CFE Winter 2020 Newsletter

Welcome to the Centre for Entrepreneurs Winter newsletter!

Welcome to the Centre for Entrepreneurs’ December newsletter – I’m writing this in two minds – looking back on 2020, this year has been incredibly challenging and we, along with all of you, have been on a difficult journey and have had to really scramble at times to ensure that our charity survived. However, with recent vaccine developments I can begin to look forward to 2021 with optimism and confidence.

2020 has been a test of resilience and it gives me great pleasure to be able to share some very positive updates in this newsletter – CFE’s 19/20 annual report and accounts highlights the significant progress that we have made; we have launched a newer and better version of the NEF learning programme, completed the delivery phase of our refugee entrepreneurship pilot programme and can share some amazing stories of growth, success and agility from our NEF alumni founders.

This year, more than any other in our history, our work has depended on the generosity of our donors and supporters – that has been absolutely crucial in ensuring that we have continued to deliver, and I am delighted to welcome CFE’s latest corporate donor – Providence Strategic Growth, an international private equity fund, who recently joined our donor roster. I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter.

Warmest wishes,


Annual report showcases CFE impact

CEO Neeta Patel awarded a CBE

NEF Class of 2021 – our tenth cohort

Refugee entrepreneurship pilot concludes

3rd annual Refugee Entrepreneurship Summit

Tracking company formations during Covid

Welcome to CFE’s new community lead

NEF Fast Track Alumni Update

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Annual report 2019/20

CFE Annual Report 2019/20

We are proud to publish CFE’s annual report and accounts for 2019/20 on 11th December – this year’s report contains further proof of CFE’s sustained positive impact and financial health. Our auditors, Buzzacott, have given our accounts and the charity’s finances a clean bill of health and, crucially, our impact continues to gain momentum.

NEF alumni now number 317 in total, with over 170 live ventures launched between them. These businesses have created over 2,600 jobs and raised £140m+ in early-stage funding. These figures represent strong growth over the past year and demonstrate the ongoing effectiveness of the NEF+ programme. We have continued to increase the diversity of NEF+ participants with the 2020 cohort 40% female and 42% BAME background participants. 

CFE’s Incubator and Accelerator Network grew to 30 members across England, Wales and Scotland, and hosted its third annual conference in March 2020. The Refugee Entrepreneurship Network grew to 70 organisations across 25 countries and convened 130 people for the third annual conference in October 2019.

The sixth annual business startup index brought new insight to company formation figures by examining sector breakdowns, and our inaugural global refugee entrepreneurship survey mapped the structure, funding and impact of 39 refugee startup programmes across 19 countries. 

CFE selected and began working with four organisations to deliver year-long refugee entrepreneurship programmes as part of a pilot scheme funded by the Home Office and The National Lottery Community Fund.

A link to the report can be found here.


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CEO Neeta Patel awarded a CBE

Our CEO Neeta Patel was recently awarded a CBE in The Queen’s Birthday Honours, in recognition of her services to entrepreneurship and technology. We are all incredibly proud of Neeta and congratulate her on a thoroughly deserved achievement.

Read our press release here.

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NEF Class of 2021 – our tenth cohort

Our brand new NEF+ (previously NEF FastTrack) cohort began in late-September and marks a new chapter – with a brand-new learning programme, a COVID-related pivot to online delivery, and a challenging placement cycle in difficult hiring conditions. 

The all-new learning programme  – designed and commissioned by Mike Bandar (Class of 2012) and delivered by our new community and delivery lead Maxx Turing (Class of 2020) – will take the cohort through 10 monthly cycles covering the knowledge and practical skills to help them start and scale game-changing businesses. Each cycle includes a ‘tribe’ challenge where small teams work to solve a practical business problem – starting by trying to raise £1,000 in just two weeks.

Early feedback from NEFers has been extremely positive and the fast pace and intensity of the programme continues into December, where the cohort will focus on business analytics.

You can view the NEF+ Class of 2021’s profile’s here.

NEF+ Class of 2021 starts the year


It is also a huge privilege to work with our new portfolio of partner companies this year. Despite a challenging economy and hugely competitive job market, NEF candidates, with the help of Laura Campbell, our head of partnerships, have successfully secured placements at Vita Coco, Spoke, Sliide, Tailify, InkPact, Carandaway, NearStreet, JustPark, Beamery and many more. The placement at a fast-growth, entrepreneur-led business continues to be a vital part of the NEF experience and we are grateful to all our partner companies for supporting NEFers with development opportunities.

