I was born in Stoke-on-Trent, but grew up in a former mill town in Lancashire where I attended the local comprehensive school. My mother, Norma, is from the Parish of St. Philip in Barbados and came to the UK in the early 1960s as one of the Windrush generation, She spent her career working for the NHS before retiring and starting her own business. My late father, Derek, was from working class Manchester and was one of the first to earn an academic scholarship to attend Cambridge University in the 1950s where he studied languages. He could speak several fluently, including Russian. He started his career in the Potteries (Stoke) and was as an export executive for large ceramics companies. He travelled to almost 100 countries and always returned with culturally relevant gifts for his boys. Read my eulogy to my father to learn more about my background. I have a younger brother and two daughters.
Although I am often referred to as an entrepreneur and a TV personality following my appearances as an investor on the prime-time BBC show ‘Dragons’ Den’ and the Channel 4 series, ‘The Secret Millionaire’, I have a professional background in law, investment banking and fund management. On Dragons’ Den I invested in the personalised children’s book publisher Wonderbly, which was sold in 2021 to a private equity fund generating a 40x return. It is the most successful investment on the programme to date with an exit.
“Ambition is evenly distributed whereas access to capital, networks and opportunity isn’t.”
I have personal and professional experience on all sides of the table as an entrepreneur, adviser, executive, trustee or non-executive board member, investor and lender. I have experienced both success and failure and am a recognised champion of entrepreneurship, technology and small and medium-sized enterprises. Although it is difficult to align objectives, culture and timescales, I also believe that value can be created by partnerships between small innovators and large enterprises and support such partnerships as an adviser. I also work with selective scaleup companies to support their preparation for both organic and acquisitive growth.
I was a non-executive director of British Business Bank, the UK's government-owned development bank that facilitated over £90 billion of financing support during the Covid-19 pandemic to support UK businesses. I was a Trustee of Nesta for 6-years, the UK’s leading innovation agency with a £500 million endowment. My businesses, or myself personally, have won many awards over the years, including Microsoft's global Hosting Partner of the Year (2011). I have been selected as one of the top 100 most influential black Britons and have appeared in the Financial Times / EMpower top 100 list of Ethnic Minority Executives.
I grew up surrounded by the remnants of the industrial revolution in a former Lancashire mill town, which fascinated me as well as the stories of the great entrepreneurs of the age. I started my first business at the age of thirteen by cutting out the local newsagent who didn't deliver on Sundays and going direct to the wholesaler. I always had a side hustle through college, university and law school and even my solicitor training contract.
After sitting several exams twice and night school to study for a A level in law, I went on to gain a degree in accounting and law at the University of Manchester and, after 68 applications for a training contract, qualified as a Solicitor with the City law firm SJ Berwin. I then joined the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team at Barclays de Zoete Wedd (BZW), which was acquired by the bulge bracket bank, Credit Suisse (First Boston) just three months later. It was a case of sink or swim and I swam, hard.
At Credit Suisse I experienced large M&A and LBO transactions and honed my financial analysis skills, but my entrepreneurial ambitions led me to leave to start my first technology-led business right at the end of the dotcom boom in 2000. The technology crash later that year meant that I experienced almost a complete economic cycle in twelve months. After forays into dance music and talent management, I spent the next seven years establishing an innovative regulated corporate finance, venture capital and alternative finance businesses as well as investing in and building several technology, media and telecoms (TMT) businesses that I have exited.
I was selected to be a national role model for young Black men and boys by the government in 2008 with some colleagues who have gone on to have high profile careers, including a MP. This resulted in my profile being raised which led to my appearance on various lists and my story being noticed by a variety of TV researchers. I eventually found myself sat with Sir Richard Branson, and a beer, at his unbelievable Ulusaba private game reserve in the Kruger National Park, South Africa asking for his advice on the pros and cons of mixing business and media. I was being chased for an answer by the producers of BBC's Dragons' Den. Sir Richard shared his thoughts and then made me call back to confirm that, "I was in".
In recent years I have used my profile, experience and knowledge to champion entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized (SMEs) businesses and scaleups. I am a passionate believer in the importance of SMEs and entrepreneurship to the success of the UK economy. I have represented and supported SMEs on a Cabinet Office committee and as a board member of the Cloud Industry Forum and TechUK.
In 2018 I co-founded world-leading mountain bike brand Atherton Bikes with a team comprised of three world-championship winning elite athlete siblings, leading material scientists and product designers. In 2023 I co-founded Implement AI, a next technology partner for businesses of all sizes to understand and implement AI.