Meet the 2021 Startup Angel winner: ABEP

Starting up

26 August 2021

This year, AXA has been looking to find the UK’s best two startup ideas in our AXA Startup Angel competition.

The two winning entries of the competition will receive:

  • £25,000 of business funding to get their ideas going
  • Mentoring from AXA’s Startup Angels: Holly Tucker MBE of Not On The High Street; Raphael Sofoluke of The UK Black Business Show and UK Black Business Week; and Ian Theasby & Henry Firth of BOSH!
  • Business insurance for their first year courtesy of AXA1

Now the judging is done, it’s time to meet the first winning startup business!


Meet the Association of Black Event Professionals

The Association of Black Event Professionals is a membership association launched by Nadu Placca and her team to offer a single voice to speak up for the needs of black professionals in the events industry.

Their goal is to create a safe space for black professionals in the industry to network and engage in training and development. And their journey begins with winning the AXA Startup Angel competition.


Congratulations Nadu! Can you explain your business idea to us?

The Association of Black Event Professionals is a unified eco-system that will enable black professionals to really succeed in the event industry. This is going to be something I needed when I first joined the industry 14 years ago. An association that looks like me, that understands culturally the stresses that I might go through in this particular working environment, that’s lobbying my voice. And we want to help event professionals with their succession plan in the industry, no matter what level they’re entering in at. I think it’s important that we stand strong to be able to represent as many black event professionals as possible.


Can you talk a little about the research you’ve put into this idea already?

So Black in the Boardroom was something that internally we were working on for maybe six months. I’ve been in events for 14 years and I’m not naive to the fact that this is an old, cis, white, male industry, but throughout my career I’ve been persevering to make sure that I can give more people opportunities. So the report seemed like a natural thing. 

So we were doing this report into the cultural mix of the boardrooms of the associations and trade bodies in the event industry, and we were looking at the statistics. I think I started off looking at maybe five boardrooms in our industry, and when I saw that they were all white it made me realise the need for this conversation to be had.

Now I don’t think it’s surprising to anyone to hear that they were all white. No one has been like ‘oh, really?’ Instead people have responded with ‘that’s disappointing to be in 2021 and see the reality of these statistics’. And it didn’t matter how many associations or trade bodies that we put into this report, the stats were still the same. It was zero. Zero black faces in the boardrooms of these associations. Across the board.

So the Black in the Boardroom report was really the catalyst that gave birth to the Association of Black Event Professionals.

Is the ambition to create a new professional body to rival things like the Association of Event Organisers?

Absolutely. And I don’t see any reason why not. And these associations need our support and we need theirs. This is something that can extend the ecosystem of the event industry.


Big brands are always keen to show off their Diversity and Equality credentials, whether its Black Lives Matter or Pride Week for example, but do you think it’s all still pretty performative or box ticking? What can brands do to actually put action behind their words?

It is very performative. And within my own circle I can probably count on two hands the number of people I know who were approached and asked ‘we need to post something, what do we do?’ It’s bigger than that. You posting a black square on Instagram is nothing. So what? What does it mean? We know that when big brands hit post on a message like that, they sit back in their chairs, their boardrooms remain unchanged, but they think they’ve done their part.

A lot of money has been offered up, a lot of music labels have given money to organisations to help affect change and that’s what we want too. We need to see people who are actively wanting to see change and looking for people to support them in doing so to make it happen.


What will your members receive by joining the Association?

So we’re still refining some of these details, but first of all it’s knowing that you’re joining a community. You’ll be part of our directory, which is a space similar to LinkedIn where everyone can come together in the community to share resources, share opportunities. We’re working with some recruitment consultants that are going to share roles from the event industry direct to our members, to ensure we’re at the forefront when new jobs come through. We’re going to provide educational programmes for whatever stage you’re at in the industry, business workshops, training courses. We’re still refining, but we’re getting there.


What inspired you to apply to AXA Startup Angel?

So we pushed the report back three times. I felt it wasn’t ready, we weren’t ready, and the timing had to be right. So when I saw Startup Angel and I saw the turnaround times, and when I saw the questions on the application form I just knew that this was ours. I knew it. There was no way we weren’t going to win. I felt that.

I was travelling at the time and I wrote all the answers to the application questions on the plane, I recorded the video in two takes and on the second one I knew that was it. The timing was just right.


How did it feel when you found out you'd won?

That was stressful, because I was in America at the time, and it was like five or six in the morning. But when Aaron give me that call and I found out we’d won, I was in complete shock. Even though I knew the competition was made for us, just realising it was happening. I was crying on the phone. It really just reaffirmed the vision. From the report, the statistics, the wider community and the long-term legacy impact we want this to have, it was just like a stamp to say ‘yes’ to all of that. We’re very, very excited.


What's your plans for the prize money? what does £25,000 mean for your startup business?

£25,000 is a great start for us. It means we can get the foundations in place, get them solid, and then do some promotion out to the wider community to get more people in. The foundations are the key point – we really want to make sure we get that part right.

What do you want to get out of the mentoring sessions with the Angels? What sorts of things will you be looking to grill them about

We want to use them as our extended network. To champion what we’re doing. But it’s really difficult to say because we don’t know what we don’t know. The mentors have been brought to the table for various reasons and they could support in so many ways, but we’re still trying to nail that down.

What are you most excited about? What are you most nervous about?

We’re excited about connecting with people. We’ve had some great conversations with people from different communities and trade bodies, associations that are excited about this. For me this is about legacy. It’s really being able to see new people come into the industry and we can support them, we can grow them, they can learn from us. There’s going to be ups and downs but know there’s a wider community out there ready to support the black community will be so important for people coming up. So I’m excited about creating a legacy.

And in terms of what I’m nervous about – legacy! It comes with a lot. Making sure that this has as much of my time as possible, to give it the start it needs. It effects family. When you’re starting your own business it consumes your life. It’s a big uphill journey but it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than us. It’s about giving back to the community, helping them grow and sustain.


To hear more from our 2021 Winners, including their advice for future Start Up Angel applicants, listen to the final episode from season one of our Mind Your Small Business Podcast.


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.

Twelve months of Business Insurance. AXA will undertake a review of the business’ insurance needs and will cover the cost of 12 months’ worth of premium to the Winner. The cover will only be in respect of Property and/or Liability insurance (Motor is excluded), and should be taken out through AXA directly or if advised by AXA, through an AXA nominated intermediary.