In conversation with…Nicole Crentsil

Nicole Crentsil is a powerhouse in the world of tech and entrepreneurship, addressing the inequalities faced by Black women and girls through Black Girl Fest. Now, with the second LaunchPad programme in progress, Nicole certainly has her hands full and shares how she got to this point, her thoughts on allyship, inclusion, and why it should be everyone’s responsibility.

Empowerment, allyship and accountability

Nicole’s background in product design, inspired by her interest in design, the built environment and the world around us, drove her to carve her own way after being uninspired by non-diverse and non-inclusive internships, her first taste of the real world of work.

“Since being a kid I’ve thought about the part women play in the world that we live in and how we can design and shape that world. I guess that’s what led me to what I’m doing now with Black Girl Fest. For me, I think all the years that I’ve been navigating the creative arts, and now tech space, was about finding ways to find community, but also build community.”

For Nicole, this introduced a new feeling of empowerment that she hadn’t been exposed to before. “The word empowerment wasn’t something that I was privy to growing up. It was more about ‘How do I navigate this world that I’m in?’ My family migrated to the UK when I was eight or nine. We lived in a part of West London that was incredibly racist. I was racially bullied in two primary schools. Fitting in as a kid is always challenging, naturally, but fitting in as a migrant kid who’s having to learn a new language and finding community is another thing.”

This longing for community has driven Nicole’s work, embracing allyship – something that she sees as standing ‘side-by-side’ – and how considering who’s not in the room is a key part of this work.

 “I always think about who isn't in the room when I'm making decisions, coming up with ideas and creating new projects - and I speak to them first. I think it's really easy to share things with people in your inner circle because they look like you, sound like you and agree with you.”

As a prolific event creator, Nicole feels this process leads to better decision-making. “When producing an event, I think about all the intersections – the other groups that people could be a part of – and I speak to them. I think: ‘How can I make this event more inclusive for you? How can I get you and the communities around you to attend? How do I change the language to be more inclusive? How do I change the programming? How do I change the venue?’ That’s how I take on the next steps of allyship.”

Stepping outside your comfort zone and being uncomfortable are other ways to be a better ally:

“Because of the way social media’s built, it forces people to gravitate in their comfort zones, building your own world and it feels safe there. In that safety, there’s less room for discomfort. Discomfort is where you can learn, grow and challenge. More people need to be uncomfortable. You have to step out of your bounds to be uncomfortable and understand how you can be better.”

Nicole regularly reflects on her professional and personal values. “Things change around us. Sometimes we need to update where our values sit. As you continue to grow, so do the things that you care about and so does the way in which you see the world. Maybe you read some very different viewpoints or articles that really shift the way that you perceive something around you and so your values change in that perspective as well. I have cores that just stick with me.”

Young Nicole - entrepreneur in the making

Embracing inclusion

When addressing diversity within the venture capital (VC) ecosystem, there’s often a lack of people talking about belonging, inclusion and equity. Nicole’s thoughts on tackling this often change: “Sometimes I’m trying to plough through a broken system to try and change it. Other times I want to break the system and start again. I think about the Master’s Tool quote: burn it down and start again. It feels like a lot of work to try and change something that has been built and carefully designed to not be inclusive and to continue to benefit from the oppression of XYZ people. 

“Right now, nobody’s addressing the entire system in which things need to be restructured. I think that’s why we see a lot of overly mentored Black and Brown founders. It’s about ‘What can we do right now for them?’ rather than thinking about future generations and what we could have done from the very start.”

Nicole pleads for those doing the work to hone in on belonging and respecting people’s culture to address the bigger problem, otherwise it’s just a temporary plaster.

“The VC space has an interesting way of going about it. I've come from the arts and creative industries and I've seen how they've been making some changes. I think the VC space has a long but interesting way to go.”

Next steps

After a successful inaugural LaunchPad programme – an initiative to propel Black female founders – and a period of gratitude and reflection, Nicole is on to the second cohort for the programme. But that doesn’t stop her from thinking of how else she can have an impact. 

“I want to continue to grow our community. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of what can be done for Black women, or Black men. There’s so much more I want to do: with our platform, our programs, our events, our learnings, and even the role that I take on as an angel investor.” 

A recurring idea floated to Nicole is to start a fund, but despite all her capabilities, she asks herself:

“Is it always me that has to do it? Can it be somebody else that I support or encourage or coach or provide open doors for? I get into the loop of: ‘You have to take this on, Nicole.’ Sometimes that's just not the case. I guess the older you get, the more you think about it. Why don't you get the next generation to sort this one out?”

See how Newton Venture Program is working on tackling diversity and encouraging allyship in the venture capital ecosystem.

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