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Refugee entrepreneurship pilot concludes         

In October, the delivery phase of our Home Office and National Lottery Community Fund refugee entrepreneurship pilot scheme concluded. Initial outcomes include business formations, increased employment, and tighter integration of participants. Three of the four pilots have secured sustainable funding to enable participants to get support beyond the pilot, which is testament to the positive impact of the programme. We now move into the evaluation and reporting phase of the programme, with Loughborough University undertaking post-programme surveys prior to the formal reporting in early 2021. 

Learn more here.

Refugee Pilot
Launch of the Refugee Entrepreneurship Pilot July 2019

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3rd Annual Refugee Entrepreneurship Network  (REN)

Annual Global Refugee Entrepreneurship Summit 2020


In October, we held the third annual refugee entrepreneurship summit, attracting delegates from a record 23 countries. It was hosted online and spread over five days to allow members from New York, Australia, and everywhere in between to engage as one community. The summit featured double the content of previous sessions and piloted the first ever global refugee entrepreneur showcase event.

Learn more here.

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Tracking company formations during Covid

In July and October, we conducted analysis of Companies House data to understand the impact of Covid on company formations. In July, we identified major year-on-year falls across all regions during the first lockdown, followed by a record 81,355 formations in July. By October, every region and devolved nation had seen four months of consecutive growth in startups.

Read more here.

Snapshot of business formation across the UK


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Welcome to CFE’s new community lead

Rhea Fofana joined CFE on 7th December as our new community manager for the refugee entrepreneurship and incubator networks, in a part-time capacity while she completes the YearHere programme. Rhea will be working on strengthening and developing both networks, and has a strong interest in social entrepreneurship and has worked with several members of the CFE team as part of her degree.

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NEF Fast Track alumni update

The LSEG Foundation awarded Joel Gujral (Class of 2020) and his business MYNDUP a place on their ELITE programme which supports ambitious, young, fast-growing businesses. Joel impressed a panel of LSEG judges at an online pitch event in November with his pitch for support for MYNDUP which provides 1:1 video coaching for businesses’ employees. LSEG are also supporting NEF alumni founders with grants and mentoring – others they selected were Claudine Adeyemi (Career ear), Lucia Banjo (Embrace Keratin), Nomshado Michelle Baca (A Complexion Company) and Yasmine Manshadi (Parisa Foods). 

James Hartford-Tyrer’s Cudoni, the pre-owned luxury goods selling service, completed a £4.6 million investment round in October which will support the company’s expansion goals. Cudoni was recently featured in Harper’s Bazaar as one of the best designer retail sites.

BYP Network’s growth story continues apace, completing a $1m crowdfunding raise earlier this year. CEO and co-fonder Kike Onwinde (Class of 2018) and co-founder Meera Raikundalia (Class of 2016) continue with their mission to empower black professionals around the world to connect with each other and with global corporations. 

Annie Coleridge (Class of 2018) co-founded Alva – a menopause support service, aiming to be a seismic shift for women’s health – and has made swift progress. They completed a £1m VC-backed seed round in Spring and will move from a closed trial to first paying customer launch in early 2021.

Ari Ratnakumar (Class of 2014)

The pandemic pivot by Ari Ratnakumar (Class of 2014) and Co-Founder of Wiser.
Wiser is a creative and recruitment company on a mission to change the way people think about work. 

Its adaptability has been crucial over the last six months, as it has for many businesses. Wiser’s growth lies in their people’s collective drive to perform, but when a core service line (like Wiser’s recruitment offering) couldn’t deliver results for reasons beyond their control, they needed to pivot – and fast.  As a result of lockdown, revenues dropped significantly – by 50%, forcing the leadership team to make some big changes to both team structures and sales strategy. Staying lean was key to keeping the team together. Redundancies never touched the table – that included anyone who hadn’t yet started. 

A skills audit with our people, established where resources could be used in revenue-generating teams. Recognising that this was an excellent opportunity for junior talent to upskill and make moves, several managers volunteered to furlough themselves to allow less experienced employees to take on new responsibilities. The team shifted their business development focus towards generating leads for EVP sales and employer branding creative to help companies communicate better with their employees rather than recruitment projects.  This allowed them to add value for clients (and to our cash flow) easily, regardless of lockdown circumstances.

Results were clear and positive – sales innovation with a resulting in new contracts (including ASOS, L’Oreal, Selfridges etc) and revenue streams, 38 workshops that showcased Wiser’s expertise and new film contracts. Despite having graduated from NEF several years ago, the network and support hasn’t changed. Quite the opposite – over the years NEF and its advisors/mentors have provided incredible introductions and advice, in particular at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Thanks to the quick financial, sales and structural changes, and the adaptability of the team, Wiser has been able to operate at 40% of their normal cost base since April and remain profitable.

