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Zero-equity UK accelerator for ethical start-ups to launch by year-end
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Zero-equity UK accelerator for ethical start-ups to launch by year-end

Zero-equity UK accelerator for ethical start-ups to launch by year-end
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Photo: Hands holding digital devices with words start-up, accelerator, idea and vision highlighted. Image for illustrative purposes only

A new United Kingdom-based accelerator and incubator of early-stage ethical start-ups will kick off at the end of this year that promises to take nothing in return from the companies it develops.

The brainchild of halal food delivery service HalalEat.com founder and CEO Abul Rob, London-headquartered Salaam Ventures is arguably the first of its kind for strictly ethical and socially-conscious start-ups. It will  be helmed by CEO Suki Fuller, who holds several roles in the UK and beyond, most notably as founder and managing director of the strategic and competitive intelligence company Miribure, and mentor at the MassChallenge accelerator and competition, which operates a zero percent equity model.

It was MassChallenge that brought Rob and Fuller together.

“I actually mentored Abul when he was participating in MassChallenge,” Fuller told Salaam Gateway, referring to when HalalEat reached the finals of MassChallenge UK in 2016. “Once MassChallenge ended, I remained with the company as their mentor advisor.”

Salaam Ventures stemmed from the ‘disconnect’ Rob saw between start-ups that was down to their circumstances, said Fuller.

“There are a lot of people who are in small companies, or just have an idea that is really valid and that could really grow, but they don’t have the money. They don’t have the business network to make that idea come to fruition,” she said.

The programme includes workshops, mentoring and personal development sessions for participating start-ups, with a 10,000 British pound ($13,405) cash prize going to the top graduate.

SELECTION

Salaam Ventures is on the lookout for start-ups that have a social purpose, said Fuller.

“[The start-ups Salaam Ventures is looking for are] building technology that has a purpose; that isn’t just about gaining dollars. It’s tech for good, or sustainability. It’s for infrastructure; it’s not just an ‘Uber’ of something. It actually has a purpose,” said Fuller.

The top start-up will be selected by a panel of industry experts but the exact judging criteria is still being refined, said Fuller. However, the selection of the top graduate will not depend on just revenue or profit but improvement with their trajectory.

“We’re not trying to do the next hotel app. We want to make sure that the companies that we focus on are actually doing something that is going to be driving forth the mission of a better place to live, of a product being better.”

RETURNS

Salaam Ventures is entirely self-funded – Fuller disclosed that her stake is “miniscule” with “99.9 percent” invested by Rob, and they’re both in it for the legacy, she said.

“We don’t want to take equity, because we’ve seen that model then becomes very much financially-driven,” said Fuller.

“And, when you have a zero-equity accelerator, you do seem to get a more diverse section of people applying, because they realise they don’t have to give their company away to be part of this, and it also makes it a lot more competitive.”

Fuller said Salaam Ventures might consider investing in start-ups that are marketable, scalable and profitable but are currently most focused on ensuring the success of the programme.

“Right now we just have to see if this is going to work,” she said.

BREXIT IMPACT

Salaam Ventures is also shaping and fine-tuning the programme to take into account the UK’s Autumn Budget 2017, which was announced on November 22.

Considering a cut off of European Union grants and economic uncertainty surrounding the UK leaving the EU, Salaam Ventures wants to make sure businesses are able to scale without being reliant on investment rounds, which is how most start-ups seem to chase growth funding, said Fuller. 

“Based on the UK Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget 2017 we will bolster our workshops to focus on making revenue driven by profitability and not reliant on fundraising rounds.

“Basically, we want to make sure they move into the next stage of growth successfully, with customers and not just investors,” Fuller said.

WINNING START-UP

In addition to the cash prize of 10,000 pounds, the top start-up will also receive a 15,000 pounds convertible interest-free loan funded by Salaam Ventures’ banking and business partners, discounted partner offers, ongoing mentorship, office space and access to pre-qualified angel investors.

The top start-up will also be invited to showcase at Salaam Events, a sister company, which aims to bridge the gap between the Islamic and the wider economy through networking opportunities and talks throughout the year.

PROGRAMME

“[We are] still negotiating on whether or not we make [the programme] two or three months, because we really need to see some clear progress,” said Fuller.

“Sometimes, some of the incubators go a little too fast. And, we know that we’re going to go hard and fast with these start-ups but, at the same time, we also know some of them will be at different stages they’re going to need to be [brought up to speed] quickly.”

BEYOND LONDON

The accelerator and incubator will also look beyond London.

The UK capital may be a hub for start-ups but the same cannot be said for a number of cities around the country, said Fuller. And she’s keen to find those so-called diamonds in the rough.

“There are still areas within England where you don’t see [start-ups] at all, and those are the places that are not doing that well economically. Businesses aren’t flourishing,” she said.

“There are people there who have excellent ideas; they just don’t have the accessibility. And, so when we started talking about [Salaam Ventures] it was like, ‘yes’, because we can make some sort of impact.”

Applications to participate in the first programme must be submitted by the end of December.

Start-ups must have been trading for less than three years, with a business or tech idea that covers fashion, food, finance, entertainment, education or social impact.

Shortlisted applicants will be contacted in the first two weeks of January 2018 for interview, with 15 finalists selected by the end of that month. The final five will then begin their incubator programme in March. Each must have at least one founder or senior team member based in London during that time period.

(Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim)

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