Multi-millionaire technology entrepreneurs and investors are rallying behind US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri as the press continues to question her friendship with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In a WhatsApp group seen by Sifted the techies, who belong to an elite invite-only network known as ICE, claim that Arcuri has been mistreated by the media. Arcuri, also a member of ICE, also used the platform to thank people for their messages of support.
It’s alleged that Johnson may have given Arcuri favourable treatment when he was London Mayor, which would present a conflict of interest. In 2014 and 2015 Arcuri was invited on several trade missions with the now prime minister to countries like Israel, where she was introduced to local investors and businesses. Personally and on behalf of her companies she also received handouts from the government and City Hall that total more than £120,000.
The media has questioned whether Johnson and Arcuri had a romantic relationship and whether such a relationship could explain why Arcuri received so much public money and support. Johnson and Arcuri have both refused to comment on whether they ever had an intimate relationship but the prime minister says there was never anything to declare.
“Whatever her relationship was with Boris I find it poor that the media are objectifying her,” ICE member Dylan Bourguignon, chief executive of insurance startup so-sure, told Sifted. “She is a tech entrepreneur and not a blonde bimbo like the media have liked to portray her. I would have thought that the media would have grown up after the #MeToo movement... apparently not.”
Fellow ICE member Amrita Das, cofounder of tech lobbying group JoyTech Collective, said: “I think the media have treated Jennifer unfairly.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) awarded £100,000 to Arcuri’s Hacker House in January as part of a scheme designed to improve cyber skills in UK businesses. On Wednesday MPs said there should be a police investigation if DCMS concludes that Hacker House used deception in order to obtain the grant.
The Sunday Times revealed that a mayoral organisation also gave one of Arcuri’s businesses £11,500 in sponsorship money when Johnson was mayor. Arcuri also reportedly received £15,000 through a separate government grant for foreign entrepreneurs in Britain.
ICE holds an annual ski trip, dinners and other networking events for its 300 plus members. Other members of ICE include Monzo cofounder and chief executive Tom Blomfield and TransferWise cofounder Taavet Hinrikus. Bindi Karia, a former employee of Silicon Valley Bank and Microsoft, is also a member
ICE member David Rowan, former editor of WIRED UK, is quoted on the ICE website saying: “For founders, ICE is the network that matters. It’s friendship, family, therapy, mentorship, guidance and support rolled into one.”
The editor at large of TechCrunch Mike Butcher recently left ICE after it introduced compulsory annual fees to help with administration costs.
An ICE spokesperson said: "ICE is a tech entrepreneurs' network that brings together likeminded people to support each other through the many ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. We facilitate, not dictate conversation and we do not comment on individual members."
A previous version of this article said that Andy McLoughlin, cofounder of enterprise software company Huddle, which sold in 2017, is also a member. However, he is no longer a member of the group.