Address Bias and Discrimination Head-On: Unfortunately, bias and discrimination are present in entrepreneurship. It is important to address these issues directly, both within the company and in the broader business ecosystem. I have often encountered racial bias when seeing advertisements and I share my experiences on social media sparking a conversation about diversity and inclusion in the venture capital industry. I am hoping that others speaking up, will raise more awareness and drive the necessary drive to change the industry.
As part of our interview series“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Became a Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rukayyat Modupe Kolawole. Rukayyat is the founder and CEO of PaceUP Invest GmbH, a B2B and B2C fintech platform that helps women and underrepresented communities build wealth and achieve financial well-being, based in Germany, France, and Nigeria. With over 15 years of experience in the global finance and investment industry, she is a CFA charterholder and a national thought leader in Germany.
Through PaceUP Invest, Rukayyat leads a team of experts who provide advice and solutions for wealth management, financial education, and coaching, using a hybrid method of human-centric and AI. She is passionate about empowering her clients to live self-determined lives, gain financial knowledge and confidence, and take action towards a responsible and sustainable future.
She holds an Executive MBA from Mannheim Business School and ESSEC Business School, and has completed executive programmes at Georgetown University, Tongji University, and ESSEC Singapore.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am Nigerian by birth and from the Yoruba culture. The Yoruba culture is from Southwest Nigeria and the Southeast Republic of Benin which has received much attention from academics over time. It has a powerful goddess called Aje which represents female power. The goddess Aje, as the deity of the marketplace, provides an example of the importance of womanhood in Yoruba culture. Yoruba females control the business, political spheres, religions, and even the household.
I noticed this in my upbringing when my grandmother was a gold trader buying gold from Ghana and selling it in Nigeria. Every Friday she would often gather around other women in the community to talk about their week and they would then donate some money and give this money to a handful of women who needed it most. I noticed the power of women’s community and how money can be used to create and add value. This was what piqued my interest in going into investment banking and how I began my career in the finance world.
Arriving in London and working in investment banking, I was quick to realise the gender imbalances in the world of finance. Fast forward years later, I moved to Germany a week before my baby was born. I realised that gender and racial differences in finance and wealth building were just as bad. I decided to be a source of change and founded my company PaceUP Invest.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
At the beginning of my journey, I contacted lots of women to seek advice on how to navigate the German landscape. Many told me to go back to Africa or start a business in Asia, and Germany would not allow me to succeed. Others said I needed to be fluent in German to be successful. It took me a year to get my financial license when it should have taken six weeks. I had to use a lawyer and she told me the people she was dealing with told her how they were not sure that I was making cups of tea in my last job. It was alien to them to see a black woman in the revenue-generating arm of finance that reached a director level — this was my level before I left the UK for Germany.
In starting the business, I sought funding and even pitched to a so-called investor who stole my idea and created a competing company just a month after I registered PaceUP Invest as a GmbH. Fundraising has been very difficult for a woman and in particular, a black woman.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
It begins with a mindset — a mindset of resilience, of preserving my cultural heritage, and of striving for excellence. It requires me to be open to new ideas, to challenge stereotypes and prejudices, and to never stop asking, “What if?”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
“I was scared and worried about contacting you”, they said.
“Why”, I asked.
“Because I am not sure I fall under your target group”, they said.
“You are welcome to join as an underrepresented group,” I said.
D is non-binary and recently approached us at PaceUP Invest to help with financial planning.
We speak to and support a lot of women and underrepresented groups in Germany who do not feel they are included and do not know where and how to invest. This is part of the reason we stand out at PaceUP Invest, by being inclusive. We would like to see more women and underrepresented groups investing and taking generational wealth very seriously. Money is power. We need to understand how money can add value and be used to create value. We need more people in the financial industry for representation.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Exercise has become my daily ritual, a way to release stress and ready myself for the challenges ahead. After dropping my daughter off at kindergarten, I jog the 2.5 kilometres back home. This physical exertion serves as a mental and emotional reset for the day ahead.
Support is crucial, and I make it a non-negotiable to connect with my sister in London every evening. We lean on each other, drawing strength from each other. I also surround myself with like-minded individuals who understand the unique struggles and triumphs of being a founder or CEO.
Some mindfulness moments or longer meditations during the day also make my days a little easier.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
A lot of people have helped me along the way and I will do a disservice to many by mentioning a particular person. However, if I must, it will be my grandmother in teaching me about the power of community and how money can be used to create and add value, especially for women.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would love to see more women and underrepresented groups investing and taking generational wealth very seriously. Money is power. We need to understand how money can add value and be used to create value. I am a financial expert who is female and black. I am sharing my stories and helping as a black person, as a woman, as a migrant, and as someone from an underrepresented community, to create opportunities for other marginalised and disadvantaged people to build and access wealth. It is important to be a role model to others to see that they can also do this, dare to do this, and should do this!
I continue to help more women and underrepresented people to start taking control of their finances and start investing and building sustainable and generational wealth! This empowers women who educate future generations to deal with their financial issues in a self-reliant manner.
I give inspiring keynote speeches and take part in industry expert panel discussions that have been very valuable to a lot of people, particularly women.
I also mentor migrant women on entrepreneurship and lecture at universities on entrepreneurship and innovation in Germany. Young girls see that finance is attainable for them because they see what I have achieved in finance before starting the fintech and this makes them feel and believe that it is also attainable for them.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Before I started leading my company, I never knew how much gender and race would impact things and make things somewhat challenging, especially when it comes to fundraising and customer acquisition. I can only share my personal insights to help navigate the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship while remaining true to my identity and values.
· Prioritise Self-Care and Well-Being: The demands of entrepreneurship can be overwhelming. I now prioritise self-care and well-being to maintain my physical and mental health understanding that some things are not within my control. This led to better overall business performance.
· Embrace Your Identity and Perspective: My identity as a black female founder brings unique experiences and perspectives to my business. Not only can women identify with me when it comes to their challenges, but in addition, marginalised communities do as well. This approach not only filled a gap in the market but also resonated with customers who had been underserved for years.
· Build a Support Network: Entrepreneurship can be lonely, but having a supportive network of mentors, peers, and advisors can provide guidance, emotional support, and valuable connections. This network played a pivotal role in securing some customers and great advisors.
· Know Your Worth and Advocate for Fair Treatment: It’s essential to recognise your value and advocate for equitable treatment in business interactions, including negotiations and partnerships. Although I have worked in the finance industry and done some negotiations, this was different from leading my own company as a female leader. I make sure I highlight my company’s unique value to ensure a beneficial agreement.
· Address Bias and Discrimination Head-On: Unfortunately, bias and discrimination are present in entrepreneurship. It is important to address these issues directly, both within the company and in the broader business ecosystem. I have often encountered racial bias when seeing advertisements and I share my experiences on social media sparking a conversation about diversity and inclusion in the venture capital industry. I am hoping that others speaking up, will raise more awareness and drive the necessary drive to change the industry.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Therapy has become an invaluable resource in my life. I have learned to embrace the idea that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a testament to my commitment to my own well-being. In fact, I encourage more people, especially women in leadership roles, to explore therapy as a means of support on their own journeys.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
A movement where everyone sees one another as humans and brings about empathy. This is important in all aspects of our lives and especially as leaders to live in a peaceful world without discrimination.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
PaceUP Invest website: https://www.paceupinvest.com/