Focus on Employer brand over this period has delivered incredible ROI. In April, Wiser closed the biggest sale in their history, with a new client committing over £1.5M for this financial year.

“We’ve set up the company to change the way people think about work and the pandemic has brought this forward for a lot of companies.  Our mission has never been more relevant. In this time of fast-paced and ever-changing challenges, we’re in the best possible position to tackle them head-on. If you stay agile, you don’t need to become agile. Let the goalposts move, we make moves too.” Ari Ratnakumar, co-founder, Wiser.

New Ideas and Innovation

We’ve seen a range of alumni-led ventures launch and thrive during these challenging times, and have highlighted a small selection below:

Patrick Dobinson (Class of 2020) launched a new app, Prayin, a free Social distancing booking App designed for places of worship. The app has so far onboarded over a thousand places of worship and has a few thousand users a week registering for events. They have 48% of their places in the UK and most recently have had a couple of churches sign up in Cairo Egypt which was exciting. Read more here.

Vounteero, the second business created by Ashley Staines, (Class of 2020) was built and launched in just 2 months, helping to connect and manage volunteers for charities. Volunteero has been awarded Innovate UK funding and is running a pilot with Age UK Gateshead. Over lockdown it helped 10 small charities, 500 volunteers and ensured over 20,000 minutes of welfare calls made, and was shortlisted for ITV award for tackling loneliness.

Ashley Staines (Class of 2020)

Harish Mahli
(Class of 2017) launched
Diaspo – which delivers online cooking classes for Indian heritage recipes, and got early success, winning Nesta’s Smart Ageing Prize, a Europe wide competition for solutions that empower senior entrepreneurship. Home cooking become an hot topic over lockdown – Diaspo featured in the BBC: ‘Making the most of a lockdown Diwali’ and in Time Out ‘the cyberspace culinary specialist’, the Huffington Post, Diwali Is Going To Be Food-Filled And Delicious, Even In Lockdown and Sky News.

Maud Millar’s (Class of 2019) Adapt is a free revision timetable app to help students feel in control and organised during their GCSEs and A-Levels has also grown considerably in 2020. The winner of CVC’s Young Innovator of the Year Award 2019, Adapt launched to great acclaim in January 2020 and, despite this summer’s exam cancellations have grown their customer base to over 175,000 users. 2021 promises to be an exciting year for Adapt as they prepare to launch their hotly-anticipated schools’ edition.  Maud will be featured in the App Store’s Today page in December 2020 and remains an avid supporter of CFE and the NEF programme. She says “none of Adapt’s success would have been possible without the training and network opportunities NEF provides.”

Maud Millar (Class of 2019)


Floe Oral Care founded by Will Welton (Class of 2017) and Javier Navarro launched in September helps encourage healthy dental habits, whilst also encouraging plastic toothbrush recycling to ensure these do not end up in landfill or oceans, and reduce plastic waste. The business has completed a first fundraising round and generated strong sales traction since launching. Will plans to expand the business to Spain in January, and is seeking to raise seed funding in Q121. 

Will Welton (Class or 2017), left, and Javier Navarro


Stand4 Socks, founded by Josh Turner (Class of 2016) mission to change the world one pair of socks at a time one Entrepreneur For Good Award North West in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2020. As well as donating a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair sold, their ethical production model, sustainable materials and compostable mailbags helped Stand4Socks to the category win.

Stand4 Socks wind the Entrepreneur for Good Award


Reath founded by Claire Rampen (Class of 2017) secured a place on the Tech Nation Net Zero 1.0 programme, which is backing 33 of the UK’s most promising sustainable technology companies. Reath helps businesses adopt safe, compliant, scalable reuse systems; reusing things that have typically been single use and sent to landfill.

Tereza Pigova’s (Class of 2015) 1001 Stories has extended their product line with a new, ethically-sourced and sold-out sneaker over lockdown. 1001 Stories support artisan workers in refugee camps, using their skills to produce decorative bows which are added to statement ballerina pumps. It’s an inspirational story that demonstrates a passion for supporting vulnerable communities. The company will be launching a new collection this spring and continues to watch sales grow 30% year on year (even in a pandemic), something that is a huge testament to Tereza and her ever scaling team.

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Wishing you a very happy Christmas from Neeta and team

Whilst 2020 has been one of the most challenging years any of us will have experienced, the ingenuity and resilience that we’ve drawn on over the past year will stand us in good stead for the challenges to come. CFE has survived a difficult period and I am excited about the new opportunities that 2021 will bring. Before that of course, the festive period awaits. The CFE team and I wish you, your families and businesses a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2021.

Best wishes, 


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