Minority-owned businesses in Britain, according to a July 2013 UK government report "contribute 25 billion pounds to the economy. But some minorities, especially those from a Black African and Caribbean heritage, are under-represented in this success." The then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who commissioned that report, acknowledged in a 2011 speech that "35% of individuals of Black African origin say they want to start a business ...But only 6% actually do ... Past evidence shows that firms owned by individuals with Black African backgrounds … have been four times more likely than so-called “White firms” to be denied loans outright. And that Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black Caribbean and Black African owned businesses … have been subject to higher interest rates than White and Indian owned enterprises."
A young Mancunian of Ghanaian origin has started Densu, a company whose aim is to change the game for Black-owned businesses.
“Densu is the first marketplace for black businesses in the United Kingdom. We intend to be the [Black] Amazon and we provide a platform for small and medium scale black businesses to showcase their skills to the UK population”, says founder Bernard Adjei.
The idea for Densu is the result of a personal experience. Adjei came up with the idea when he went into a shop to buy cosmetics and found people all the people there didn’t look like him.
“I walked into a shop to purchase some items for my partner; hair and skin care products. When I got into the shop, I realised that almost everybody there was from an Asian background; which I found puzzling.”
According to market leaders and French cosmetics giants L’oreal, Black women in Britain spend six time more on hair products than white women. However, very little of that multi-million dollar industry benefits black people as majority of hair and makeup shops are owned by people of a South Asian background.
“It is based on this fact that I believe I was to buy something, whether hair or skin products for a black person, these products should be presented and sold by a Black business. So I set up Densu to break into that field and also encourage more businesses to showcase their products because I believe there is a huge opportunity here and there is a gap in the market for black business to tell their stories and also show the world what they can do.”
When asked about concerns that Densu would constitute racial segregation of the marketspace, the 26-year-old is quick to say the platform seeks to improve the standings of Black-owned businesses through increased purchasing.
“At the moment, it is proven that black businesses have the most pain and struggle when it comes to obtaining funding and breaking out there to show their skills. We believe that the black customer is a unique customer and as such should be treated differently. You take the makeup industry for example, which is mainly targeted towards the white customer. It is white difficult as a black person to find makeup specifically for the black skin. So Densu would be providing that product targeted specifically to the black woman and man."
However, according to Adjei, Densu is hoping to sell to people of all colours and backgrounds.
An email, PayPal and a passion
It is relatively easy for black-owned business to register with Densu. As Adjei puts it, ‘all you need is an email, a PayPal and a passion’. After signing up, Densu would advertise the products on the online marketplace and would be responsible for marketing it to prospective customers. Densu takes three percent of all sales made through the marketplace.
Densu, named after the mighty river in central Ghana and the second album by music maestro Kojo Antwi – which Bernard loves - currently has about 100 black owned business ahead of its launch; serving as a platform for those selling and those looking to buy hair, makeup, clothes and other skin care products.
According to Adjei, the plan is to have an even wider variety of good and services offered on the platform.
The banking executive says although Densu takes three percent of all sales, profit motive is not the fulcrum of the company.
“No business starts out without having the need to make profit. But on the other side, we are also looking at encouraging more black businesses and startups and to provide scholarships to more entrepreneurs.
So yes, we love the fact that we can make profit and we can make this bigger but our main focus really is to encourage more entrepreneurs to showcase to the world what the black consumer and black business can do.”
Bernard has big dreams for Densu, looking at reaching out other parts of the world with large Black populations and to Africa as well.
“Densu in five years, we plan on being the biggest marketplace for small and medium scale black businesses. We also plan on being the best; we want to be quicker and be able to able to compete with the giants in the industry. Our short-term goal is to conquer the UK market but we have it in scope to travel round. We plan on expanding to the US and other parts of Europe. We are also looking at the Ghana market and other parts of Africa and the potential for growth [there so that we can act as intermediaries between artisans there and consumers here].”
The progression of Densu from a light bulb idea in October 2016 to a product due to launch at the end of February 2017 is indicative of the character of Bernard Adjei, who in September 2016 was adjudged the UK’s Young Banker of the Year.