INCLUDE ME: Unmuting entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds

Include Me is a community platform developed for entrepreneurs in the North of England. It is a place for anyone who feels unheard of or underrepresented in their journey as an entrepreneur. 

Their aim is to provide an open platform; a safe way to connect, communicate, and a place where we can work together to bring about positive change across the North. 

A big part of this initiative is the #Unmute campaign which serves to ensure all voices are heard and important themes around diversity and inclusion are identified, amplified, debated, in order to bring about positive and lasting solutions. 

Why are we featuring Include Me?

Our founder, Sophie Mei Lan, started blogging for Include Me after being connected to them on LinkedIn through AD:Venture (an inclusive start-up programme). After speaking with Include Me founder Mel Ellyard, we invited Mel to participate in our Sparkle business stories.

More about Mel Ellyard & Include Me

Mel Ellyard – Include Me

Leeds-based Mel has a broad and extensive range of experience of working with entrepreneurs and SMEs across the North of England, she is a big supporter of diversity and inclusion, and currently works as the Senior Manager Yorkshire, Humber & Tees Valley, in the UK Network team at British Business Bank (the UK’s economic development bank).

Why did you set up your enterprise?

“I set Include Me up to give a voice to black and underrepresented entrepreneurs and communities in the North. As a mixed-race, Northern female, brought up on a housing estate in a very ‘white’ community I understand what it is like to feel like you can’t speak out, and if you do you are never quite sure of the repercussions.”

How did you get into your enterprise? I founded it.

It all started when I posted an article about my upbringing and background on LinkedIn. This was a very scary step for me to take, as I am a private person, and you never quite know how people are going to react. 

Unless you have been discriminated against or experienced racism it is difficult to fully appreciate its impact. As a mixed-race female, I chose to work in white-male-dominated industries. I didn’t fit the mould back then, and I look around now and still don’t. 

I am deeply disappointed at the lack of women and people of colour in STEM. I look at the people who are influencing these sectors (educating, investing, founding, leading) again I see a lack of women and people of colour. 

Things need to change on an individual and institutional level. Institutional discrimination is very real and will only diminish when barriers are broken down and those who can make change happen truly listen. 

The time is now. The world is changing. There is no place for discrimination of any kind. Diversity enriches our working world. 

I also published an article on LinkedIn (below) which was the catalyst to #Unmute

The response from my LinkedIn contacts was overwhelmingly supportive and I quickly realised if we could harness the power and reach of this network then it was possible to create a vehicle to help bring about positive change in our region. Do you have any challenges in your business? Yes, we rely on the time and passion of our supporters and ambassadors. These people are equally passionate about issues around diversity and inclusion and give their time and skills selflessly to helping Include Me in its vision to empower entrepreneurs and bring about positive change. 

We welcome new supporters and ask anyone interested in getting involved or sharing their story to reach out to us. 

What has been the most challenging thing about Covid for your business? Connecting with people, meeting up face to face, and encouraging people to share their authentic selves are very important. Covid has made this more challenging do the restrictions on events and get-togethers. 

We have overcome this with some online events, videos, and blogs (like the fantastic content that you are providing) to keep in touch with our community.

What’s it like being a social entrepreneur? 

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as a ‘social entrepreneur’, I see myself as someone who can give back, share experience, and through my network of highly experienced connections – help and make an impact. 

What drives you? Inspires / motivates/ excites you? The possibility of being about to make a difference, bring about change – if we are able to help just one black female in her career as an entrepreneur then I would be happy. However, our ambitions are far greater!

The enthusiasm and support that Include Me receive give me life! I really am humbled by some of the offers of help and inspired by the ideas that some regional organisations are bringing to us. 

What do you hope for in the future?

I hope that we can keep conversations about diversity and inclusion alive and get to a point where we can see and measure real impact. I hope we see a change in the barometer and that gender and ethnicity become a thing of the past and that younger generations can access the same opportunities, without barriers, regardless of colour, gender, or background.

I also hope that strong female role models continue to step into the light and again I encourage anyone interested to get in touch, #Unmute and support Include Me

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