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Inspiring Entrepreneurs

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On Tuesday the British Library (BL) held an event called ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs’, where four creatives from different backgrounds gave their stories. The speakers included MOBO founder Kanya King MBE, TV personality and WIE Network Co-Founder June Sarpong, artist and designer Yinka Ilori and chef, musician and all-round entertainer Levi Roots, the event was hosted by Rasheed Ogunlaru.

Although each speaker had a very different and compelling journey, they all had similar traits which helped them rise to recognition within their fields. Each person spoke only for 10 minutes but left some very important jewels.

Kanya King
Kanya King was the first speaker, who discussed how the MOBOs created a major platform for Black British music. King explained she “had a hard time explaining to people that an award show for urban music was needed”. Some barriers that King faced was not having any contacts within the music industry and lacking proper funding.

But it wasn’t until she met the manager director of London Weekend Television (LWT), whilst working at Arsenal Football Stadium, where things changed for the better. After helping the manager director, find his lost nephew Kanya thought it be a good idea to share her idea. “I learnt early on to listen really well, I allowed him to talk and then he said ‘Why don’t you put a proposal to me, if you send it me very quickly … I guarantee you’ll get a meeting’”.

Although LWT didn’t pick up the MOBOs, through their excitement Kanya received a meeting with Carlton Television, who gave Kanya 6 weeks to put the show on. Kanya revealed to the audience several factors including, “If your heart is not in something, you will not be successful. Passion builds confidence, excitement, energy and it’s contagious… sometimes when I get stuck I remind myself that I don’t have to always get it right, I just have to get going”.


Yinka Ilori
Youngest of the speakers, Yinka Ilori explained how his parent’s Nigerian heritage played a big role in shaping his artistic vision. From being teased at school for having an African name, Yinka had difficulties expressing his identity. Understanding the meaning of his name “surrounded by happiness, surrounded by wealth” and inspired by Nigerian parables, Yinka found a way to tell his story through furniture.

After successfully receiving funding from The Prince’s Trust, Yinka’s father, a store manager at B&Q allowed him to acquire furniture at low prices and work in his garden. In 2011 he launched his collection at the African & African-Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD) and “that’s when it took off”. Yinka then went onto host exhibitions across the globe including places like New York, Milan and Nigeria. His final words of wisdom were “whatever you do, make sure you tell your story the way you want to tell it”.

The Living Furniture Project, Designer's Portraits

June Sarpong
June’s talk featured a three minute video about WIE (Women Inspiration Enterprise), where various women from different backgrounds spoke on the importance of coming together. The inspiration came from being a black woman in the TV industry and recognising an imbalance. “What we need to look at is how we empower everybody in society, to be the best they can be, because in the end that leads to a stronger economy … when you look at the competition in China or India, I think Britain will be able to compete by empowering its women and also making sure people from diverse communities have equal opportunities”.

Living in America for 8 years, June gained a level of confidence but also came to realise, how progressive Britain is in embracing culture and diversity. “The number one advice I would give anyone would be learning to control your thoughts and have a goal. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, keep your eye on that end goal and it will work itself out”. She also spoke on the importance of being a giver and not a taker, and understanding how it comes back around.

In between June and Levi’s talk, Rasheed Ogunlaru made a very important point about networking. At most events people line up to talk and network with the main speakers, “but the most important person is you and make sure you have conversations with the people around you, and have a spirit of generosity”.


Levi Roots
Known for his larger than life personality, Levi began his talk on a serious note, reflecting on a visit to prison. In 1986, he was sentenced to nine years in prison, “I used that nine year sentence to turn my life around. That evening when I was court, my mum was there and I remember it like it was yesterday, the judge had said ‘Mr Graham you’re a scourge to society and the people of Brixton’”.

Two years ago, Levi returned to the same prison, but this time around as an ambassador for a program called Toe to Toe, which focused on prisoners helping each other read and write. Whilst at the prison he arrived at the same prison cell, he once lived in. Here Levi stressed the importance of remembering where you come from and giving back. Speaking to those wanting to start a business, he mentioned his mentor Peter Jones CBE and the importance of having someone who knows more than you, in the area you want to get into.

Touching on his latest business venture, which will be a “Rastaurant” in Stratford’s Westfield, Levi finished his speech, discussing his time at the Dragon’s Den. After several people had told him to tone down his personality to appeal to the Dragon’s Levi ignored the advice and made sure to show his personality.

Levi Roots

To conclude all speakers gave very different stories, but they all stressed the importance of character and being persistent. For more events like this visit: http://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/workshops-and-events.The event was broadcasted around the world, from Africa, Manchester, Peru and Poland. The event ended with questions and a networking session.

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