably, improve fairness within our global entrepreneurial ecosystems. We can create a world that is reflective of the world we want, and it all starts with education and entrepreneurship.”

Biz Stone, Co-founder of Twitter, and Chair of the Oxford Foundry Advisory Board, commented:

“We want to create a world with substantially more people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in senior leadership positions in entrepreneurship and venture capital. That’s why a central focus of our strategy at the Oxford Foundry has always been to democratize access to the opportunities, networks and resources they need to succeed. This all starts with education, and higher education institutions have a pivotal role in setting the culture, values and skill sets of our future workforce.”

“The three-tier learning experience will provide lifelong learning and networks for Fellows, and in turn opportunities for businesses and VCs to learn about how to change the face of entrepreneurship and venture capital. To see so many high-profile entrepreneurs, across different countries, join me in being an ambassador to the Fellows, along with a huge number of mentors at different stages of their careers, is testament to the barriers and boundaries that can be broken down when we all join together.”


Image Credit: Chen Chen