UBS Pitch Competition: Scaling Support for Underrepresented Founders

In March Hatch and UBS came together to host a pitch competition and panel discussion at the UBS offices in London. Hatch has been partnering with UBS for over three years, working to provide support to underrepresented entrepreneurs through programmes, mentoring, and events.

At this event the panel of experts were asked to comment on the challenges facing underrepresented founders of impact-focused businesses, the importance of trust in the investment process, and how solutions for systemic barriers can be scaled across the ecosystem of support.

If you missed out on attending this event live, read on to discover the key themes explored by our panel and the advice they shared with the founders from the Hatch community and audience.

Expert Introductions

Annie Oliver, Head of Growth at B Labs UK

Elena Helmy, Programme Director at UBS Social Impact and Philanthropy

Demi Ariyo, CEO and Head of Funding at Lendoe, and Hatch Graduate

Fan Gu, Head of Impact Investments at LSE

What barriers do impact-focused businesses (led by underrepresented founders) face?

There were various words used to describe founders from marginalised communities at this event: underrepresented, underserved, underestimated. The common thread throughout was that UK founders from ethnic minority communities, founders who are women, founders who are disabled, all face systemic barriers that can prevent them from reaching their full potential. 

Elena explained: “We believe that the impact economy can only happen if we’ve got systems in place to address the inequality of opportunity. And we agree with many of our partners who believe that talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not, and bridging that gap is why we are here.”

Among the barriers faced are access to finance, technical knowledge and systemic bias, as well as struggles with confidence, often stemming from a lack of role models with shared experiences.

Similarly there is a damaging misunderstanding across the sector at large regarding the relationship between impact and profit.

The assumption persists that profit must be sacrificed in the pursuit of impact, whereas time and again the data shows that this could not be further from the truth. 

Annie explained, “What our community of B Corps have demonstrated is that they have significantly better, stronger performance than mainstream, non purpose driven UK SMEs,” and called for a “whole-scale cultural mindset shift” to reflect this. 

Why is investing in underrepresented founders so important?

Business can be a real force for good, and founders need to have the right support in place to be able to achieve this impact.

Demi explained, “A lot of these entrepreneurs that are underserved, when they actually get their hands on capital and make something, those things serve a community, and I think everyone deserves to be served, not just a select few.”

Annie agreed, “We know that women-led businesses, people of colour, are more likely, statistically, to be running impact and purpose driven businesses. 

“The issues and challenges that we’re facing as a society today are huge and they’re urgent. We should be focusing on those companies that have really positive impact, in helping them to scale.”

Those with the ideas, the expertise, and the passion to make a positive difference in their communities should have access to the right tools to do so. Similarly the solutions that are having impact at the community level should be supported to scale up this impact.

What is needed to scale the ecosystem and ensure underrepresented founders are supported?

There is a thriving ecosystem that already exists to support impact-focused founders from underrepresented groups, and the panellists discussed how this support could be scaled up to better provide opportunities to those who would benefit.

Trust was a key theme, with investors needing to trust in the power of the ideas and businesses that are presented to them, unpicking their prior expectations of how things are normally done in order to embrace new, ambitious, and innovative ideas.

Elena said: “When I talk about trust it covers everything from the micro level of how you pick and work with an entrepreneur all the way to the system.

“Do you actually believe that by backing this a bit crazy, but potentially scalable model, you would make a difference? And a lot of funders actually back away from those and prefer to stick to something a little more traditional. So I think if we had more trust, we would probably have more scale.”

In terms of scaling the ecosystem as a whole, all panellists agreed on what was needed: Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. 

Fan explained, “In terms of some of the pressing challenges that we’re facing, we can’t solve it by one player, by one single market. It is about collaboration. It is about actually convening the sector as a whole”

Hatch CEO and panel moderator Dirk Bischof summed up: “This is not a single journey for a single enterprise. This is always a journey with many organisations. This is an ecosystem approach. It’s a collaborative approach because often together we need to find the solutions that are addressing the various barriers that founders face.”


The pitch competition that followed from this panel discussion brought everything that had been discussed to life, with four incredible founders giving passionate pitches about their impact focused businesses that are making a difference to the world. 

Dana Saxon, founder of Ancestors unKnown

Lucy Kebbell, founder of The WIP

Flora Blathwayt, founder of Washed Up Cards

Alexandra Birtles, co-founder of In Good Company

Dana and Alexandra both won top prize in their categories and were awarded £5k and £3k respectively, and runners up Flora and Lucy were each awarded £1k to invest into their businesses.

We are so pleased to be able to put on events like this to provide both pitch practice and funding to founders in our community, as well as leveraging such brilliant insight from the enterprise ecosystem. Thank you to UBS for enabling this to happen, and to all of the panellists for embodying the spirit of collaboration and coming together to support underrepresented founders to thrive.

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