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Turn your passion into your profession

2nd October 2019

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“I’m passionate about filling gaps for underrepresented communities,” says Mariam Jimoh, a British entrepreneur of Nigerian heritage (pictured above). “If I see a gap that should be filled but isn’t, I think, what can be done about that?”

Her three businesses provide opportunities and products for the Afro-Caribbean community. Members of the Women in the City Afro-Caribbean Network, known as WCAN, gain access to mentorship, interview training and networking events. She’s also the co-founder of Onwe Press, which publishes unique stories from diverse voices. Her third business, Oja, is due to launch by the end of the year and will provide foods, products and beauty items from around the world through its app. Mariam uses Starling business accounts for all three ventures.

Work smart

How does she make time to manage multiple businesses? “I live by the Pareto Principle.” The Pareto Principle outlines the unequal relationship between input and output, for example 80% of a business’ income coming from 20% of its clients. “It’s about working smart, not hard. You shouldn’t aim for perfection, you should aim for efficiency.”

A press package showcasing Daughters of Nri
Daughters of Nri, Onwe Press’ first title

Mariam has only become a full-time entrepreneur within the last year. Previously, she worked as an analyst for an investment bank and managed her businesses alongside her job. “You need to start your passion project as a side hustle and when you see a commercial opportunity then you can jump. If you give up your job, you need to be sure it’s for something else that pays you. So you need to be honest about what’s a side hustle and what’s a full blown business.”

Be open minded

WCAN was born from the internships Mariam completed in finance while she was a student at University College London (UCL). Too often, she was the only black woman in the room. While she was still at UCL, and just 21 years old, she decided to do something about it. Today, WCAN is funded by corporate sponsorship and run by a team of 12 volunteers, including Mariam.

A group shot taken at a WCAN event
WCAN runs mentorship programmes and hosts events for the personal and professional development of black women

“WCAN has really shaped my character,” says Abiola Azeez, who joined the team when she was in her first year at the University of Surrey. Alongside her full-time job as a compliance analyst in banking, Abiola organises the university partnerships and mentorship programme.

Abiola smiles in a red dress
Abiola Azeez, Mentorship and Development Officer at WCAN

“A good mentor is someone who is committed to what they’ve signed up to, even if that’s an hour a week, and who guides you but doesn’t give you all the answers. They’re there to push you out of your comfort zone,” she says.

She also helps the WCAN team run events about money. “What I learned personally was that I needed to budget and set up a lifetime ISA. It’s really changed my finances.”

When Mariam set up WCAN, she never imagined how many people she could help. Six years on, it has 5,000 members and she’s become an expert in diversity and inclusion, the topic of her consultancy work. “A lot of us are a lot more qualified than we think and people are willing to pay for that expertise.”

Learn to delegate

Mariam funds Oja through her savings and money earned from consulting. “I’ve bootstrapped up to this point and I’m about to go out for a pre-seed raise of funds,” she says. “When I moved from my family home I found that I couldn’t access ethnic and specialist products so easily. I’ve always liked online grocery deliveries but I saw a gap in the market.” The name Oja means marketplace in Yorùbá. The app will provide customers with everything from Indian kitchen spices to Nigerian hair products.

Like many entrepreneurs, she’s happy to master a new skill. “I did the designs for the majority of the app. I’ve got a clean look that I like to have when it comes to marketing and that’s when I don’t want to leave it to someone else,” she says.

But she has also learned to recognise the value of delegating: “I’m not afraid to outsource. If there’s someone who can do it better than me then I would always ask them because doing everything myself is inefficient.”

Find a like-minded business partner

Mariam co-founded Onwe Press with Reni K. Amayo, who is also the author of the first title, Daughters of Nri. She tells the story of twin girls separated at birth and how they find their way back to each other.

Mariam and Reni stand together smiling
Mariam Jimoh and Reni K. Amayo are the co-founders of Onwe Press

“It’s a book for that little black girl who’d never seen herself as a main character or a hero. It’s definitely strange living in the world as a black woman - in the US, college-educated black women are the most likely people to read books but when you look at the number of books that have a black female lead or even a black character that’s substantial, the percentage is crazy low. Companies have got away with not marketing to black women - we’re so used to not being thought of, it’s the norm for us - but it’s got to the point where we thought, if you guys aren’t going to create books for us and market to us, then we’re going to do it.”

Reni grins in a headshot
Reni K. Amayo, co-founder of Onwe Press and author of Daughters of Nri

Manage multiple businesses from one app

“I love the way the Starling app works. It makes it easier for us to see that breakdown of expenditure. We use Goals to budget and Xero for Onwe’s accounting,” she says. “It’s really my only bank for both business and personal and of all the app banks, I feel safest at Starling.”

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