Start Up Loans: Student style loans for 18-24 year olds!

It’s been a minute or two… since I wrote my last a post… Sorrrreeee.

I’m here today to talk about the government launch of Start Up Loans; a new loan initiative for young people aged between 18 – 24 years old, who have a viable business idea and wish to #makeithappen.

Earlier this morning I was happy to be invited to attended a round table discussion at the Central London offices of ex Dragon’s Den and successful entrepreneur James Caan, to talk all things surrounding the new affordable loan scheme which launched in May of this year.

As one of three who were selected to front the initial idea when it was developed by online enterprise community Virgin Media Pioneers, alongside its Daddy Sir Richard Branson and entrepreneurs Zoe Jackson and Abdul Khan; I was really keen to attend and hear the views of organisations who also operate within the enterprise arena, and who have a keen interest to align their organisation with the new initiative.

Attendees included representatives of the following organisations; NACUE, Rockstar Youth, Integrate Consulting, Liquid Network, Foundation East, Oxfordshire County Council, Enternships, Small Business Consultancy, NUS and myself, playing the role as an entrepreneur and Virgin Media Pioneer.  I’m rushing to pick up the little one so didn’t have time to add direct links to the organisations mentioned, however do Google them as some provide services which may be beneficial to your business. When I have a moment I will look at each of them in more depth and write relevant posts.

The aim of discussion was for James Caan and the Start Up Loans team to engage with organisations that are already operating in the youth space, to work together to offer ‘start up’ loans across the country. Rather than ‘re-invent the wheel (I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve heard this phrase in the last year), the Start Up Loans team wanted to have this time to perform due diligence, prior to the pilot commencing this September.

The hunger in the room from the organisations present; to be part of the process and become a ‘delivery partner’ for the initiative was more than evident.  This was great for me to witness due to my involvement with the initial campaign earlier in the year .

HOW IT WILL WORK.  The initial phase will be a pilot run, offering £10 million towards the scheme to kick start a new wave of young enterprise growth in the UK, which is quite frankly big, big, big! This means over 4,000 young people in the UK will be provided financial support in the form of a small business loan of around £2,500, a mentor and business training to make their dream a reality. It has been confirmed private sector companies and charities such as the WONDERFUL youth organisation the Prince’s Trust (an organisation I’m an ambassador for and a recipient of their business funding), who will administer the loans. This is due to the fact that they already work with young people and have the resource and framework to connect with the target audience – makes sense. Imagine the same type of initiative being available for individuals over the current age group? Well if this pilot scheme is successful, we could possibly see this becoming a reality (this isn’t confirmed AT ALL), but it could indeed happen. Regardless whether it does or not, this initiative is a great start to help reduce youth unemployment and get young people doing something THEY have a passion for. It will lead to a generation of young people who have the ability and are actually allowed to DREAM BIG, whilst raising a confident set of young, enterprising individuals across the UK.

SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN? WHAT TO DO NEXT. If you fall into the criteria of 18 – 24 years of age and you have a viable business idea – register your interest today by visiting the Start Up Loans Facebook page by clicking here. They are currently without a website however I have no doubt it will be live when the application process begins in September.

If you’re over the age requirement, you can still be a ‘Good Samaritan’ and share this post with any young people who you feel would benefit from the initiative.  I’ve uploaded a vlog on it too on You Tube, click here to view… Do leave any comments or questions you have, it would be great to connect.

Let’s hope collectively we can inspire the younger gen’ to do something amazing and to take control of their dreams and make them become a reality. I’m really looking forward to watch the Start Up Loans programme develop and be inspired by a generation of ‘young entrepreneurs’… no disrespect to the oldies who have done their thing and paved the way, we still have love for you! It’s just now time for the younguns’ to shine!

OUT AND ABOUT: GEC (Global Entrepreneurial Congress)

This week I was invited to attend the GEC (Global Entrepreneurial Congress) as a guest of Virgin Media and the team who run Virgin Media Pioneers.  For those who are yet to come across VMP, it is an online community of entrepreneurs providing individuals with all the information required to get a business off the ground. Members have the opportunity to learn new things, share their story and probably the most important of all – build their network. It’s an amazing platform, so much so this will be the topic of my next blog post.

