Commonwealth Greater Birmingham

Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce Contact: Jamila Davis T: 0845 6036650

Fintech boss named as new Chamber president

The Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce has appointed a new president, Birmingham businessman Joel Blake OBE. Mr Blake is the founder and CEO of, an award-winning fintech business which helps reduce risk and cost for financial services firms. It’s a far cry from his early career, which

began at 16 in a recycling factory in Birmingham, peeling stickers off hangers for £2.40 an hour. At 18, he walked into a recruitment agency with a dog-eared CV and pitched himself to the consultant. He walked out with a role as a marketing assistant for a FTSE 500 company with no prior experience.

‘I aim to make digital inclusion a key driver of growth for the Commonwealth Chamber’

But at 21, he felt a calling to help businesses

make better use of local talent in order to become more commercially and socially successful and joined Connexxions, the former careers service, as an employment mentor. In this role he helped corporate firms source

talent from disadvantaged communities. Within three years, he had become the leading corporate leadership advisor for the Midlands region. A year later, he founded one of the UK’s first

diverse recruitment and advisory services for cross sector companies, as a one-man operation from a rented one-room space. He built an international client list including the BBC, HSBC and Essentra PLC, a global £1bn turnover firm. Mr Blake is national ambassador for the

Institute of Leadership and Management, a fellow of the National Centre for Entrepreneurs, and a non-executive director of two other

companies. He was awarded an OBE for services to business support and enterprise in 2016. He said: “During my time, I aim to make digital inclusion a key driver of growth for the Commonwealth Chamber, ensuring that businesses are given the opportunity to get back to what they want the most during these challenging times – to do more business in an efficient and sustainable way." Mr Blake takes over the Commonwealth Chamber presidency from Keith Stokes-Smith, who was appointed two years ago as the organisation’s inaugural president. Chamber international director Mandy Haque

said: “Keith’s passion and determination was evident from the very creation of the Commonwealth Chamber and is leaving his role to take on the honorary chair position.”

New role: Joel Blake

Commonwealth Chamber Patron

Grenade targets

UAE export growth A Solihull-based sports drink firm has won a £150,000 order in the UAE, thanks to support from the Department for International Trade (DIT). Founded in 2009, Grenade has seen a

steady growth in sales to the UAE since it first entered the market last year. It is now forecasting £5m worth of sales to the region over the next five years. DIT support has proved vital to the

business during the Covid-19 pandemic, with UK officials negotiating for the UAE’s strict labelling rules to be relaxed. Typically, all imported products require

Arabic labelling, which at the time was an additional expense many companies could not afford. To avoid this, DIT officials in the UAE lobbied for and secured an Arabic labelling exemption for all UK food and drink exports until the end of June 2020, and have since requested an extension. Toufic Safi, UAE general manager for

Grenade, said: “Without DIT’s support, we would not have been able to get our products to market in the UAE so swiftly during lockdown. Having established a strong presence there, it was extremely important to us that we continued to quickly and safely service our customers. “Overseas sales account for 20 per cent

of our annual turnover and we are hoping to see that figure continue to rise as we break into the Australian market.” Simon Penney, UK trade commissioner

for the Middle East, said: “As the UK’s largest export market in the Middle East, the UAE is bursting with opportunities for UK businesses to explore. To keep trade flowing, DIT officials in the UAE have been supporting businesses like Grenade throughout the pandemic and it’s great to see their hard work paying off.”

Playwright on mission to boost black businesses By Jessica Brookes

Birmingham playwright turned business activist, Carguil Webley (pictured), known as CJ, is on a mission to boost black-owned businesses. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre

writer/director has begun raising funds to support black-owned businesses, via his Black Pounds Project. At the same time, another project – the

Chamber-backed Black Pound Day – has also launched. This encourages shoppers to spend with black-owned businesses, and although not related to Mr Webley’s initiative, it shares similar aims. Mr Webley said: “Statistics indicate that black

businesses are less likely to be approved for commercial loans. “Thus, the working capital options which other businesses have readily available to them are not equally accessible for black businesses. In the current economy, this makes survival, let alone success a lot harder. “We must act now so we can dismantle the systems which are preventing black businesses from

operating in a fair economy. “We want to help black businesses become

more resilient, gain more access to grants and have more confidence in growing their business. “Initiatives such as Black Pound Day are great for highlighting the array of black businesses

that work all over this country, but we don’t just want to pump money into these businesses without ensuring that they are participating in an equal playing field.” The project is now distributing funds and

further supporting firms, with help from a number of professional advisers. The funds will help black-owned businesses develop digital strategies, and gain access to professional development and life coaching. At 26, Mr Webley has already carved out a

successful theatre and arts career. He set up Sorrel Park Theatrical Limited, where he runs creative writing and drama workshops in Birmingham schools and is lead artist for the Rep’s Lightpost Theatre Company.

October 2020 CHAMBERLINK 33

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