Skip to content
Apply now

Black Founders Programme

Open date: Tuesday 4 June 2024   Close date: Sunday 7 July 2024

Get your startup investment ready

The Black Founders Programme is a 13-week accelerator targeted at pre-seed or seed stage, Black founded companies creating innovative products and services in the creative industries.

The aim of the programme is to fast track high-growth potential startups from a business and investment perspective, providing the support needed to increase their investment readiness level.

Sony Music UK and Sony Music Publishing UK are collaboration partners for this programme and will play an active role in supporting business growth & facilitating connections where possible.

Digital catapult held a briefing webinar on 17 June to give an overview of the programme and the application process. To watch it, click here.

Applications close at 23:59 on Sunday 7 July 2024.

Open call closes in

  • 00 Days
  • 00 Hours
  • 00 Mins
  • 00 Secs
Apply now

Programme Benefits

The Black Founders Programme aims to accelerate business growth and boost market presence of deep tech startups in the creative industries. Programme participants will access the following benefits:

Business and investment health scans

Masterclasses, mentoring and coaching from industry experts

Potential for funding opportunities

Opportunities to engage with Sony Music UK & Sony Music Publishing UK

Access to potential partners, investors and customers

Access to state-of-the art facilities and deep tech expertise

Key information

Who should apply

In order to be eligible for the programme, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • UK based pre-seed and seed stage companies in the creative deep tech sector
  • Applicants looking to raise investment in the next 12 months
  • Applicants must have at least one founder that self-identifies as Black or multiracial with Black heritage
  • Are currently working within the creative space (for example music, arts, gaming and advertising)
  • Applicants must be eligible to receive £20,000 in State Assistance (De Minimis Aid)

To be considered, Digital Catapult supports companies using advanced digital technologies including:

  • Future networks and advanced digital infrastructure (internet of things including low powered wide area networks, NB-IoT, LIFI etc. and includes sensors, edge devices, wearables etc.)
  • Immersive technologies – extended reality (virtual, augmented, mixed reality and haptics)
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning (natural language processing, machine vision, deep learning)
  • Distributed ledger technologies (blockchain etc.)
  • Quantum
Selection criteria 

Problem & Solution [25%]

The applicant should demonstrate that their company is addressing a clear problem, as well as applying advanced technologies to tackle the challenges in the selected focus areas.

Growth Potential [25%]

The company should be capable of identifying the key challenges they are facing in the market. They should be able to identify a clear use for potential future investment.

Business Strategy [25%]

The company should be able to articulate its revenue model, who its customers are and objectives for the future.

Ability to Execute [25%]

The company and its employees should have the necessary experience and skill to consistently develop, deliver and commercialise their solution.

Selection process

There will be two stages:

First stage: Online application submission.
Second stage: Once applications close, completed applications are judged and assessed based on the selection criteria and a shortlist selected for review by Judges. In the case there are several applications of equal standing that are borderline, Judges will conduct interviews with all shortlisted applicants for fairness. Their previous score will be made redundant and a new score generated based on the original selection criteria and interview answers. The 10 highest ranked Applicants will be accepted onto the Programme.

How to apply

Application Process

  1. Applicants check they meet the programme’s specific requirements.
  2. Applicants fill out their application form through the dedicated platform. Applicants will need to complete the application form by 23:59 on Sunday 7th July 2024.

Programme FAQs

What is the Black Founders programme?

The Black Founders Programme is a 13-week accelerator targeted at high-growth potential pre-seed or seed stage companies creating innovative products and services in the Creative industries.

Sony Music UK and Sony Music Publishing UK are the Programme Partners for this programme.

What are the benefits of the Black Founders Programme?

Digital Catapult is unique in its ability to connect high potential companies with established businesses, investors, government and public sector, research and academia – to discover new ways of solving industry challenges, increasing productivity and opening up new markets.

Across the programme, a range of sessions and events are provided to support participants in scaling their commercial, operational and technical activity.

