Oxford Foundry, University of Oxford, has launched an Entrepreneurial Fellowship Initiative to proactively ensure that we see more people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in 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.

The Oxford Foundry was set up in October 2017 by Saïd Business School for the benefit of the whole University.

Starting in 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 gain critical skills and experience in venture building areas including product development, customer acquisition, financial modelling, and sales and marketing, as well as 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 will 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, Biz Stone, Co-founder of Twitter, and Chair of the Oxford Foundry Advisory Board, and Oxford Foundry Advisory Board members including Mohamed Amersi, Chair of The Amersi Foundation, Phil Libin, Co-founder & CEO, All Turtles, Pete Flint, Founder, former chairman & CEO, Trulia, and General Partner of NFX, Alexsis de Raadt St James, Founder & Managing Partner, Merian Ventures, Jeff Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer, EY, Arunma Oteh OON, Academic Scholar, University of Oxford, and former Vice President and Treasurer, World Bank, and Toby Coppel, Co-founder and Partner, Mosaic Ventures.

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. The Entrepreneurial Fellowship Initiative is generously supported by Santander Universities.

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, said: ‘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, said: ‘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 when we all join together.’

Sean Sinanan, President of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society (Oxford ACS), and a third year undergraduate studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Mansfield College, said: ‘There is an unspoken dilemma that many students face. You either enter a corporate career upon graduation or find something else. However, the incredibly important work of the Oxford Foundry via these Fellowships helps mitigate this issue. The Fellowships inspire students from under-represented backgrounds to tap into their own creativity and explore alternative pathways in a sector that has been wrongly deemed as risky. The prospects of high-level mentorship to develop skills, paired with work experience in exciting start-ups which also have a social impact, not only demystifies the venture capital world but also offers a genuinely unique opportunity for students who are not interested in ‘traditional’ career paths. I am extremely excited to promote this to the Oxford ACS. I have seen how creative and ambitious students of the society are – and thus, I believe this Fellowship Initiative will truly nurture and empower such talents.’