Anyhow I digress… in the days leading up to Tuesday’s event I learnt from the Virgin Media team 250 business individuals such as well established entrepreneurs like ex Dragon’s Den Dragon and founder of School for Startups Doug Richards and Paul Lindley founder and CEO of Ella’s Kitchen were to be in attendance of the large VIP group.  In addition to these business trail blazers, selected individuals running their own businesses, working within the enterprise organisations and business journalists would be in attendance too – travelling together from London to Liverpool (where the conference was taking place) on a Virgin train which had been appropriately named ‘GEC Express’. To have been included as a guest was a great honour.

I arrived at Euston Station for 6am, prior to the 6.30am departure.  On arrival I spotted a few individuals I guessed were attending GEC too, so went over to introduce myself.  After becoming acquainted with the these people which included the editor of Forbes Magazine (India) and Campaign Director for Start Up Britain in the main hall of Euston Station, we were escorted to Platform 16 to join the queue to board the train which was soon to depart.  In the queue I met two friendly women; Kanya King, CEO/founder of Mobo Awards and founder of Digiwoo Lisa Goodchild. After taking a few minutes out to explain to them both what Virgin Media Pioneers was about, it was our turn to be marked off the VIP list and board the train.

I joined the rest of the Virgin Media Pioneers on our designated carriage’; the wonderful Zoe Jackson, founder of Living the Dream, George Quann-Barnett founder of LaunchpadR, Jade Carlisle, founder of Global Moguls, Sam Zawadzki co-founder of Accendo Design, Ashley-Raw Tapping co-founder of LOUD Culture and Arnold du Toit founder of Drive Daddy – (do check out each of these guys as they’re all doing fantastic things within their respective industries).

I’m not a fan of long train journey’s however this 3 hour one wasn’t a problem at all. Not only were we in First Class being looked after extremely well by the Virgin Trains staff but  the journey was also packed with pleasant distractions throughout.

For instance not long after the train departed the station, the Virgin PR team had arranged for some of the VMP’s to be interviewed by a Newsnight journalist which was then followed by the Enterprise Correspondent from the Financial Times. After having the opportunity to wax lyrical about Emi & Ben and provide products to both reporters, we had the pleasure to meet the Godfather of enterprise ‘Sir Richard Branson’, as he walked through each carriage to greet everyone on board. All of this activity took place before 9am – not too shabby for a morning work!

Once we arrived in Liverpool and Richard Branson had entertained the crowd with a photocall capturing him driving the Virgin train as it pulled into Liverpool Lime Street Station, there were three coaches waiting to take everyone to the Liverpool’s Echo arena where the main event was to take place.

Many speakers were scheduled to take centre stage at the conference, the timetable was packed, starting from 8.00am right through to 5.40pm.  Speakers included former CEO of Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy, Lord Heseltine, Founder of Haymarket Group, Mark Prisk MP, UK Minister for Business and Enterprise, Martha Lane-Fox co-founder of Lastminute.com and Lucky Voice my ex mentor Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, founder of The Black Farmer food range and the talented Michael Hayman, the PR genius who co-founded the agency Seven Hills – one of the most hardworking and talented PR companies I know and part of the team behind the delivery of the GEC event.

Throughout Branson’s time on stage I was completely captivated by him whilst the moderator, entrepreneur Mike Southon ,took the delegates through his journey. From starting his first business; ‘Student Magazine’ to his latest ventures with Virgin Unite and Virgin Galactic. I think the thousands of people who were present were in complete awe when it was shown just in a short video clip all the brands he owns and just how much he’s achieved in all these years. This section of the day, truly did inspire me. Doting after celebrities/personalities is not my thing, but this guy, Sir Richard Branson, is truly a remarkable man and being in the presence of someone of his status, really does encourage one, well it did me to continue working hard and aiming high.

Whilst on stage Richard Branson, talked about why he was able to take on the ‘big boys’ within airline and banking; he put it simply “because I know I could do it better”. Easy to fall off the tongue this may be and something which I suppose many business owners set out to achieve, however, how many really do conquer this? These words resonated with me on this day, more than they ever did. Yes, it’s not rocket science what he said and  to be fair, I’ve read and heard business people say this many times, however on this day for some reason, hearing him say it was different to all the other times.