These include:

  • Diagnostic Sessions – 1:1 sessions with experts and mentors to determine your current business and investment needs.
  • Investment guidance – Business and investment support, based on the findings of your diagnostic sessions, including sessions with experienced investors.
  • No fees or equity required – Applying to and participating in the programme is free, and Digital Catapult does not ask for equity in return for support.
  • Potential for funding opportunities – Successful completion of the Black Founders programme can open the door to potential funding opportunities as part of our FutureScope alumni community.
  • Peer Support – Build relationships, share insights, and collaborate on projects with other non competing entrepreneurs through group coaching sessions and networking events.
  • Masterclasses & mentoring from experts in the Creative industries – Learn from Sony Music UK and Sony Music Publishing UK and other creative specialists and build your network. Develop and improve business planning, commercial strategy, pricing and positioning, operational processes and investment readiness.
  • Access to state-of-the-art facilities & deep tech expertise – Visit one or more of our facilities including our immersive labs, SONIC labs and more. Learn how our facilities can support your business upon completion of the programme.
  • A programme final during which the participants will present and network with an invited audience of investors, partners and industry representatives. 
  • The opportunity to join the Digital Catapult alumni network, which keeps them informed of opportunities and relevant updates from the Digital Catapult, and additional opportunities to engage with Digital Catapult and other alumni.
What are the key dates of the programme?

Activities marked with an asterisk (*) are compulsory/non-negotiable where relevant

  1. Open Call – Applications Open – 4 June 2024*
  2. Q&A drop-in session for  Black Founders programme – 7, 14, 21, 27 June
  3. Programme Briefing Event – 17 June 2024
  4. Open Call – Application Deadline – 7 July 2024 at 23:59*
  5. Interviews (one 30 min slot) – 29 – 31 July 2024*
  6. Notification of application status – 1 August 2024
  7. Contracting – 5 August – 15 August 2024*
  8. Programme Start Date – 19 August 2024*
  9. Programme Activities – The majority of programme activities will be held on Thursdays. 
    1. Kick Off event – 22 August 2024*
    2. Final programme event – 14 Nov*
  10. Programme End Date – 15 Nov 2024

Dates and activities can be subject to change. Digital Catapult will endeavour to provide as much notice as possible to applicants/participants should any changes arise.

Do I have to attend all of the activities?

In general, attending all activities can be beneficial as it provides you with the opportunity to learn from experienced mentors, connect with other entrepreneurs, and develop your business skills. However, it’s important to prioritise your time and focus on activities that are most relevant to your business and investment goals.

You will need to attend 75% of activities. If there are certain activities that you feel are not relevant to your business or that you already have a strong understanding of, you may choose to skip them to allocate your time and resources more effectively. However, it’s important to consider the potential benefits of all activities before deciding to skip them.

Ultimately, attending all activities on a business accelerator can help you maximise the potential benefits of the program, but it’s important to balance this with your specific business needs and goals.

What is meant by Creative Industries?

  • Advertising and marketing
  • Animation
  • Architecture
  • Arts and culture
  • Crafts
  • Design
  • Fashion
  • Film, TV and video
  • Games
  • Publishing
  • Music and radio
  • Visual art and photography
What is meant by pre-seed/seed stage companies?

Defining Pre-Seed & Seed:

  • Pre-Seed: Demonstrate that your business solves a customer problem. We expect that you kicked off your business with a small amount of funding. You are seeking funding that will help support your early product development. It’ll build the foundation of your business by funding an early team, operations, and the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP).
  • Seed: focuses more on developing and proving that your customers want your product. Companies at this stage should have proven the key value of their product. We expect that you have received some early stage funding from either individual investors or an early stage venture capital fund. The purpose of seed funding is to help founders develop product-market fit, drive sales, and identify key growth strategies and enable opportunities to grow.
Does the Black Founders Programme guarantee I will receive investment?

No. The programme is designed to support early stage companies build the skills, access resource and form relationships with potential partners, investors and customers. Digital Catapult cannot guarantee that your company will raise investment from joining the programme. Digital Catapult’s aim is support your business journey and make raising investment more likely. Once you have completed the programme, you will become an alumni member and will have the opportunity to be introduced to potential investors and partners.

Will the programme provide my company with funding?

To offset any costs to a business by participating within the programme, each startup will receive an equal share of a £30,000 pot as a financial contribution towards completing the programme. The money will be provided using contributions from Sony Music UK and Sony Music Publishing UK. 

How much state aid is the programme?

The total State Assistance received or due to be received by a Participant (including any associated companies e.g. subsidiaries), originating from a United Kingdom source, must not exceed £315,000 for GB companies, and €200,000 (approximately £165,000) for Northern Ireland Companies (or any company subject to the Northern Ireland Protocol) in aggregate across the Participant’s current fiscal year (as at the Agreement Date) and the previous two fiscal years.

This Programme has been assessed as providing £20,000 for Participants.

Before signing the Programme Agreement, Applicants will therefore be asked to sign a declaration confirming that they are eligible to receive the State Assistance.

