‘Starting my own business changed everything for me.’
DivInc's CEO Jay Richards talks about the journey that led him to help inspire and empower underestimated young people to solve overlooked problems.
DivInc is one of the six social enterprises that joined Investec's social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business, in 2018. L-R, back: Jay, Dave (Investec Bank plc's CEO), Daniel, Webby; front: Johnny, Beth, Aoise, Charlotte and Laura.
Starting a business is never easy. It takes a lot of time, it can take a lot of money, and often you don’t know what you don’t know.
Today you will hear from Jay from DivInc, a social enterprise that empowers young people from underestimated backgrounds to be more entrepreneurial. We talked to Jay straight after his pitch to join Investec’s social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business. He talked about his journey, lessons he learned along the way and his mission to inspire kids to be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Ana Jenkins (A) – Hi Jay, how are you today?
Jay Richards (J) – I’m very good, thank you, Ana. How are you?
A – Very well, very well.
J – Good.
Jay’s journey - finding himself as a founder
A – So, tell us a little bit about DivInc, how you are planning to help all these young people to become entrepreneurs, where the idea came from…
J – Great! Well, DivInc: We’re a start-up incubator that helps young people, as you alluded to, from underestimated, disadvantaged backgrounds to found their own start-ups and possibly gain investment. And we do that by inspiring, equipping and funding them.
So, we inspire them by having a relatable, inspirational talk delivered into the school by a young founder from a low-income or ethnic minority background. They deliver a talk about their start-up journey.
We then equip the young people with our online resource platform. That teaches them everything from business plans, profit and loss accounts, the coming up with the initial idea, everything they need to know to start their business.
They then pitch to us via video, we choose the start-ups we think are investable and scalable, and we take them to Google where they actually have the opportunity to pitch to a panel of angel investors for ground-based funding for their start-up.
Then the start-ups that stay profitable for a year after leaving our program get the opportunity to actually go back into secondary schools and talk about the start-up that they currently run. And then start-ups that stay profitable for two years, once they turn eighteen, get the opportunity to pitch for up to £500,000 in equity-based funding, for their start-up.
‘Starting my own business changed everything for me, it made school subjects finally make sense.’A – You have it all planned out! Are you in the planning stage or are you already doing some of it, like trialling it?
J – We’re in our second year now. Last year we worked with five secondary schools, we impacted 6,500 students. And this year we’re working with ten secondary schools across London and we’re going to impact between 10,000 and 13,000 kids.
It’s very exciting, we’re very busy. My team is very, very rushed off their feet, which is good. But yes, it’s amazing, and you asked a question earlier about where did it all come from. It came from basically my journey, because I was a young person from a disadvantaged background and I was stuck in a cycle of robberies.
I was breaking into houses, petrol stations, stealing led off of roofs from peoples’ houses, to sell and make money. But my business studies teacher took the time out to help me to start my first business and that completely changed everything for me.
It showed me how to do profit and loss account, so I finally learned how to use maths to do a profit and loss account or English to do a business plan, and it made all of these subjects finally make sense to me.
So then I decided to go to college then university to study business and management. And then from there, I’ve been starting businesses ever since. So this is fun and this is like the natural progression of my life story, I guess.
Inspiring the youth with relatable entrepreneurs
A – So, how does that work, like a session with these leaders, and what kind of people have you had speaking at schools?
J – Really the way the session works is the founder, who’s running their own start-up, will come into the school and they will just deliver a talk, normally only around ten minutes. But it’s just to talk about their journey.
For example, we had Dan Parry who is a founder of Dubzoo, which is a DJ platform that helps them to organise their music. It’s really complicated, I actually don’t understand it. But he came in and delivered a talk, and because he’s a graphic designer by trade, he delivered it using lots of GIFS and the kids were just over the moon.
He had loads of stuff in there about [the game] Fortnite and all this kind of stuff. So the kids were just like, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s so cool’. But he just spoke about his journey in his own way, which was cool.
Dan’s a young black guy, he’s in his thirties. So, for him, his talk would sound completely different to mine. And then my talk would sound completely different to Sheeza Shah, who’s a founder of a company called UpEffect.
She delivers talks in schools for us and she will just talk about her journey. Because all our journeys are so different, the inspiration is different for different kids, which is really cool. It means that the company isn’t built around myself and my story, it’s built around the stories of all these different people. And gradually, as we have more young people starting their own companies, the story will be built around them.
The cool thing is that we’re creating an ecosystem of young entrepreneurs who can then go into schools and inspire other young entrepreneurs, which is really good. Gradually, there’ll be less of old folk like me, at 28, going into a school and we’ll have 15 and 16-year-olds going into schools and telling these kids what they’re currently running right now, which is fun.
‘The cool thing is that we’re creating an ecosystem of young entrepreneurs who can then go into schools and inspire others, which is really good.’
Finding inclusive business opportunities
A – Who are your clients, then, your main customers? Are they the schools? Are they the companies that are in need of investors? Or is it a bit of everybody?
J – The schools and the students are our end users so they’re not actually clients of ours. We provide the service for free to secondary schools. But the clients are actually corporates. So, we have corporate companies like yourself or ustwo, which is a design agency or all of the corporates that we work with. And what they do is they pay using their CSR (corporate social responsibility) budget, for young people to access our service.
