Three young entrepreneurs who chose to skip university and start their own businesses instead have shared their success stories.
Despite the high street struggling in the recent months, Emma Parry, Hannah Suffolk and Omar Sacranie say their independent businesses are thriving.
Here, they tell us how they got there.
Emma Parry, The Bloom Project
Emma knew at the age of 13 that she wanted to be a florist, after her mum bought her her first at-home floristry kit.
A few homemade flower arrangements later, Emma had found her calling.
Ten years on, she is the proud owner of The Bloom Project, her own flower shop in Queens Road, Clarendon Park, Leicester.
The Bloom Project opened its doors in September last year after Emma received funding from the Leicester-based Sir Thomas White Loan Charity, which provides young businesses with interest-free loans.
Within weeks of receiving the funding, the 23-year-old found her dream business premises, and started making her business a reality.
Emma was not surprised when some people told her they did not think it was a good idea, suggesting she waited until she was older to launch her own business.
The comments did not faze Emma; she knew what she wanted to do.
“I know I’m young and have a lot to still learn, but if I didn’t do this now I’d just be working somewhere I don’t want to,” she told LeicestershireLive.
Despite being told that A-levels and university would be best for her, the former pupil of Sir Jonathon North College, in Knighton, Leicester, decided that was not the path she wanted to follow.
Instead, she earned floristry qualifications at Leicester College, in the city, and Brooksby Melton College, in Melton.
She also had part-time jobs at florists in Leicester, where she gained life and work experience she deemed invaluable.
“Working from a young age really did me good because I was really shy and had no self esteem,’ she said. “Then as soon as I started working, it completely changed me.”
With an initial budget of just £1,000 for the shop interior, and wanting a style that would reflect her personality, Emma managed to create something unique.
The key feature of the store is a fridge full of flowers and foliage that Emma uses to keep her wares fresh. The low-hanging light bulbs and hand-drawn window design add to the quirky charm Emma wanted to bring to her business.
“The fridge of flowers is the main part of the florist,” she said. “I couldn’t work without one, but it’s also a huge part of the look of the shop.”
Emma also has innovative ideas for her business. On Mothering Sunday this year, for example, The Bloom Project teamed up with Topshop, in Leicester’s Highcross shopping centre, to arrange a pop-up selling bouquets in the store. It was a particularly special project for Emma, she said, as her own mother has been her biggest supporter and regularly helps out with the business.
Emma did not come from a particularly wealthy family, she said, and stressed that you do not have to be affluent to do what you love.
“Since I’ve opened the shop I’ve kind of been on a crusade to tell people that anything is possible,” she said.
“I’ve begged, borrowed and stolen anyone and everyone’s brain to tell me how to do things.
“I’m not rich, I’m not from a rich background, and you don’t have to be to do something like this.”
She added that she thought young people were altering the face of shopping.
“I think I’m part of the generation that’s kind of changing the high street, perhaps,” she said.
“I hate saying this, but I am an Instagram shop. People will see me on social media, and that’s why they come.”
Hannah and Jack Suffolk, The Bottle Garden
Hannah Suffolk and her brother Jack grew up helping out with their family’s retail and hospitality business, Outerspace Home and Garden.
The siblings, from Kibworth, learned from the success of their parents and decided to branch out with a business of their own.
In October 2017, just one year after their initial idea, the siblings opened The Bottle Garden, a botanical-inspired bar in St Martin’s Square, in the city centre.
After the siblings both showed academic strength during A-levels at Robert Smyth Academy in Market Harborough, university seemed like the obvious progression. But they had other plans.
“Our parents are the definition of ‘grafters’ and have always been a huge inspiration to us,” said Hannah.
So at the ages of 21 and 23 respectively, Jack and Hannah started focusing on ideas for the bar they had decided they wanted to open.
The pair received financial support from Leicester’s Business Improvement District (BID) as part of its scheme to help start-ups in the city.
As soon as the funding was in place, and they had the keys to their dream property, Hannah and Jack could not wait to get started on their vision.
Hannah told LeicestershireLive: “Once we had the keys, we went straight in and ripped the entire ceiling down with a couple of sledgehammers!”
Although their experience in the family business was an advantage to them, the siblings took a very independent approach to launching their own business.
It certainly was not an easy process.
“Money was tight and we had a really small budget to work with, so a lot of time was taken to source cheap materials and think outside the box to save money,” said Hannah.