Is the Black Founders Programme in-person or remote?

The majority of the programme will be delivered remotely via online calls and sessions. We expect to organise a small number of in-person events at Digital Catapult or Sony Music UK’s London offices over the 13-week period, including a programme kick off, networking and final event. Digital Catapult will provide as much notice as possible.

Can I speak to someone from the team about my applications before submitting it?

Yes. We are holding Q&A session on Friday mornings during the application window. Please select a 15 minute slot here to speak to one of the Digital Catapult team about your application. They are intended to be informal, open and accessible to anyone who wishes to participate in the programme, regardless of their background or experience level. They will not have an impact on the judging of your application

What information is asked for in the application form?

The application form will seek more details about your:

  • Company information
  • Problem & Solution
  • Growth Potential
  • Business Strategy
  • Ability to Execute
Do we need to send a detailed business plan?

At this stage, you just need to complete the online application form without sending us a detailed business plan. If you are one of the companies chosen to participate, then you will be expected to partake in a business health scan (diagnostic session) within the duration of the programme.

Can I save my application to come back to later?

Yes, the form we use for the full application process can be modified and saved at any time before the final submission date. After full submission and completion forms cannot be altered or edited.

Who is application data shared with?

The application information will only be used for the purposes of the programme and its evaluation, and will only be retained for the duration of the programme (one year), and for participants on the programme for the evaluation period (maximum five years) and otherwise to comply with legal requirements.

How are applications selected?

Applicants are reviewed by the Digital Catapult, sponsors and programme collaboration partners, and are assessed only on the information provided in the application. Following the first screening, successful candidates will be invited to an interview. 

Application completion – To be considered for the programme you will need to submit the full online application form before the open call closing date Sunday 7 July 2024 at 23:59. You can save and return to your form as required. Applicants can submit a written or a video application. Applicants must ensure all questions are answered otherwise their application may be rejected. 

Applications judged and shortlist – Once applications close, completed applications are judged and assessed based on the selection criteria and a shortlist selected for review by Digital Catapult, sponsors and the collaboration partners. In the case there are several applications of equal standing that are borderline, judges will conduct interviews with all shortlisted applicants for fairness. Their previous score will be made redundant and a new score generated based on the  original selection criteria and interview answers. Interviews will be conducted 29 July – 31 July 2024 and last 30 minutes. The 10 highest ranked Applicants will be accepted onto the Programme.

Selection and contracting – Once companies have been reviewed and the proposed teams selected by the internal judges, we’ll communicate to successful and unsuccessful companies the status of their application and complete our contracting with successful startups. Successful applicants will be then notified and provided with a standard Programme Agreement for review. These contracts are standard and not negotiable. We do try and ensure these contracts are fair and reasonable. Invitation to a programme kick-off will then follow provisionally on the completion of this agreement.

I’m not ready to apply yet – can I apply and be considered at a later date?

Digital Catapult runs multiple open calls a year, if you’re not ready to apply at the moment please sign up for our newsletter to be alerted when future applications for other programmes are open.

What is the selection criteria used for applications?

Problem & Solution [25%]

The applicant should demonstrate that their company is addressing a clear problem, as well as applying advanced technologies to tackle the challenges in the selected focus areas.

Growth Potential [25%]

The company should be capable of identifying the key challenges they are facing in the market. They should be able to identify a clear use for potential future investment.

Business Strategy [25%]

The company should be able to articulate its revenue model, who its customers are and objectives for the future.

Ability to Execute [25%]

The company and its employees should have the necessary experience and skill to consistently develop, deliver and commercialise their solution.

Scoring

The scoring criteria will be assessed based on the statements above.

Each criterion will be scored on a range from 0 to 5 .

0 being “Unacceptable” Score Key Assessment and 5 being “Excellent” Score Key Assessment. 

This scoring will be applied to all applications and will be equally weighted.

 

Score Key Assessment Score Interpretation
Excellent 5 Satisfies the requirement and demonstrates exceptional understanding and evidence in their ability/proposed methodology to deliver a solution for the required supplies/services. 
Good 4 Satisfies the requirement with minor additional benefits.  Above average demonstration by the Applicant of the understanding and evidence in their ability/proposed methodology to deliver a solution for the required supplies/services. 
Acceptable 3 Satisfies the requirement.  Demonstration by the Applicant of the understanding and evidence in their ability/proposed methodology to deliver a solution for the required supplies/services.
Minor Reservations 2 Satisfies the requirement with minor reservations.  Some minor reservations of the Applicant’s understanding and proposed methodology, with limited evidence to support the response. 
Serious Reservations 1 Major reservations of the Applicant’s understanding and proposed methodology, with little or no evidence to support the response.
Unacceptable

OR

No submission

0 Nil or inadequate response. Fails to demonstrate an ability to meet the requirement.
Can I receive preliminary feedback on my application before completion?

