Black History Month: Inspiring Entrepreneurs

Black History Month: Inspiring Entrepreneurs

As part of Black History Month this October, LUU talks to three inspiring BAME entrepreneurs who have successfully set up their own start-up businesses. All at different stages of their careers, we talk to them about the enterprises they have worked hard to set up, how they felt their ethnicity has played a part in their success, and their tips on starting your own enterprise.

Busayo Longe is the Product Manager for Form Plus, an online form building company he cofounded while studying at University. Having lived and completed his undergraduate degree in Nigeria, he has recently graduated from a masters in Engineering, Technology and Business Management from the University of Leeds.

Hi Busayo, can you tell us a little bit about how you started your enterprise?

The idea for Form Plus started out as part of the Google Apps Developer challenge which we won for Sub-Saharan Africa. We didn’t know how far it would go at that point but we saw people wanted to see more so we developed it further.

Having worked for an e-commerce company in Nigeria, I left to start my masters at Leeds University. In one of my lectures I found out about SPARK at the Careers Centre who then encouraged us to develop Form Plus further, so after I graduated I changed my visa to work here permanently. Now we have 1,200 users paying monthly and 50,000 free users creating forms for free every month, so we have a lot of interest!

As a black entrepreneur, in what way (if any) do you feel your background has played a part in your success?

It’s strongly affected how far we’ve come. Form Plus came about due to the environment we grew up in, studied, and worked in. There’s a great enterprising spirit in Nigeria and it was attending a course held by MIT in Nigeria that really exposed me to programming and the idea I could start my own company.

It’s true there aren’t always all the resources we should have in Nigeria but this has only strengthened my resolve to progress and get it done!

Have you come across many other young black or minority entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses?

There are a lot of enterprises in Nigeria and a lot of external interest in what’s going on there – Mark Zuckerberg recently invested $24m in a Nigerian start up called Andela and came to Nigeria a few weeks ago to see what entrepreneurs were up to. He was really pumped by the energy he saw there – it’s really contagious!

I think there are a lot of young entrepreneurs in Nigeria who will become really well known in the future.

What’s the best thing about starting up and running your own business?

Getting the chance to try things and bring your ideas to life. It’s true you don’t have the security you might want and there’s no guarantee it’ll go well, but it’s exciting! I didn’t even imagine I’d be here working in the UK at this point so it’s developed my ability to explore.

What would you say has been your biggest successes so far?

So far it would have to be that we’re basically making double what we were last year.

Also the level of interest we have makes me very excited! We even had interest early on from the State of Colorado in the US to use Form Plus across their institutions. Even though we were too small at that point to carry it out, the fact that there is that level of demand out there for our product pushed us to go further.

Any tips for student entrepreneurs looking to start up their own business?

It’s a time to experiment, leave your comfort zone and give it a go. I had three start-up businesses before Form Plus in tourism and agricultural technology and even though these fell through it didn’t stop me from facing further challenges. You learnt a lot from it, about yourself and about the world – so you just have to give it all you have!

https://www.formpl.us/

Busayo can be contacted on busayo@formpl.us

img_0755_450_742Griselda Togobo is the Managing Director of Forward Ladies, a women’s network which aims to unlock potential in professional women. She has also founded and manages Awovi, a business consultancy.

Can you give us a brief introduction to your enterprises?

Forward Ladies is the UK’s leading women’s business support organisation. It’s is the most diverse and inclusive network of its kind. My goal is to inspire women to achieve their goals.

What inspired you to set up your own business?

My mum. She had a number of businesses when I was growing up including a construction business and a textile factory and seeing her work hard to earn a living was inspiring. It’s not something I realised at first but later on when I had kids, I realised I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

As a black entrepreneur, in what way (if any) do you feel your background has played a part in your success?

Minorities tend to stand out, but I see this as an opportunity. Businesses spend a lot of money trying to be different and stand out but as a minority you stand out by default – take advantage of this fact. It’s something that drives me, when people come up to me and say I am a role model as a successful black female entrepreneur, this feedback inspires me to achieve more.

