The weight of expectation is something that bears down on our shoulders for most of our lives, our parents expecting us to get an education and find a good job, our friends expecting us to be there for them when they need us, our partners expecting us to understand how they feel and so on ad infinitum. With all these facets of life, the weight from others’ expectations is seldom heavier than the expectation we put on ourselves to achieve our respective goals and objectives.

Most of us will have started 2020 full of hope with grand plans about the things we would like to do and the places we would like to go. None of us could have expected what was about to be one of the most testing periods our generation has seen to date! In spite of what has happened this year, and I doubt anyone would begrudge me for deciding not to recap some of the more negative aspects of 2020, I keep coming back to a line I read on social media this summer, the line simply said: “2020 could still be the best year of your lives…”

This statement in my mind is not intended to make light of some of the terrible hardships people have experienced over the past 12 months but rather to highlight the fact that sometimes re-jigging the status quo can be beneficial in ways that you wouldn’t ordinarily imagine. At Cornerstone Partners, 2020 has been wrought with challenges, some professional and others closer to home. In spite of these challenges, 2020 has also been one of the most impactful periods for our organisation since our inception back in 2015. Here are some of the reasons why:

The Trussell Trust
Charity begins in your community

The Pandemic (March and April): Shocked and concerned by the impact COVID was having on our communities in the early part of the year a few of the partners got together and asked the question: “What can we do to help right now?” The Government had not yet announced any plans for a stimulus package and we could see people all around us being negatively impacted by the lockdown. We rallied together as a group and contributed a charitable donation funded by the partners to The Trussell Trust a London based charity who provides emergency food and support to people locked in poverty across the UK.d and concerned by the impact COVID was having on our communities in the early part of the year a few of the partners got together and asked the question: “What can we do to help right now?” The Government had not yet announced any plans for a stimulus package and we could see people all around us being negatively impacted by the lockdown. We rallied together as a group and contributed a charitable donation funded by the partners to The Trussell Trust a London based charity who provides emergency food and support to people locked in poverty across the UK.

In April, we began a series of webinars that was designed to provide support to people impacted by COVID, with a specific focus on providing advice and best practices to business owners impacted by the COVID lockdown restrictions. The success of the initial webinars led us to continue down this path and speak on other topics ranging from mental health and wellbeing to overcoming imposter syndrome. We were able to do this by collaborating with an A* line up of speakers who supported us across the webinars. Special thanks to all those who spoke on the various panels and to all those who attended.

George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic we saw what could only be described as a global awakening, to some of the issues black people have faced for several years which are the very issues Cornerstone Partners have been advocating against since the beginning; one social media commenter wrote: “we all have our place in this, but you have been doing it before it was trendy”. In light of this we were glad to be invited to speak on a panel with the UK Business Angels Association (UKBAA) discussing why investing in black founders matters and we also officially became members of the UKBAA this year.

June to September: We completed our first investment deal of the year in June. Unperturbed by COVID 19, we were set on a path to deploy £1million into black and diverse founder led businesses. We started that journey with a £170,000 investment into East Yorkshire based Coordinate Sport. Run by husband-and-wife team, James and Rochelle Moore, Coordinate Sport is a SaaS platform providing business tools to organisations within the sports and coaching industry. We remain excited by this partnership and since our investment we have witnessed the business continue to go from strength to strength.

Intern class of 2020/21

We took on a new cohort of 6 super talented interns: Tai, Jeff, Coretta, Dominique, Jennifer and the affectionately named Kwaku the Remix, who have added so much to the Cornerstone roster with their ambition, knowledge, enthusiasm, and work ethic. Each of them has brought something different to the table and we have benefited enormously from having them on board. We were featured in some major publications and media platforms including The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, Private Equity News and BBC News to name a few. We were invited to speak at a round table discussion with Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and shadow Chancellor Anneliesse Dodds.

October: We launched the second series of the Cornerstone 2.0 Scale up Programme. The programme was run over 9 weeks with a cohort of 18 post revenue businesses owned and run by founders from black and diverse communities. Due to the pandemic, we took our cohort on a virtual journey of discovery providing our founders with useful information and best practices on how to scale their operations, covering subjects ranging from financial modelling to effectively marketing and branding their products/services. The 9-week programme culminated with a demo day where a select number of the scale-ups were given the opportunity to pitch their businesses to a handpicked audience of investors from high profile investment groups across the UK. Special thanks to all the speakers and mentors that delivered the content, the investors that attended the demo day, the 2020 cohort, and all who stayed behind the scenes to make the programme possible.

November: We announced our investment into Hutch Logistics — a modern e-commerce fulfilment company focused on placing great tech at the core of its value proposition. Four members of our partnership were nominated for various awareds at the Black British Business Awards.

Reflection: 2020 has tested all of us to step out of our comfort zones and to be extra creative in how we operate, to be brave in the face of adversity, to be bold in our execution, and to be resilient in our work ethic. When the status quo is rocked we can choose to rock with it and shift our perspectives or resist and continue to do what we have always done. Neither option is right or wrong, every decision has implications on the destination. The important thing to take away from this year is that the journey is strewn with challenges and opportunities, but the destination is down to choices. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have lost loved ones due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Written by Del Plahar.

Cornerstone Partners is the first Angel Investor Syndicate (Network) exclusively focused on investing in businesses owned and run by black and diverse founders.