Delight Mapasure says the world of investment feels inaccessible to black entrepreneurs. And she should know, because Zimbabwean-born Delight – or Dee – made an incredible 20 applications for funding for K’s Wors https://kswors.co.uk, her brand of spicy Boerewors sausages. “I got 19 rejections and a lot of it went down to who I was as a person. With some of the applications I’d get to the last stage and my nationality would cause me to fail, as well as my culture. I didn’t look like the people I was pitching to, nor sound like them and, as they put it, I was ‘selling a strange sausage’. Even my own bank manager still doesn’t get what I do - even though I’m on sale in Ocado and Costco. A lot of it was culture and me being me - being black and selling this product that they didn’t really understand”.
This kind of response from potential investors makes it off-putting and intimidating for black founders to apply for funding and this includes crowdfunding– until now. Says Dee: “I have never considered crowdfunding because I just don’t see anyone who looks like me smashing it on crowdfunding platforms. But I’m so happy to hear about The B.O.X and the opportunities it presents for black business owners, for whom it’s difficult to get any financial support”.
Dee points out that it’s infuriating when white competitors succeed because they have more backing. “There’s a highly competitive white-owned brand launching a similar product to ours, and they are heavily supported everywhere. It’s almost like we don’t exist, but in fact we started doing this before them. So when you hear the phrase ‘Double the effort, double everything for black people,’ it’s really true, we do have to strive so much harder. But it just motivates me to prove them wrong. I was an asylum seeker so I’m used to being stereotyped and I use it to motivate me – I’m all about proving people wrong. Because my ideas are just as good as anyone else’s”.
The initial funding for researching and launching her sausage business actually came from Dee’s first business, a commercial cleaning company, We Turn Up. “I used it as a stepping stone to set up K’s Wors. I knew what I wanted to do and realised I had to raise the capital somehow, alongside my job. I didn’t have a credit rating, I didn’t have any references or a background of running a business, so could not approach anyone for funding, nor ask family or friends for help, so while it was a diversion from the main goal, starting the cleaning business enabled me to pay for the whole process of getting the product shelf-ready. And that’s how I started my food business”.
And luckily investment did come along eventually. “That 20th application was to a funder who believed in what I was trying to do. They took a chance and invested so I could pay for the next steps in launching my range - packaging and branding – and K’s Wors went on sale in Ocado in 2019. At the peak of the pandemic we went on sale in Costco and it’s changed everything for my business”.
And now Dee’s brand has come to the attention of Dragons’ Den. “Pitching to the five dragons was like an out-of-body experience and one I will cherish for ever. When this opportunity presented itself, even though my product is very young, I felt somebody believes in me and picked me out of the crowd and that was mind-blowing. I’m not easily intimidated, but this time I was! They’d told me I had to dress up in formal wear, but I don’t own corporate wear - I always dress as myself. I had to take all my vibrant outfits along for approval, as TV doesn’t pick up certain colours. And I’m happy to say that I didn’t have to change who I am. For me, that was so important”.
Watch Dee pitch to Dragons’ Den (BBC1) at 9pm tonight, or on catch-up.