Whilst I was well aware the entire day in Liverpool was going to be a rewarding one, the main thing I was looking forward to, was having lunch with Richard Branson alongside the other VMP’s as we were each to be given the opportunity to present our businesses to him.  During my time with him, I discussed the background as to why Emi & Ben was founded, talked about my product range, showing him the products whilst we chatted. He was receptive, taking all what I said on board throwing back questions to me and so on. Later in the conversation he confirmed he had recently invested in a distribution company which may be a right fit to distribute my products throughout Africa, should it be a market I’m looking to target. He preceeded to liaise with his colleagues and confirmed they’d be in touch with me to make this happen. Long term the plan is for Emi & Ben to be available across all continents, to know I may have one of them covered with the help of Richard Branson is truly crazy. PEOPLE PRAY FOR ME THIS DOES HAPPEN!  I’ll keep you posted…

The good stuff didn’t stop there… I made sure to get a picture with him holding a jar of Emi & Ben : ) and without prompting he gave me an amazing quote: “if using Emi & Ben body butter makes me have skin like yours, then I’m taking this jar”… Expect to see this in the next E & B campaign…hahaha!

To attend a conference of this kind isn’t cheap; I believe tickets for the all day event were in the region of £150, however, I do have to say, whilst such a cost may be expensive for a small business, the benefit far outweighs the cost. My advice to a young business owner would be they try to budget to attend such a conference like the GEC, at least once or twice a year, as I guarantee you – it will push you to sit up straight and evaluate your journey so far, in addition to review what needs to happen to reach your desired end goal and “be better than the competition”.  Most importantly it EXPANDS YOUR NETWORK – which is invaluable. The individuals I met with have the ability and willingness to assist me with my business where they can.  I don’t know about you but I’m more than happy to take them up on their kind offer and should I be able to assist them too – then it’s a job well done.

Get networking people…

http://www.gec.unleashingideas.org

Random Post…

Hello? Anyone there? I wouldn’t be surprised if not – I have no one to blame BUT myself. This was supposed to be a ‘new and improved’ blog and since it became ‘new’ (December 2010) and not particularly improved, I can count the amount of posts I’ve written on both hands. I’m sorry. I will do better.  A rolling resolution for 2012 I suppose…

MY REASON FOR LOGGING ON THIS EVENING… Well I got the urge and thought why not. I’m in an extremely good mood (which I’m putting down to the slab of raw chocolate I ate earlier; lots of great health benefits people, you should try some.  Forget the Twix bars or Dairy Milk, raw chocolate is THE ONE and is what guided me here : )

Not sure where I’m going with this particular post. I could go into one and talk about the last last few months (ahem), ok the last 12 months; of what’s been going on with me, business and life related (plus everything else in between), however I think I’m going to stop here and just let you all know that slowly, slowly I will be back to blogging. I might not post for the remaining days of 2011 and if I don’t then no biggy… I’m a busy lady. I will try though.  If I don’t speak to you before 31st December (have a great Christmas and New Year), I hope to speak to you more regularly in 2012.

Until then people – be safe, keep reaching for your piece of cake and remember “if you don’t know how to, learn HOW to”.

Rx

THE BENEFIT OF BLACK ‘WOMEN IN BUSINESS’ NETWORKING GROUPS

A few weeks ago I was happy to accept an invite to attend the meet up for the networking group Twenty Ten Club as a guest by its founder, the lovely Octavia Goredema. It was for the April session of the meetings which have been running for a few months now. To be honest, I had been meaning to go for a while but you know the drill; work, child, partner, basically life got in the way.

Sat on the Jubilee line home after the meeting, I felt excited having attended. I started thinking about each of the women’s businesses and how great it was to hear their individual stories. My mind also started thinking about what other people might think of a race specific women’s networking group and if there was a benefit for it? I’m not normally one for separating things by colour, but allow me if you will, I think in this instance it’s understandable.  Ok, so I can hear some of you asking why it’s it.  Put your feet up and I”ll tell you why… I can also hear some of you saying “surely networking is beneficial when it’s inclusive?” Yes, I do agree with this hence why I make sure to network with a range of different types of groups whether they are male and female, by sector (media, corporate or whatever comes in between). However I think the true benefit to having black women in business networking group is that it instantly gives us a voice. You know the saying “it’s better to make a noise with others than on your own” – well, not those exact words but you catch my drift. It’s unfortunate and quite sad that there are not enough portrays of professional black (actually ethnic) women in the UK; (I’m purposely excluding those in the US). So if we unite and come together, supporting, promoting and providing advice for each other, surely this will help in creating a positive noise within the mainstream (and highlight that we too are part of the mainstream), that we exist?

As a parent to a young daughter, it’s important for me that my generation provide role models which she and her cousins of the same age can relate to, identify with and believe in; enabling them to believe they too can achieve greatness, just like many of the members from the Twenty Ten Club, women who are on their way to supreme success and who unfortunately are not recognised by mainstream media to leverage editorial and broadcast coverage from being successful within business. Additionally, this opportunity enables black professional business women to meet, network, inspire and support each other (which obviously can be gained within any type of networking event regardless of race, so I’ll stop here on this point).

