Catching up with the Startup Angels: Raphael Sofoluke

Starting up

9 June 2022

In 2021, AXA launched the AXA Startup Angel competition to give worthy businesses the funding and support they need to get the best possible start in their new business ventures.

Along with 25,000 funding to get their business off the ground and business insurance in their first year from AXA, the competition offered mentoring from the AXA Startup Angels business experts including Raphael Sofoluke, founder of the UK Black Business Show and UK Black Business Week.

This year in 2022, we’re proud to relaunch AXA Startup Angel with bigger prizes and more ways to win. Raphael is back as one of our Startup Angels this year, so we caught up with him to chat about what he wants to see from AXA Startup Angel in 2022.

How was your experience of Startup Angel last year (2021)?

The AXA Start up Angel competition in 2021 was an incredible experience, and being selected as one of four judges responsible for changing two people’s lives was a huge honour. There were so many fantastic entries, so it wasn’t an easy task, but in the end myself and the other judges narrowed it down to two businesses well deserving of the £25,000 prize fund.

Last year’s competition reminded me how important it is to help others; we had the opportunity to mentor the two winners and being able to pass down my knowledge and the lessons I’ve learnt in business over the years gave me great joy.

Was there anything that surprised you about last year’s competition? Was the calibre of entries what you expected?

Last year the calibre was high, which I expected, and I expect the calibre to increase each year. What did surprise me was the types of business ideas being pitched. I’m someone who loves anything that creates a positive impact in the world and a lot of the ideas were businesses that were not only going to benefit the founder, but also would make a lasting impact on society and those around them.

What made last year’s two winners – BOLDmen and the Association of Black Event Professionals – stand out for you? What excited you most about them?

Both businesses related to me, being someone who is bald myself I resonated with the product BOLDmen (now EMBLDN) created. I am also a black professional within the events sector so I know the challenges I’ve faced navigating the industry. Both companies were solving an issue which I believe are very much needed.

When thinking back to reviewing the pitch videos last year, what made a good submission? 

I want to see passion in the submission videos! I believe whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. You have one opportunity to make an impression and win a sum of money that could potentially change your life. I want to hear what problem you are solving and what makes this idea unique. If you can portray this in your submission, you’ll have a very good chance. The winners from last year both demonstrated these attributes.

For this year’s competition (2022), is there anything new you want to see from the entrants/finalists?

Like last year, I want to see ideas that have been well thought out. The idea does not have to be perfect straight away, but it must have the basis of an idea that has the potential to be successful. In terms of new things I want to see this year, I would like to see a better breakdown on how exactly you are going to spend the prize money to elevate your business and how we can help you through our mentoring.

We’re at a very crucial time in 2022 as we move out of the pandemic and with things like the cost of living crisis, the climate emergency and more dwelling on people’s minds. How do you think responsible businesses can respond to the times we’re living in?

Competitions like this are extremely important and it’s great that AXA and the Evening Standard are offering this opportunity to make someone’s dreams come true. With the cost of living going up, many would-be entrepreneurs may be put off the idea of starting a business, but the AXA Startup Angel competition almost alleviates those fears by providing funding, insurance and mentorship. Responsible businesses now have a duty to make sure that they are not only paying staff well but also ensuring that they are sustainable businesses that care about the world around them.

Lastly, what would you say to people who were thinking of entering Startup Angel last year, but didn’t go ahead with it?

So many people sit on great ideas because of fear of failure, but how can you fail if you don’t even try. This opportunity does not come along every day so I encourage you not too miss out again on such a life-defining moment.

Business funding made easier with AXA Startup Angel

At AXA, we're committed to helping small businesses achieve their full potential. That's why we created the AXA Startup Angel competition, which helps support two new businesses every year with £25,000 funding, mentoring from business experts and business insurance too, so we can help set you up for success.