Business management

Ezechi Britton: Funding the future

We speak to Ezechi Britton, founding member of venture capital firm Impact X Capital Partners, about helping to create a more equal business landscape, particularly in the field of technology.

Why did you want to run your own business?

“As a kid I wanted to study computer science and create my own video games studio, but none of the games or software companies wanted me on their industrial placements. Lehman Brothers, the financial services firm, gave me my first shot. I worked as a developer in the investment banking technology space for 10 years, at Lehman and then Credit Suisse, before launching into entrepreneurial life by co-founding Neyber in 2014.

“I had worked with a friend in 2009 on a vending machine idea around healthy food and protein shakes. We’d got a UK-based vending machine manufacturer on board, Maximuscle to provide the powder and were talking to Fitness First to be a distribution chain. But we couldn’t get the funding – there was a massive credit crunch. It didn’t work out, but I realised that was definitely what I wanted to do.

“I felt there was a glass ceiling in corporate life – you couldn’t become a CEO in finance as a technologist. I needed to go out and do it for myself, especially when you look at all the obstacles Black people in the UK face when it comes to securing top board positions in companies.

“Martin Ijaha, a friend of mine, contacted me with an idea for a fintech start-up and with Monica Kalia we built it from scratch. It was a multi-award-winning business, which raised over £200m and lent out more than £170m. It was acquired by Salary Finance in March 2020. I’m doing what I am now because of Neyber.”

Where do you get your ideas and how do you stay ahead?

“I’m an engineer by trade; my whole skill set is around how to solve a problem. It helps to be actively involved. I’m an investor as well as an entrepreneur. There’s some interesting research that says that out of UK investors, only 8% have been operational, only 4% have worked in technology, and only 1% come from a Black background. Which is why I was so happy to win venture capitalist of the year at the Inclusive Tech Alliance Awards. It recognised not just my contribution in venture capital but from an innovation, technology and diversity perspective as well.

You have to create better access to capital and access to a network. You’re seeing more people like me entering technology. And technology is the biggest driver of change

Ezechi Britton
Chief technology officer, Impact X Capital Partners

“I’m continuously being exposed to new ideas and new problems, which is fascinating. My view is, you have to be trying to solve a problem to find a problem; finding a solution to that second problem is where you’ll find your ‘Aha!’ moment. With Code Untapped we started with a simple mission: to get people from under-represented backgrounds into technology. That came from my experience as an under-represented entrepreneur. What does that mean? You’re not the majority of the population that participate in that space.

“We started off looking at people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds and that rapidly shifted to under-represented. Before coronavirus hit, we’d held more than 15 events with organisations and were lined up to work with others – and then it fell apart. However, I believe chaos creates opportunity, and we’re now working with another organisation to roll out a scalable solution to upskill under-represented technologists.”

Where will change and improvement come from?

“You can’t replicate the networks of privileged people. There’s an imbalance in the system, which means you have to create better access to capital and access to a network. I’d say we’re nowhere near [parity], but you’re seeing more people like me entering technology, which is a good thing. And technology is the biggest driver of change.

“It’s important that people from under-represented backgrounds build business here. Black hires Black: people from diverse backgrounds build teams and hire teams from under-represented backgrounds; they create more diverse businesses. If these companies can grow at scale, then we’ll start to see diverse representation at scale. Only when that happens, when we start to see wealth come back into these communities, will we then start to see a wave of VC capital. We’re still 10 years away from that. But it’s a journey. It’s an improvement.”

What are your thoughts on Black History Month?

“I do believe celebrating Black History Month is important. Now we want a shift from ‘Let’s talk about the problem’ to ‘Let’s do something about it’. There has been a general whitewashing of history and the contributions of Black people. We need a Black History Month, but we shouldn’t need a Black History Month.”

NatWest is marking Black History Month with a series of interviews with influential Black business leaders and entrepreneurs. Head to the Black History Month hub for more insights.

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