UK (Middlesex University) Global Entrepreneurship Week: Talented MDX students and graduates who have forged innovative businesses

During Global Entrepreneurship Week, the world’s biggest celebration of entrepreneurship with 180 countries taking part, Middlesex University is showcasing some of the resourceful, innovative and determined current and former students who have developed and grown their own businesses. This is a chance to celebrate their success in starting and running a business which can be an enormous challenge.

MDX is one of the “best universities in the country” for student entrepreneurs with one in seven former students owning or managing a business according to independent research.

The University is always keen to help students develop and grow their businesses with mentoring programmes such as Enactus, the annual MDXcelerator competition and the Enterprise Development Hub which has mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs.

Dr Simon Best, Programme Leader Msc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, who runs the Enterprise Development Hub, explained what makes MDX such a great place for entrepreneurial students.

“One of the things that makes MDX special is that we focus on the inspirational rather than the aspirational.  What this means is that our students develop ideas that are realistic, achievable and successful.  This is evidenced by the significant numbers of students who go on to set up and run successful businesses.” Dr Simon Best.

Dr Moon, MDX Enactus University Adviser and Senior Lecturer Eco-entrepreneurship in the Business School, said: “Our students have been amazing each year providing new ideas to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“They learn about these during their foundation studies and coupled with research and project management skills they pitch their innovative ideas to see if they are feasible. Some students then go on to enact real projects with Enactus, one of the largest student societies at MDX.”

Here are just a few of the many successful current and former MDX student entrepreneurs.

Ashraf Khalif (pictured above) is part of the way through a MSc in Creative Technology, hoping to complete his programme next year.

While studying at MDX, he has been a Student Voice leader, Student Ambassador and Deputy Manager of the student radio station.

He was also co-founder of both MDX Entrepreneurship Society and MDX Enactus Society, which since 2020 has entered a team into the world’s largest competition for student entrepreneurs.

Born in Omdurman, Sudan’s biggest city on the opposite bank of Nile from capital Khartoum, Ashraf has set up Sudanpreneur Ltd as a platform to showcase Sudanese success, and to help people in Sudan and the diaspora into entrepreneurship.

The Sudanpreneur website profiles a wide range of visual artists, musicians and dynamic trendsetters, whose work and events such as artist Ahmed Awad’s drawing classes Ashraf also publicises on his social media.

He has also set up a smartly designed quarterly print newsletter, while Sudanhub is a source of information about the country which he is planning to incorporate into the rest of Sudanpreneur.

“My main mission is to put Sudan on the map, to make it into a powerhouse,” Ashraf says. “I’ve seen Instagram change the whole Sudanese way of thinking. Before people were sticking to medicine and law. The revolution [of 2018-19] helped push the music and arts scene.

“I’m trying to do interviews, mentoring, networking, coaching,” Ashraf adds, while noting the huge challenges such as sanctions on Sudan so most international payments systems don’t work, and political divisions and ‘tribalism’ among the Sudanese diaspora in the UK.

Ashraf has organised Global Entrepreneurship Week events at MDX, which include presentations by Dr Simon Best on mentoring and entrepreneurship, a session on sustainable entrepreneurship and a quiz with Dr Chris Moon and the Enactus Society, and an introduction to the MDXcelerator, for student start-up enterprises.

Oluwatosin Akomolafe

Oluwatosin Akomolafe or Tosin for short says he has been entrepreneurial for as long as he can remember. His career history certainly backs that up.

He’s currently coming to the end of his MSc in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at Middlesex and has managed to work and study at the same time by having an efficient and reliable team to handle his business.

He started a renewable energy company, Neezergreene LTD in 2020.

At Neezergreene, the team is focused on accelerating the switch to renewable sources of energy, with a huge focus on the African market, where the transition has been lagging behind. They offer the sales, installation and servicing of renewable products like solar panels, inverters and batteries to homes and businesses.

They plan to include blockchain technology as an add-on to the business next year to offer to finance, and participation of individuals to increase the adoption and usage of renewables.

So far Tosin’s company has installed solar panels on more than 30 homes and businesses.  He is excited about the new inventions and progress made in renewable technology with better-optimised batteries and increased government participation in deploying capital and subsidies to achieve net zero. He is also intrigued by the opportunities of blockchain technology and how it can play a positive impact on industry and society.

He describes running a business is like a “rollercoaster of emotions, high points are when we exceed targets sets as a business or strike a good business deal, low points will be the opposite when we fail to achieve set targets and deliverables.”

Looking to the future Tosin wants to keep building and grow businesses that have a positive impact on human lives and the planet.

Kuniko Maeda

Kuniko Maeda, an MDX Fine Art graduate, set up a company selling handmade jewellery, artwork and installations.

The 40-year-old, who moved to London from Japan ten years ago, specialises in sustainable textile design and incorporates Japanese traditional techniques and digital technology to showcase different materials and their unique properties.

Kuniko always knew she wanted to work as an artist in the UK after graduating and launched her business by selling jewellery at London markets.

She says she is indebted to Dr Best for supporting her application for an Entrepreneur Visa to become self-employed.

She said: “It is important to me to be working as an artist here. Working for yourself allows me to take control rather than belonging to any other companies.

“It is great when people like my work and buy it, that is the best feeling.

“I like that I can exhibit in different places and show my work in a variety of audiences which is great experience for me.”

Kuniko learned about marketing, logistics, writing business plans and even composing better emails through attending an MDX business summer camp in Croatia.

“I did not have any knowledge about business before that,” she said.

“That is the difficult part, I have to do everything myself and I always have to think about what to do in order to get the best results.

“The culture is also different in the UK to Japan so knowing how to talk to people was hard.

“There have been times when I have wanted to give up but I am determined to work here as an artist and the support from MDX has kept me going.”

Kuniko’s dream is to have her own studio and exhibit at a large gallery.

“I’d love to have a high profile,” she said.

“I want people to reconsider paper through my work. As a material paper is so versatile, everyone uses it every day but no one really appreciates its value and uniqueness.”

Mahsa Samadi

Mahsa Samadi describes how she was “lost” in her ambitions to start up a jewellery business when she arrived at Middlesex University as an exchange student in Business Management (Innovation and Entrepreneurship) from the University of Siena in Italy.

“Some days I was very discouraged because I had little investment , I came here for only a few months and didn’t have any friends or connections, and also English is second language so there were a lot of issues,” she said.

“I owe Middlesex University and Simon Best so much thanks because Simon helped me with everything and shined a light on the path I should follow.”

Mahsa, who is originally from Iran and has an associate degree in Spanish and qualifications in Business Administration, said the mentoring workshops at MDX led by Simon proved invaluable.

After graduating from MDX last year, she has since launched a very successful jewellery business called Mahsa Jewellery with shops near the London Eye in Waterloo and in Camden Town.

The products include silver and stainless steel necklaces, earrings and rings with semi precious materials such as stone, topaz, amethys, garnet, opal sapphire and ruby.

Some products, which are all ethically sourced, are hand-made and specially designed by Mahsa and the business also provides a maintenance and repair service.

Every few months Mahsa returns to Turkey where she brings back materials.

She remains indebted to Dr Best for his tutorship.

“He is the best that’s why he is called Simon Best,” she added.

“He really inspired me a lot.

“At first I was lost but the mentoring started to alight something in my mind and little by little I moved to jewellery, went to workshops, made a business plan.

“I thought how can I become an entrepreneur without money, but now I understand how you can start with little and grow. Now the turnover is very good.”

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