£1.7m funding boost for London’s entrepreneurs

Abi Oyepitan, co-founder of Liha Beauty

Not-for-profit Virgin StartUp announces funding from the Greater London Authority and Virgin Group to help London-based founders build more viable and sustainable businesses.

London’s entrepreneurs have today been given a welcome boost thanks to funding from the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Virgin Group. The funding will support the not-for-profit organisation – Virgin StartUp – to run its Ready Steady Grow programme which is aimed at supporting London based founders.

The funding is valued at £1.7m over three years, half of this will be funded by the Virgin Group with the GLA funds matching the contribution. The extension is distributed by the GLA from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The Ready Steady Grow programme has been running since 2017 to support the capital’s entrepreneurs as they start, fund, and scale their businesses. It has supported more than 400 London-based founders to date, and attendees have subsequently received £4.2m in investment for their companies and created 57 full time jobs. Today’s funding secures the programme’s future until 31 March 2023.

Over the past three years, the programme has proven to be a vital form of support for new businesses in London:

  • In the last 12 months alone, the ‘Ready’ and ‘Steady’ phases of the programme have received more than 1,700 applications. Virgin StartUp has funded more than 580 of these to the tune of more than £8m in Start Up Loan funding.
  • The ‘Grow’ phase of the programme received 750 applications for its two-day StepUp programme and more than 500 entrepreneurs have attended Meet the Buyer events.
  • The initiative has also reached a diverse audience of entrepreneurs in the capital, awarding more than a quarter of its start-up loan funding in London since 2017 to Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority founders.

The programme is delivered entirely in London and some of the outreach activities take place in partnership with Local Authorities, accessing local facilities and event spaces to drive broader community awareness of the opportunities the programme offers.

Since 2017 the programme has also partnered with Wandsworth Borough Council to support delivery of Wandsworth Enterprise Week, a series of activities that predominantly target entrepreneurially underrepresented groups.

LIHA Beauty is just one of the more than 750 businesses in London to have joined the StepUp programme in order to help them grow and scale. The beauty brand was founded by friends Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan, born from the desire to create luxury natural and organic skincare that blends the rich botanical life of West Africa with traditional English aromatherapy.

Abi Oyepitan, co-founder of Liha Beauty (pictured above) said: “My co-founder Liha and I completed the StepUp programme in 2018, the two-day course has been pivotal in supporting us to scale our business. It lifted the lid on the key areas we needed to know more about to grow successfully, such as sales, funding, and investment. We also met with a host of experts and entrepreneurs who have had similar experiences and having that network to discuss ideas with has helped us take our business to the next level.”

Ayo Dada, ERDF Project Manager at Virgin StartUp said: “Entrepreneurs and small businesses will be critically important for the UK’s economic recovery in the second half of this year and beyond. It is imperative that they receive the guidance and funds they need to strengthen their competitive edge. The Greater London area is a virtual treasure trove of ingenuity and innovation, if we can ensure we are reaching and supporting the entrepreneurially underrepresented in our communities. With this funding extension we can continue to be a valuable resource for so many of the founders in our capital, leaving nobody behind in the process.”

Olu Omosini, Programme Manager at the Greater London Authority adds: “Virgin StartUp through ‘Ready, Steady, Grow’ project has been a key partner in engaging London’s Small businesses to help drive growth in the Capital. The additional ERDF funding from the GLA will enable Virgin StartUp reach out to more potential entrepreneurs, and assist London Businesses to recover from lockdown, thrive and create jobs.”

Founders based in Greater London can apply for the next StepUp programme taking place virtually this September, by visiting virginstartup.org/step-up. Find out more about the full project via virginstartup.org/ready-steady-grow