Some people do feel disadvantaged and don’t get the same opportunities, but I choose to see it in a different light. I can’t control how people act but I can choose how I react, and I choose to see it positively. Just focus on what you can control and what you can achieve.

Have you come across many other minority entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses?

I see a lot of female entrepreneurs from minorities. Statistics show that women from minorities are now one of the most enterprising groups in the UK. They don’t often get the same level of support or visibility, but black women are some of the most entrepreneurial women.

What challenges have you come across?

I bought Forward Ladies from a very well-known and successful woman who had a big personality and stepping into someone else’s footsteps and making your own mark was very challenging in the beginning.

Any tips for entrepreneurs looking to start up their own business?

It’s always a scary idea in the beginning if you’re thinking of starting your own business, but until you take that leap you’ll never know. Once you do, things will start to come together.

For students I would say that starting your own business now is more viable. You have no mortgage, no commitments, you can start any venture. You’re young, resilient and full of energy – there’s no time like the present!

www.awovi.com

www.forwardladies.com

Chi Chi Analogbei has recently graduated from the University of Leeds studying Law. Having moved from Nigeria to study in Leeds, she is now living and working in the city on her organic cake making business, Reho Cake Company, as well as managing the Balcony Café, a student run enterprise at Leeds University Union.chi-chi-analogbei

Hi Chi Chi, can you tell us a little bit about your enterprise?

My business, Reho Cake Company makes and sells handmade organic celebration cakes. I’ve been making cakes for the past three years for birthdays, parties, graduations – pretty much anything you need a cake for. Reho, short for the biblical word Rehoboth, means a place of enlargement and flourishing so it’s a personal and motivational word for me.

What inspired you to set up your own business?

To be honest I never thought this would be an enterprise. My plan initially was only to go to Law School and cake making was my hobby. But my Commercial Law lecturer suggested I should grow it into more of a business and my passion just grew from there.

As a black entrepreneur, in what way (if any) do you feel your background has played a part in your success?

Nigeria is a place of small businesses and coming from that background I believed I could do it.  It gave me encouragement and motivation.

I take a lot of inspiration from Nigerian culture in my cakes. I focus on designs that remind me of home; Nigerian patterns and a lot of colour. In Nigeria we tend to play with flavours too. I wouldn’t think of trying to combine different flavours without my background – for example some of my flavours are vanilla chai or white chocolate and poppy seed buttercream. Sometimes they don’t work out; it can be trial and error but I like to create a different range.

What would you say has been your biggest successes so far?

To be able to move from a very small cupcake enterprise to setting up a cake company is my greatest success. I started when I was 19 when it was more of a hobby but now I have been able to manage my own money to pay for my own studies.

What challenges have you come across and how did you get over them?

Having no business background myself or in my family was difficult at first as I had to find my way by myself in the beginning.

But going to SPARK at the Careers Centre helped me hugely because they helped me to fill that gap with things like taxes and accounts. You can make all the cake in the world but without knowing about business you can’t run an enterprise.

Any tips for student entrepreneurs looking to start up their own business?

Don’t be afraid. I was afraid and now I think as long as you have passion and just go for it and you never know what will happen.

Do your research, make sure you find the right help and talk to the right people for you. Talk to your lecturers, go to networking events and go to SPARK, there’s lots of help out there so make sure you get it.

And just enjoy it, yes you want to make money but at the same time you want to love what you do at the same time.

Chi Chi can be contacted on missanalogbei@gmail.com

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If you are interested in setting up your own enterprise or already have, there are a number of ways we can support you.

Spark is the business start-up service at the University of Leeds. http://careerweb.leeds.ac.uk/info/15/starting_a_business_spark

The LUU Fundraising and Enterprise department offer free 1-2-1 sessions and circulate upcoming funding opportunities and helpful information on our social media.

Email / unisente@leeds.ac.uk

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