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Empowering London’s under-represented business founders: new fully-funded accelerator from Virgin StartUp

Empowering London’s under-represented business founders: new fully-funded accelerator from Virgin StartUp

Empower 100 is a new fully-funded programme for under-represented business founders. 

·        The Virgin StartUp programme starts on 3 August 2023 and will support 100 founders between now and December 2024.

Virgin StartUp, the not-for-profit incubator for UK business founders, has opened a new fully-funded accelerator programme for under-represented, business owners based in Greater London. 

Thanks to funding from Greater London Authority via the UK’s Shared Prosperity Fund, Empower 100 will support 100 female, ethnic minority and disabled founders from the capital, maximising their chances of scaling and financing their businesses successfully. The two-month programme will run until the end of 2024. 

Applications are now open for the first cohort, which will start on Thursday 3 August 2023. To be eligible to apply, founders must be turning over at least £50,000 per year, have two employees or more and have been operating for 18-months +.  

Linda Grant, Chair at Virgin StartUp, comments: “Systemic inequalities and biases continue to be a barrier for under-represented founders of early-stage businesses. Empower 100 is about taking a step towards addressing some of these issues and encouraging a vibrant and diverse start-up community. We want all founders to have the knowledge, connections and confidence to reach their full growth potential. 

“We are proud to be running Empower 100 alongside Virgin StartUp’s existing 50/50 pledge to equally fund women and men business founders. Our long-term ambition is to extend Empower 100 to other regions across the UK.” 

Virgin Start Up has also recently extended its role as a Business Support Partner for the British Business Bank’s Start Up Loan scheme and will be distributing £36 million in funding to early-stage business founders over the next two years.   

What to expect 

All 100 founders on the Empower 100 programme will receive upto 42-hours of expert support delivered across group workshops and one-to-one sessions, equipping founders with the key skills and advice they will need to succeed across three core areas – growth strategy, leadership skills and investment readiness. Each founder will also have a weekly meeting with a different expert to help them work through specific problem areas in their business, such as sustainability and purpose, brand building, sales and marketing, leadership, finance and investment. 

When the programme ends, the participants will continue to be part of a facilitated peer-to-peer support group for six months where they can share learnings on their fundraising and business growth journey. During this time, all 100 founders will also be given free access to Virgin StartUp’s community support platform so they can access additional support and resources, live webinars and a business advice helpline.  

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Every six months, Virgin StartUp will also select businesses from Empower 100 to attend a pitch demo day where they will be given the opportunity to practice their pitch in-front of investors and get their feedback, as well as watching other founders do the same – something that very few business founders get the opportunity to do. 

This isn’t the first time that Virgin StartUp has supported founders to scale their business. During the past ten years, the not-for-profit has run a number of successful growth programmes and investment readiness accelerators including ‘StepUp’, which was funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Collective Impact, an accelerator for social impact driven businesses which has so far helped early-stage founders raise more than £20 million in funds.  

Eleanor Howie, founder of Valiant Lingerie and an alumnus of the Collective Impact programme, commented: “Collective Impact was more than I could have anticipated. Not only was it invaluable having a range of informative sessions with experts, but it has also been a total game changer being able to build relationships with other entrepreneurs.”  

Lola Cawood also completed the programme in 2022. Co-founder of Tiwani Heritage, which makes ethically sourced and sustainable, synthetic hair extensions, adds: “The programme helps you to understand business and the funding process a lot better, by speaking with experts and successful brands who have gone through the same process. I went into the programme not really knowing what to expect but ended up feeling more assured, confident and equipped to scale my business. The entire learning experience is priceless!” 

For more information and to apply for Empower 100 visit