“Designing a new venue sounds exciting until you realise you need to spend 10 per cent of your budget on something incredibly dull like replacing the air conditioning unit or a full rewire.”
Luckily, their dad used his handyman experience to help with the shop interior.
Hannah and Jack knew they would have to be different to survive. The Bottle Garden’s botanical interior is what sets it apart from other bars.
“Jack and I don’t take ourselves too seriously and we wanted that to come through in the personality of the bar, which is why there are so many fairy lights, plants, candles and even disco music to create a fun and warm atmosphere, kind of like the feeling you have when you have a really great chilled summer night in the garden with friends,” said Hannah.
“People love discovering new, smaller places because they have a story behind them, they have soul and personality.”
Jazz nights are a popular feature of The Bottle Garden, offering customers an evening of live music on the last Sunday of the month.
“We have a huge love of music and we particularly loved those scenes in old films of people crammed around tiny tables in smoky bars, drinking scotch and listening to jazz,” Hannah said.
The creative duo are always looking for ways to expand but Hannah thinks that perhaps they need a holiday first.
Omar Sacranie, Saints of Mokha
Omar has been a coffee enthusiast since he was a young teenager.
It was during his A-levels that he decided he wanted to turn his interest into a business.
The now 21-year-old, from Highfields, Leicester, started to explore the idea during his second attempt at A-levels at Gateway College, in Hamilton.
At the age of 17, Omar’s evenings became consumed by business planning with his older brother, Mohammed, whom he said had played “a massive part in of all of this”. The brothers saved hard to fund the project themselves.
The self-taught barista was only 18 when he opened the doors to Saints of Mokha, in Evington Road, Evington, Leicester, in May 2016, and has since attracted a loyal customer base who enjoy the cafe’s warm atmosphere.
Failing his first year at Leicester’s Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth College, and then leaving education before university, was hardly the conventional path that friends and family expected of him.
Although he was offered a place studying economics at the University of Leicester, he rejected it – to the disappointment of some family members – to focus on his business idea.
“From the start, fighting against the norm by pursuing business instead of education was the first mental hurdle I went through,” Omar said.
“You’ve got to constantly remind yourself of what you want. You’ve got to believe in yourself when nobody else shares your vision.”
“We’re close to the University of Leicester on Evington Road, and we’re lucky to have a band of loyal customers who we see as part of our family,” said Omar.
“We’re constantly trying to do our best to make sure their experience at Saints is enjoyable and stands out.”
The cafe, located just around the corner from London Road, is distinctively different to other local businesses.
Coffees in a range of bright colours, unique flavour combinations and fun latte art designs are what set Saints of Mokha apart.
However, upcycling the coffee shop into something that would reflect head barista Omar’s personality did not come without setbacks.
“I managed to break my ribs from a fall and my brother successfully cut our electricity by drilling through a circuit,” he said.
“The process was filled with numerous headaches, but we overcame it by supporting each other.”
Quality was of the highest importance to the business owner, who wanted to avoid the copycat trends of many high street coffee shops.
“We aren’t tied down by the dogma of big business and we’re not focused solely on profits and churning out high quantities,” he said. “That way, we can focus on crafting beautiful and high quality products that our customers love.
“It makes us enjoy what we do, it gives us a chance to really care.”
Everyone who visits Saints of Mokha is greeted by the owner, who recognises every returning customer and knows the locals as though they were family.
“I just love talking to people,” he said.
In just three years, Omar and Saints of Mokha have received multiple awards including the runner up award for the Leicester Mercury’s own Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 and Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2018 Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
Omar has also won the latte art competitions including Nottingham’s Latte Art Throwdown, where baristas and coffee enthusiasts are invited to compete for cash prizes.
The owner, although friendly and down-to-earth, takes his interest in coffee very seriously.
He said: “This is what sets Saints of Mokha apart, it’s the desire to surpass pre-existing boundaries and to restore the skill and origins of coffee.”
Saints of Mokha has introduced barista training classes to continue to share Omar’s passion with like-minded people.
Top tips for aspiring young business owners
Omar Sacranie, of Saints of Mokha: “Have courage and be disciplined. If you’re waiting around to explore an idea, just go for it.”
Emma Parry, of The Bloom Project: “Know and accept your weaknesses and then find someone who can help you with those things, don’t be afraid to approach people.”
Hannah Suffolk, of The Bottle Garden: “Schools often drum into you that university is the only path to take, but if you have willpower and drive, there is always another route.”
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