At this point, there are few virtual events that can woo me, lure me to sit in front of a live audience at my computer, fretting that my furry officemate pup doesn’t make a surprise appearance. But I can tell you I am very, very excited to collaborate with the Leeds City Region to launch BUILD. In the UK, the Leeds City Region is the strongest performing regional economy outside of London. The BUILD initiative is an outcome of the Leeds City Region team completing the 2 year MIT REAP (Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme) programme.
BUILD is an inspirational 12-week (mostly virtual) programme for aspiring entrepreneurs and founders in Leeds City Region who are creating innovative businesses that can grow. We’re looking for early stage startups or business ideas that mix purpose and profit, with founders that have the potential and the ambition to go global, whilst positively impacting the lives of millions of people.
What’s so brilliant about this initiative is that through the MIT REAP framework, it’s bringing together bright minds across government, academia and business to solve problems related to climate change, clean energy, sustainable living, food waste, health & wellbeing, access to education, social mobility, inequality, financial inclusion, and transport and mobility. No one person or industry has a monopoly on innovation. Bringing together folks across industries, empowering them to realise their innovative ideas only benefits us all.
Just as diverse industry collaboration makes us stronger, so too does a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion. As part of the Cockteron & Co team, I am working with BUILD to integrate D&I strategy into their 12-week programme aimed at helping individuals and startups develop business plans. Here, D&I isn’t merely a module or a one-off workshop, it’s part of the business concept from development to launch. Entrepreneurs can launch businesses with D&I in their DNI, paving the way for a more open and welcoming place for employees regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability or age. Indeed, much of what global companies who have made headlines for bias, discrimination and a general lack of diversity must undo toxic workplace cultures established over decades. Startups can start fresh, strategizing how to build and grow teams that are as diverse as the users and customers they serve.
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As BUILD calls for applicants with ideas addressing climate change, clean energy, sustainable living, food waste, health & wellbeing, access to education, social mobility, inequality, financial inclusion, and transport and mobility, it’s important to note inequities related to each of these topics. From food waste to access to healthcare and education and financial inclusion, these issues do not affect us all equally. Racism and sexism are tied into the world’s most pressing issues, so it’s essential that tomorrow’s entrepreneurs build startups that don’t perpetuate these inequities.
From business plan development to pitch to recruitment, entrepreneurs must be innovative not only with their products, but how they assemble their teams. Are they seeking employees from a diverse range of trades and educational institutions, opening themselves up to socioeconomic diversity? If startups only look to recruit from Oxbridge, they stand to find the usual suspects. It’s my belief that if an entrepreneur is truly vested in solving the problem they propose to solve, rather than simply getting investment money, they should engage with communities impacted by these problems. An App dedicated to women’s health should be headed by –– women. An online platform dedicated to minimising food waste should have employees who have lived in food deserts. This all seems obvious, but the problem is that the way our education and professional systems are currently designed, they prop up certain groups (mostly male, mostly white), better positioning them to solve the problems that affect us all. That’s not right.
If you’re a founder or entrepreneur based in Leeds and have been tinkering with an innovative idea to tackle one of the modern problems facing us all, and you want to make it happen in an equitable way, I invite you to apply to BUILD.