Unfortunately, because of the high volume of applications, we do not provide feedback automatically. If you would like to receive feedback on your application, please send us an email stating so and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

Can university teams apply?

Applications from university teams are welcomed if they meet the eligibility criteria and are willing to incorporate as a company if accepted on the programme.

Does Black Founders Programme help with creation of new teams?

No, this programme does not specifically facilitate this – teams are expected to already be formed at the point of submitting the application.

Intellectual property

This programme does not seek to retain any IP. If applicants are collaborating with third parties they are expected to make appropriate IP agreements. The application will be screened privately by Digital Catapult and the other judges.

Does my organisation need to be a UK registered company to enter?

Yes, you have to be registered with Companies House. We will consider bidders that hold any legal form of business (e.g. ltd company, sole trader, consortium).

Does my organisation need to be UK based or can I collaborate with international contributors?

Collaborations may include international contributors, but to complete the Programme (i) the team must have an establishment in the UK, and (ii) the majority of work should be carried out in the UK and teams need to be able to commit to attending the workshops and the final programme event.

How much equity does the Black Founders Programme take?

The Black Founders programme is an-equity free programme. As this Black Founders programme does not provide grant funding or investment, we do not ask for equity in companies.

No fees and a financial contribution to cover costs

Applying to and participating in the programme is free. To offset costs to a business by participating in the programme, each startup will receive an equal share of £30,000 pot as a financial contribution towards completing the programme. The pot is made possible through additional support from Sony Music Entertainment UK and Sony Music Publishing UK.

Programme success

The Black Founders Programme has been running since 2023 and it already has one cohort.

In addition to providing investment readiness, the programme supports Black founders to further create connections and networking opportunities, together with driving positive change across the UK startup industry.

Click on the link to find more information about the community and the success stories.

 

Learn more

Why are we launching this programme

0.2%

Black startup founders receive dramatically lower venture capitalist investments than their peers, receiving 0.2% of overall funding. (Source – Sifted)

38

Between 2009 and 2019, only 38 businesses run by Black entrepreneurs received venture capital. (Source – Sifted)

1%

As well as being invested in less frequently, when part of a founding team, Black entrepreneurs raise just 1% of the total amount invested at Seed stage. (Source – Sifted)

The economic contribution of the UK creative industries saw a 6.8% increase in 2022 to reach £124.6 billion, more than 50% larger than its size in 2010, according to the UK government estimates. In 2023, the government and the Creative Industries Council published a sector vision plan to grow the creative industries by a further £50 billion and support an additional 1 million jobs. 

bfp cohort

Programme Partners

Sony Music UK

SM_Primary_RedandBlack_RGB_Logo

About Sony Music Entertainment

Sony Music’s story began in 1887 with the formation of Columbia Records – the oldest surviving label in the recording industry.

Today, Sony Music comprises a variety of record labels devoted to every genre of music, from rock and pop to classical, hip hop and R&B. They seek out the industry’s best artists and executives to create world-class music and audio entertainment.

In the UK, Columbia, RCA, Ministry of Sound, Since ’93, Relentless, Black Butter, Insanity, Dream Life Records, 5K Records, Robots + Humans, WEAREBLK, Music For Nations and The Orchard are part of the Sony Music family and represent a hugely diverse roster of artists.

They are joined by Commercial Group, home to our catalogue, merchandise and family division Magic Star and 4th Floor Creative, which comprises Brand Partnerships, Sync, Visual Creative, Podcasting, Digital and Audience Development.

Sony Music Entertainment UK is part of Sony Music Group, a global recorded music and publishing company, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. The company represents a vast global catalogue, including some of the most important recordings in history.

Read more about Sony Music’s commitment to social justice through the UK Social Justice Fund here.

Sony Music Publishing UK

SMP logo black

About Sony Music Publishing

Sony Music Publishing (“SMP”) is the #1 global music publisher, dedicated to advancing the artistry of the world’s greatest songwriters and composers for over 25 years. We design our suite of services to amplify opportunities, build connections, and provide support at every career stage.

SMP is a member of the Sony family of global companies.

Apply for the programme now

Apply now