- Lydia Bernsmere Rollo
When twins Oliver and Alexander Kent Braham, 29, decided to rediscover one of the most traditional areas of finance – insurance – all they had to do was come up with a new idea, and the gym was ready to be the company’s headquarters.
“We were members of the Virgin Active Gymnasium, which had Wi-Fi, a coffee shop and a great location on The Strand,” says Oliver.
This is where Marshmallow Insurance was born, with the help of co-founder and chief technology officer David Gautier. They did not have capital or customers, but they knew they had a strong idea.
Their assumption was correct: by September 2021, the company had grown into a unicorn – meaning it was worth an estimated $ 1 billion (£ 727m) – making it the UK’s second black-owned unicorn.
The first was Ismail Ahmed, who changed his name from WorldRemit to now Zipz, a cross-border digital payment platform, and last August became the UK’s first unicorn.
Oliver says when they set up their company that specializes in creating new products and services for the insurance sector, they wanted to turn the industry on its head.
The twins spoke to a friend of theirs who had recently moved to the UK and was still receiving excessive car insurance quotes, which led the twins to ask: How can you enjoy affordable insurance if you do not have a UK driving license?
The solution was to make smarter use of technology and data, and to specialize in offering products to “most dangerous” customers – immigrants, young people and those with low credit scores.
“If we could go back in time to start over, it would have been better if we had raised the required capital earlier, because before you got the capital, you would not have the confidence to take the next step,” says Oliver.
“The company was completely on Tim Holiday (CEO of Marshmallow Insurance) for nine months, David, Alexander and just me. Tim joined our company and got no salary,” he says.
Their next step was to raise capital, which was not easy at all.
“Venture capitalists are the ones who hold the keys to starting new companies,” says Oliver. “You need to have general knowledge so you can talk to multiple funders, and that needs to change.”
The latest government statistics show that black-owned enterprises are four times more likely to reject their business loan applications than white or South Asian founders.
In 2020, the 10×10 group, a group of black founders and venture capitalists, found that only 22 percent of black founders were able to get venture capitalist funding to start their businesses and start-ups.
“The first investor who really believed in us was a guy named Bernard Kantor, he’s the founder of Investec, and you can not be trusted until at least one person believes in you at the beginning,” says Oliver .
But just to get there, puts the Kent Braham twins in an advantageous position, as only six per cent of small and medium-sized businesses in the UK are run by ethnic minorities.
So, how can blacks start a “unicorn” company worth more than a billion dollars?
The Braham brothers received a scholarship at the prestigious Rietskool on the basis of their skills as athletes, and were consistently highly motivated, which brought them to the top of their field.
“We played tennis at an elite level, and we learned from this game,” says Oliver. “I think this game teaches you a set of skills required in business.
“We’ve always had a tendency to think about business,” he says. “When we were 12, we sold golf balls we found in the lake, and other such things.”
“And in our early twenties, we really started to enter the world of technology, especially the fintech field, and it was very exciting, and then we started thinking we wanted to create our own technology company.”
But even though the black, Asian and ethnic minority communities make up 14 per cent of the UK’s population, founding teams from all ethnic minorities received only 4 per cent of the total venture capital investment between 2009 and 2019.
Additional analysis found that 90 percent of this money went to white entrepreneurs, and only 0.24 percent to black entrepreneurs.
The latest research by KPMG indicates that thanks to the UK’s coronavirus vaccination program and greater business confidence in the post-Brexit environment, global venture capital investment in UK companies has continued to grow. £ 6.7 billion was invested in the second quarter of 2021.
Back at Marshmallow, Oliver and Kent Braham offer advice to anyone looking to start a new business: “First, know that no one will believe in you, and that your parents will tell you not to take risks and quit your job. do not leave, but you must take a risk. And be daring. “