“Never forget where you have come from,

but know where you are going!”

Twitter: @mrjoelblake

LinkedIn – JoelBlakeOBE

A bit about me:

At the age of 16, I worked in a recycling factory peeling stickers of hangers.

Often, I found myself trying to motivate my co-workers on the conveyor belt line, helping them to identify their own sense of value and purpose, at a time when we all felt that life offered us no hope.

At age 18, I walked into a recruitment agency with a dog-eared CV and pitched myself to the consultant. I walked out with a short-term month role, as a Marketing Assistant for a FTSE 500 company with no prior experience.

But at 21, I felt a calling back into personal development, and applied for a role as an Employment Mentor for disaffected youth people and adults from disadvantaged communities. Within 4 years, I became the leading Corporate Social Responsibility Mentor Trainer for the Midlands region – I personally delivered mentoring and personal development training, to over 300 professional service staff and community-based mentors every year.

At 25, I founded one of the UK’s first diverse recruitment companies. Leveraging positive action legislation, I focused on sourcing ethnic minority talent for the professional services sector, and built an international client base from a rented one-room space.

Unfortunately, under increasingly heavy competition from larger firms and limited resources to grow, this business went under. Not to be dismayed, in 2007, I learned from the experience to create a diversity and leadership consultancy Cultiv8 Solutions. In 2013, I diversified into the world of Finance, co-founding a financial services company that helped to launch over 650 new UK businesses in under 3 years.

Having identified a need to disrupt the way existing credit and investment models support businesses, I founded the GFA Exchange, an early stage AI company, that provides artificial intelligent bench-marking and monitoring services for financial lenders and wealth managers. I am also a co-founder of co-investment fund, The Ark Hub.

Separately, I was the Executive Lead for Growing Business and Access to Finance strategy for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (GBSLEP) innovating the regional ecosystem development model for developing high growth businesses, improving access to finance and increasing inclusion.

Come a long way since those hangers, but I embrace and will never forget my roots!

Board Roles

I was awarded an OBE for Services to Business Support and Enterprise in the Queens 90th Birthday Honours List 2016. 

Notable Awards and Achievements

  • Voted as one of the UK’s Top 50 most powerful and influential black voices in Technology (TechNation)
  • UK Top 100 FinTech StartUp 2019 by InformationAge
  • Midlands Top Innovation 50 (GFA Exchange)
  • UK Rising Stars (GFA Exchange) TechNation 2018
  • National Ambassador for Achievement (Institute for Leadership & Management) 2018
  • E2E Entrepreneur Ecosystem Supporter 2018
  • Fellow of the Centre For Entrepreneurs
  • Judge – National Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2017 & 2018
  • Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 (Phoenix Awards)
  • Expert of the Year 2017 (School for Social Entrepreneurs)
  • OBE for Services to Business Support & Enterprise (2016)
  • Leadership Award (Future Leaders Club) 2016
  • Maserati Top 100 UK Entrepreneurs 2015
  • Ambassador Start Up Britain (2011-2015)
  • Unsung Community Hero Award 2014
  • Qualified Corporate Governance Practitioner (2012)
  • Shared speakers stage with ex-USA President Bill Clinton (2012)
  • Birmingham Young Professional Year 2010 (Recruitment and Training)
  • O2 X Male Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist 2009
  • ‘Man on a Mission’ Business Award 2009
  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist (B.E.T. Award) 2007
  • CETA Entrepreneur Award 2005