Without driving you to roll your eyes as you read on (as my boyfriend did), the meet up was such a beautiful and encouraging thing to be part of (this is the point he rolled his eyes, lol). It’s for these additional reasons I welcome networking groups like the Twenty Ten Club and the few others which exist like Women of Colour in Media. That’s not to say when I go to networking groups which are not targeted at ‘women of colour’ I don’t find them inspiring, far from it. A lasting memory of when I was greatly motivated and inspired by was chaired by an English woman during 2009 when I was a finalist in a Women in Business initiative called “Brand Piano”, now named “Brand Amplifier”, which was founded by Jeanette Pritchard, Managing Director of JP Creative. The four week programme gave ten other business women and me the opportunity to attend business workshops with her and a handpicked group of business women who had already made it. Jeanette Pritchard (or JP as she’s widely known), is one SERIOUS inspiring lady and truly is a woman in business I look up to and aspire to be like.

To bring this post to an end I suppose the overwhelming proud feeling felt during my attendance at the Twenty Ten Club soiree could be likened to the feeling of those who were proud to be English on April 29th for the Royal Wedding. It too was a proud moment to be a black business woman the other week, standing in a room full of other successful, inspiring black women and this is something which I hope is celebrated by many; black and white.

…COS SOMETIMES #ff JUST ISN’T ENOUGH…

Twenty Ten Club founder, Octavia Goredema

If you’re a user of Twitter you will be familiar with the #ff (follow friday) trend. Well, I want to take this opportunity to shout much louder on my blog about a few people I follow, as I’ve got more to say on why I think others should follow them. So, first up is up is @OctaviaGoredema. Her Twitter biog reads: Entrepreneur. Blogger. Founder of the Twenty Ten Club. Busy Cooking up her next project. Whilst my twitter interaction with Octavia has been limited, we have spoken over email and telephone on a professional level and I really like her vibe. As mentioned in her profile, she is the founder of http://www.twentytenclub.com, a networking group which connects, inspires and supports black female entrepreneurs. I first was came across Octavia when she dropped me an email (as recommended by @MsQuiche, thank love), requesting to interview me for a section on her website named “Meets…” here she interviews women in business, providing a platform for individuals to promote them and their business.

I have to give praise and credit to Octavia and what she’s cooking up with her networking group. She has given many professional black business women an opportunity to connect with others and create new business opportunities, so WELL DONE Octavia, I’m sure all the ladies you’ve featured are as grateful as I am for the opportunity. I WILL complete my questions and submit them to you shortly, promise, fingers crossed (I was a girl guide in my teenage years so you can trust me!)

I’M TALKING ABOUT: TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG…

*The following post was written the week of 22 November 2010…

This week I gave myself a kick up the arse as there are various personal bits and bobs I’ve been meaning to start but haven’t for whatever reasons. One of these thoughts included blogging; when I would begin to blog again as I hadn’t done so for the longest time (over 1 year now), what would topics I would focus on etc. Today, I decided to get off my butt and do what I use to do on a weekly basis which is pencil time in for me to surf the net, catch up on my Google Reader subscriptions (as the prompt on the screen was reading at 189 unread posts!) and generally hang out online. Having spent an hour reading a handful of posts from my subscription list, I was smiling and wishing I too had kept up with my previous blogs (http://www.oprahwannabe.blogspot.com/ and http://www.fiercelist.blogspot.com/), especially as throughout the day I had been feeling blog envy from Muireann Carey-Campbell the founder of www.bangsandabun.com (a blog I follow), as she was happily celebrating her three year blog anniversary. Whilst I’m happy for the chick who is responsible for the word ‘douchebag’ entering my vocab at the age of 31, I was a tiny winy bit envious of her celebrations. If only I too kept up with my weekly blogging from when I first started in November 2008, I too would be celebrating a blog anniversary this month also. So here I am… ready with a renewed energy to get this baby going – after all I really do enjoy writing, it’s just the time which is messing with me, however no space for excuses so I’ll stop there.

So the initial plan was to re launch the blog in January (New Year, new goals and all that), but then I had a rethink and decided to take baby steps first and then if I’m ready in January to take it up a notch then I will. Let’s not start with giving myself too much pressure; I have enough on my plate… *Cue violins*

Anyhow, for the old followers of my blog I hope you come back… and to potential new subscribers feel free to join in, it’s all love on https://oprahwanabe.wordpress.com