HeForShe: Nicholas Kelly | CEO, Axela Ltd

Nicholas Kelly

Nicholas Kelly is the CEO of a care company called Axela Ltd.

Nick believes in creating a platform for people of colour and woman. Currently over 80 per cent of the company is female employees. This allows the company to stand out from others and one of the main reasons they have the reputation they do.

Since a young age, Nick always had strong woman around him, be that his grandmother who helped raise him or his mother Jacquie who he set up the care business alongside. She has been a strong female influence to Nick throughout his life.

Nick has a daughter called Alexa who influenced the name of the company (Axela backwards). Nick works very hard to ensure the future of Axela Innovations is bright and that the legacy of his company gives Alexa a strong start.

Axela actively invests in companies with founders who might have struggled with the regular investment channels so 50 per cent of these investments are in women – founded ventures.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Nicholas Kelly and I am a Black CEO of a care company called Axela Ltd. I run the business with my Mum, Jacquie.

 I started off as a pilot in the RAF before an injury forced a discharge after two years. I then worked in some of the world’s biggest tech companies including Apple and LinkedIn, before leaving to try and make a difference

My mum Jacquie has worked in care since she was 19, and I helped her start her first business. Together we are now worth £5.1m in total and employ 1,200 people

I launched a health tech product in 2018 that is used to help all the people in our care – tracking wearables and linking them with medical notes

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did plan my original career, or the original career that I wanted. I think when I was nine or 10 I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force and spent time working out exactly what I need to do to become one, and worked hard to engineer that. A motorbike crash made me re-think my career and work out what I was strong at and what I thought I could do. Health care and healthtech is a natural marriage of my love of technology and my relationship with care.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Trying to get funding was very hard for us. As a person of colour, it felt like the system was stacked against us, which drove us on. However, we realised that we had to support others coming through so that they didn’t make the same mistakes as us.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Work-wise or in my personal life? Work-wise would be growing Axela from what it was to where it is, allowing us to re-invest in other companies trying to get to where we are. In my personal life, watching my daughter grow and supporting her along the way has been a big achievement of mine.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My Mother. She taught me that I need to work harder and smarter than the next person and that nothing will ever be handed to you, so I always need to create the opportunity myself. This gave me the drive to keep pushing especially when facing adversity.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I like mentoring, I currently mentor two people. I think it’s a really good way to support someone. I find it easier to have a less formal structure: I do timed check ins but I also have WhatsApp conversations with them both and ask them questions, and give honest advice. To get the best out of mentoring, you both have to be open with each other and form a level of trust.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion? 

Don’t just see it as a campaign to win votes or seem relevant, as this can cause negative reactions. It needs to feel part of an ongoing programme but done in a sustainable way. You need to educate people to understand why diversity is needed, especially when it comes to representation of the current user base.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Having grown up with strong female role models, we actively championing female staff (80 per cent) of our workforce is female with all but two senior positions held by a woman). It’s important that we keep pushing for inclusion in age, gender and race. Diversity of the workforce, management team and board will allow your company to really understand and support not only customers but staff as well. Inclusion can’t just be seen as male/female split.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Trust your gut and believe in yourself: you’ve got this.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am in the process of setting up a charity that will aim to work with children early on, to give them grants to bring their ideas to life as well as allowing them to shadow business leaders to get first-hand experience. I don’t want to target the typical school leaver age but eight, nine and 10 years olds. That was the age I knew what I wanted and I think this is the right age to catch children and to nurture them. I think this will be a big challenge, but will help a lot of people to unlock the power within.


WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of HeForShe interviews, including Suki Sandhu, Philip Baldwin, Asif Sadiq MBE, Rob Neil OBE and many more. You can read about all the amazing men championing gender equality here.

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