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How to thrive as a young entrepreneur. Nile Henry, CEO of The Blair Project

How to really thrive as a young entrepreneur

How to thrive as a young entrepreneur. Nile Henry, CEO of The Blair Project
Nile Henry, CEO of The Blair Project

Nile Henry, CEO of The Blair Project, is a trail-blazing young leader straddling the arenas of motorsport and green tech.  He is driven by a determination to engage young people from diverse backgrounds in STEM and motorsport, and in turn advance their career prospects and self-esteem.

An inspirational figure, Nile founded the organisation when he was 18 years old and to date The Blair Project’s flagship ProtoEV STEM Challenge has supported more than 560 young people since its launch in 2014. The challenge, which gives young people from disadvantaged backgrounds knowledge and practical skills in renewable technologies through the retrofitting of petrol go-karts to e-karts, has resulted in 95 per cent of participants going on to related careers, apprenticeships or further education.

As an 18-year-old Black man, I was prepared to be challenged when starting up The Blair Project. While there are plenty of young, BAME entrepreneurs out there, boardrooms continue to be dominated by older white people and as a result it can be difficult to find your voice. My advice is to not let people underestimate you, and if you can’t see any role models that look like you, take that as an opportunity to be your own role model, setting an example for those who will come later.

As a young entrepreneur taking that first step may be scary, but to break the mould of what a ‘typical’ entrepreneur looks like, it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone. Here are my top tips for how to thrive as a young entrepreneur.

Be authentic

To be a successful entrepreneur, it’s really important to find something you’re passionate about. For me, that was green technology. It’s something I believe can make a real positive difference globally and an area that’s constantly progressing, making it an exciting field to be part of.

Finding something you’re passionate about makes all the difference, as people, whether stakeholders or potential investors will buy into your passion for the business. Having this enthusiasm and being authentic has led to some incredible opportunities, including being invited to sit on the Manchester Climate Change Youth Board, a group of 13- to 28-year-olds who represent the city’s young people and hold political, business and community leaders to account in the fight against climate change. 

Resilience is key

No entrepreneur will go through their career without at least a few setbacks, but your ability to bounce back and deal with criticism will define your experiences. The director of an engineering firm once told me that we should stop giving disadvantaged young people false hope that they could make it to the highest echelons in motorsport, and instead help them to accept their limited status and position in life.

Rather than letting this set me back, it motivated me to prove her wrong. Now seven years down the line we’re partnering with projects like the Hamilton Commission to show disadvantaged young people how they can achieve in motorsport. We had to break through barriers to get here and be persistent, determined and resilient, but now it’s all paying off.

Master financial literacy

It might not be the most exciting part of entrepreneurship but working on your financial literacy is incredibly important when starting and growing your business. If you are financially literate, you’ll be able to truly understand the state of your business and will be better equipped to make smart decisions to support growth.

Building this foundation of knowledge early on will help as you start up, but also later when it comes to talking to private equity firms, banks or investors about funding. If you prioritise financial literacy early on you’ll have the confidence and understanding to talk the financial talk as you grow.

Know your strengths and importantly weaknesses

When I started The Blair Project, I knew that my strengths lay in public speaking and networking, so I was determined to hone these skills and make sure I could use them to help our business grow. Now I’m confident telling our story effectively to people across all different types of organisation which has helped us significantly when seeking funding.

Just as it’s important to know your strengths, it’s arguably more important to identify your weaknesses. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do it all, figure out what you can’t do and then build a great team around you that are all strong in the areas you may be weaker.  

As The Blair Project grew, I realised that I had a knowledge gap around the technical elements of green technologies and kart building. Recognising that I couldn’t do it all alone, I used my networking skills to connect with people with a wealth of knowledge around battery technologies, powertrains and motors, and 3D printing. This has been key in helping the organisation grow into what it is today.

Build power networks

Once you grow more confident with networking, you can begin to build ‘power networks’ – webs of people with influence in your field who you can learn from and support. My power networks range a nationwide community of more than 3000 organisations across youth groups, education, karting and manufacturing, to more local with contacts gained from sitting on the Manchester Climate Change Youth Board and Manchester’s Social Enterprise Advisory Group.

When developing these power networks, consider what you want to gain from them, the learnings you can take, and what you can give back. Take every meeting seriously, and make sure to keep track of all your new contacts as you don’t know when you might need them!

Author:

Nile Henry, founder and CEO of The Blair Project, a young, Black leader is passionate about inspiring young entrepreneurs to succeed. The Blair Project is a social enterprise which, using motorsport as the vehicle, works to engage young people from diverse backgrounds in STEM and motorsport, and in turn advance their careers.

Founding the organisation in 2014 at just 18 years old, Nile has gone on to support more than 560 young people. Its flagship ProtoEV STEM Challenge gives young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the knowledge and practical skills in renewable technologies through the retrofitting of petrol go-karts to e-karts, has resulted in 95 per cent of participants going on to related careers, apprenticeships or further education.

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Nile Henry