Founder, Black Valley
Read Leke’s story
We want to create things that will shape what the future looks like and having the right people to support brilliant minds with brilliant ideas, to really help take the inception of those ideas and turn them into reality. So in ten years’ time, I imagine Black Valley will be that kick starter for the next Facebook or Microsoft or Calendly, which is founded by a Black founder.
I’m the founder of Black Valley which is a programme that supports Black people looking to get into tech and Black founders looking to start or scale an early-stage tech business.
Black Valley was kind of birthed out of frustration. So being a young Black man myself and seeing the movement around the death of George Floyd, I was frustrated to see that we’re still at that stage where it felt like a lot of injustice around Black people and there wasn’t a clear way to move the conversation forward.
Black Valley was the result of that, and it became clear that as the world becomes more digital it was important for Black people to be a part of those people who are creating that digital world, so things being created are not biased against us.
The best way to approach that is to support as many Black founders as possible and as many Black talent as possible in order to diversify who works in those spaces.
I did a psychology degree at university because I was fascinated by the mind and how to work with people. So I became a mentor myself whilst at university and started mentoring young people with a charity called the Challenge Network. I think as a result of that, I really enjoyed the mentoring process and when I finished university, I ended up working for the charity that runs the programme full time.
Typically, if I mentioned the word developer, there’s probably an image that most people have which tends to be White, male. So historically there aren’t that many role models for people of colour to look up to and aspire to go into their first role
I worked in a sales role for about four years, became a sales manager looking after the West Midlands region and then progressed or transitioned into working in tech for an education tech startup in London called Eedi. They developed a diagnostic question and learning platform that allows teachers to understand the misconception that students might have around questions in a range of education subjects; it uses AI and machine learning. That was my initiation into tech.
That environment taught me quite a lot because it was quite a small startup, so I got involved in every area involving tech from the business side to products to interacting with developers and with the different functions within the business. Then lockdown happened and the death of George Floyd, which inspired me to set up Black Valley.
At Black Valley we run cohort programmes which support people through a co-op delivery model. If you are on our programme we pair you up with a mentor, we run workshops and then we support you for an eight-week period.
We’ve delivered seven cohorts for our Career Starter Programme, and we’ve ended up supporting 260 young Black talent from the inception of the programme. Alongside that work we also run a Founders Programme, where we’re currently supporting 15 founders, and we’re about to launch another founders programme with 20 additional early-stage Black founders.
We make role models more visible to young people from a diverse background, so they see themselves working in those roles. We actively encourage organizations themselves as well not to stick to the typical route of applying. One thing that organizations tend to do, especially early-stage startups, which you understand with limited budgets, rely on referrals.
In terms of the vision of where I see Black Valley going, I think I want it to live up to its name. The name is a play on Silicon Valley. The impact that Silicon Valley had, it changed the way businesses were funded and started. It changed how business were able to scale. It changed the economy, not only for the area of San Francisco, but also North America.
Most of the unicorns in that area came out of Silicon Valley and had a really positive impact on the American economy. Can we do something similar? Maybe, starting with the UK for Black founders, where we are able to influence social mobility for Black founders and create and generate wealth by supporting Black founders.
We want to create things that will shape what the future looks like and having the right people to support brilliant minds with brilliant ideas, to really help take the inception of those ideas and turn them into reality.