So we have two revenue models. The primary revenue model is the payment out of CSR budget, so they pay for a certain number of schools to access our service. And then the secondary revenue model is that those corporates will also pay to advertise through our social media or through our platform, to these young people.
So, say for example: If we have young people that are looking to open up a bank account, most banks are struggling to connect with young people these days because kids don’t come into branches anymore. So, how do you get a young person to open up a bank account? So, we will create content with that bank – real beautiful, real elegant, inspirational content that really shows these young people the benefit of working and having a bank account.
Then for these young people, it can spark interest and then they can open up an account with whichever company we decide they can do that with. So, that’s the idea.
Gradually as we’re growing, we’re just going to be focusing a lot on really providing the right advertising content for these kids. Because a lot of kids call ads ‘skip ads’ so they just, that’s what they know it as ‘I just skip the ad’. So we’re trying to provide content so their focus isn’t really skipping the ad but actually using it, which is cool.
The power of partnerships, and of a good team
A – How can a business like Investec help a business like yours?
J – The thing that I’ve loved about Investec so far, and I think I’ll love if we continue to go in the process and for anybody else that goes in the process, is the fact that they have so many intelligent and well-informed people. So, they’re providing so much good advice and literally we’ve spoken to folks that are […] So, when we came in for a day for them to go through our business plan, when they went through our business plan, they just ripped it to shreds, and I loved it.
Because you make your own natural assumptions that people, when they read your plan, they’ll understand. But a lot of the time they don’t. So, when they read it and they destroy it, you’re like ‘Ah perfect, okay, so these are the things we were missing’. And a lot of the times entrepreneurs, you feel like, ‘okay, I know what I’m doing, I’m pushing ahead’.
And because you’re, I call it being in the trenches, because you’re in the trenches just dodging bullets and trying to move forward, sometimes you forget that you may need somebody to pop in and say, ‘hey, by the way, this is how it should work and this is how you can do this’.
So, I feel like, with Investec, there’s such a wealth of knowledge here that will really help us in all different areas – whether it’s marketing or proving our scalability or scaling in general. It’s just bits and pieces that we will definitely need as we continue to grow, which is exciting.
‘[My Investec mentors] just ripped our business plan to shreds, and I loved it.’A – What advice would you give to yourself a couple of years ago? Somebody with a great idea of a valuable business model that also has a great social impact, but has no idea where to start?
J – Advice I’d give to myself a few years ago is, firstly, invest in Facebook. No […] I think the advice I would give to myself is that I need a team. Because I think, notoriously, every business I’ve ever started and sold, I built it on my own and I bootstrapped it. I didn’t take any outside investment. I didn’t really have a team, other than a few interns. It was really… It wasn’t labour-intensive.
What I’ve done this time, and I think has really been helpful, is the fact that I’ve now got a team of folks that are paid, so they’re on the staff, which makes a world of difference when you ask people to do things because it’s no longer, ‘hey I know you’re an intern, could you manage to do this please on your Sunday?’ It’s kind of, ‘oh hey guys, this needs to get done. Like, I love you, you’re amazing, please can you get this done?’
And folks are more inclined to do it because they know that they’re building into the vision and they’re part of the team. And also giving them equity share in what we’re doing, because for them it’s like, ‘hey if I build this, I’m also going to benefit from it as well’.
So, probably that would be my biggest point is, no person is an island. You can’t do it on your own and I think, as entrepreneurs, a lot of the time we push forward, we don’t really try and look for a co-founder, we don’t really try and build a team. I would definitely say build a team.
Get people around you that are passionate about your vision as well and they really want to move forward as well, because I think if you can do that, it makes everything so much easier. Because doing DivInc has been so much easier, than all my previous businesses, simply for the fact that I have a great, amazing team around me, of unbelievably diverse people.
‘No person is an island. Get people around you that are passionate about your vision and really want to move forward as well’A – How did you hear about the Beyond Business programme?
J – Google! It was so random. […] So I came across Beyond Business because I was looking for grants and so on, and it popped up as one of the top searches. And then I did some research, asked around, had a few friends that had applied and not got on.
I knew that it was quite a stringing process, which is good because a lot of the time if you ask it’s like, ‘Everybody’s already been on that scheme’ and it’s kind of, ‘oh okay, there’s not really going to be much meat to it’. But to get into Beyond Business and with Investec was really tough and I think that makes it more desirable.
When I heard how hard it was to get on, it made me want to do it more, because I was like, ‘okay, so these people are actually going to give me help’. Because notoriously, we’ve worked with other investors or grant providers and it’s kind of, ‘here’s some money, go enjoy your life’ kind of thing. But with Investec, it’s a lot more hands-on, which has been amazing. So finding them on Google was probably the best thing I did and then doing the research about them was even better.
A – Thank you so much, Jay, it was great talking to you.
J – Thank you, Ana. Speak to you soon.
After the interview
DivInc is one of the six social enterprises that joined Beyond Business in 2018. They received up to £17,000 each in funding and were invited to the Beyond Business College, where they will receive one-to-one specialist advice and inspiration from experts from all around Investec. They will also receive continuous support to help their business grow.
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