“The future is bright for UKME owned businesses with plenty of opportunities for all to progress” These were the encouraging words resounding from a shared conversation with Foluke Akinlose MBE, Founder and Director of the Precious Awards. This was at the recent Business themed Question and Answer workshop that took place at Southwark Cathedral to celebrate Black History Month where, as a previous winner of the coveted Precious Best Business Award, I had the honour of interviewing Foluke and together, combined with my previous business experience, we tackled some key questions on behalf of us all.
I felt excited by Foluke’s assessment of the future landscape, which in spite of the challenges to business that Covid-19 has brought, is a positive one. After all, Foluke has witnessed 100’s of UKME businesses overcome difficult circumstances to excel and fulfil their potential over the last 15 years since setting up the Precious Awards which recognise the contribution of successful women of colour business owners and leaders in corporate life. These awards have been key in celebrating the success stories of women of colour, informing the wider business community and driving change such that Foluke was named in top 100 of Courvoisier’s “Future 500”, a list of the country’s top achievers in addition to being awarded an MBE for services to creative industries. Furthermore, Foluke was awarded a media pioneer award as well being placed in the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List of 100 inspirational heroes whose timeless ingenuity and bravery make Britain a better place to live. Foluke was therefore certainly well placed to inspire our conversation during our Business session and she did not disappoint.
Firstly we discussed the need for perseverance and overcoming challenges, a lesson which we can apply not only to business, but to every area of life. The case study we used was that of Precious Award winner Jessica Huie, Founder of Color Blind Cards. Jessica grew up on a council estate, was expelled from school with four GCSE’s aged 15 and became a single mother aged 17. Jessica started her business from her bedroom, designing cards on her computer while her two children slept. The greetings cards Jessica created depicted people of colour, which were non-existent on the typical birthday, engagement and wedding cards that populated the shelves. Using her frustration, at the lack of diversity in cards to fuel her, Jessica changed the status quo and her greeting cards became stocked in the UK high Street and are now distributed in the US and South Africa also. This demonstrates the concept of being proactive in instigating the change you want to see. Jessica has since become an author of the bestselling book Purpose published by Hay House and has been awarded an MBE for her contribution to diversity.
In addition to perseverance and overcoming challenges, during the workshop we discussed the importance of finding the ‘gap in the market’ i.e. introducing something that is not currently being catered for, a concept I speak in depth about in my book. From experience this was a principle I followed several years ago with my healthy snacks business and something all of us can still do, because if we look around us there are still so many ‘gaps’ which represent opportunities just waiting to be realised. This brought us on to another Precious Award winning business, that of Bianca Miller who developed a range of hosiery suited for a range of darker skin tones, again a gap which had existed in UK hosiery for many years. Bianca’s range helped to say goodbye to the days when the only tights available to women of colour were those that looked incongruent and mismatched with the rest of our bodies.
On the question of how to go about starting a business, I gave some general advice around the importance of undertaking thorough business research both qualitative and quantitative identifying the free British Library Business and IP centre as a good place to start for free resources and the importance of engaging with a business advisor/mentor. Also on the topic of people, Foluke and I agreed on the importance of surrounding yourself with likeminded positive people in business because you will undoubtedly come across ‘naysayers’. Other nuggets that came out of our shared conversation were based around the lesson of age, i.e. that you can be any age to start a business with many Precious award winners being at opposite ends of the age spectrum from both young to old.
Finally, we got to the most important question of the day. Why is the future so bright for emerging UKME businesses? Among the many reasons we discussed were that the previous entry barriers of having a huge financial outlay at the start of a business has been significantly reduced. No longer is there a need to rent a shop front, but much of business these days is done online and has increasingly become so expedited by Covid-19. EBay, Amazon, Etsy, Websites and similar platforms are all ways that businesses can have virtual shop fronts. In addition to virtual shopfronts, gone are the days when businesses needed a huge financial outlay for TV, newspaper and radio advertising, with Facebook, Twitter, You tube, LinkedIn and other social media sites offering businesses the chance to advertise with comparatively minimal financial outlay versus the former. Where fundraising is required, the methods are much more accessible for example with the onset of the crowd funding revolution among many routes.
So in conclusion, the future is bright, the future is black. Happy black History Month!