Entrepreneurship is often celebrated for wealth creation and we’re constantly reading about entrepreneurs building innovative new businesses. One of the finest forms of entrepreneurship is when it is directly used to help people who are less fortunate. Today’s article features William Adoasi, an entrepreneur who is aiming to fund education in Africa through jewellery, an industry which has historically robbed the continent.
Council Estate To Boarding School
William’s journey began in a council estate in South London as the oldest of 7 children in his family. “South London was particularly rough” when William was growing up but his Dad was driven to ensure his children did well. Through lots of tutoring and studying William won a scholarship to attend a prestigious boarding school in the midlands, very far away from the hustle and bustle of South London. His arrival at boarding school would be the first time he really felt like a minority as one of the only black people in the school. He soon joined the Rugby team and whilst boarding schools would normally play against other private schools in one particular game they played a local state school. They lost the match and William recalls one of his teammates shouting at the other school children “council estate scum!” without realising William was from a council estate. This realisation that the playing field is far from level set in motion the desire to make a difference and help people.
After spending 5 years in the midlands William moved back down to London for 6th form and soon after got a place at university. However, he found himself hardly working on his course with all his time consumed by a new business idea. The UK government had recently assigned funding to schools so they could tackle an obesity crisis. William realised he had many friends who were qualified to teach physical education and schools were in need of teachers. He began running workshops in schools, first through his friends and then started recruiting people. The business turned over £160k in 3 years which wasn’t bad for someone in their late teens. However, in order to build the business, he had to drop out of university, something he didn’t tell his very education-focused parents about until a few months later.
One of the most unfortunate things in business is when an external factor impacts your success and after a few years running the workshops the government decided to pull the funding and William’s business model was broken. He found himself in a day job working as an insurance broker in the city and then a recruitment consultant.
The Start of Vitae And An Encounter With Richard Branson
Whilst William states the sales skills he picked up in his job are invaluable until today he grew frustrated at work and felt he should be doing something more meaningful. He long held a passion for fashion, particularly jewellery and watches. The idea of setting up a watch brand, particularly in an age where you can sell online direct to consumers came to mind but he wanted it to “be about more than the money”. Whilst he didn’t finish his university degree the first time around during his period working in sales he enrolled in a university evening course attending 3 days a week and got his degree. He didn’t have to do this but the enthusiasm for education that his Dad instilled in him never left. That enthusiasm comes from William’s Dad being the first person from their family in Ghana who could read and write. Reflecting on this, was when the idea of using Vitae to fund education, something which has been life changing for his family came to mind. He convinced his wife that he could use the £7k they had put aside to go and build Vitae and he was off. Early on, he had to wear many hats working on design, photography, tech and much more.
Needing money for inventory he applied for a small loan from Virgin Startup Loans. Of the 10,000 people who applied William ended up being one of 2 people who won a prize to interview Richard Branson and be mentored by him. Richard Branson was so touched by William’s idea he decided to buy a watch from him on the spot and wears it most days
Funding And beyond
That £7k and the small startup loan from Virgin turned into over £150k of sales and soon after he received a place on Backstage Capital’s London Accelerator program and £82.5k funding. This was used to increase the number of watches from 4 to 18 and bring in to help with other areas of the business whilst he focuses on driving growth. In addition to the funding from Backstage William recently launched a Seedrs campaign for £75k. Aside from the money helping to grow the business, it’s extremely important for him that he can foster a community of people who really care about education in Africa to take the idea forward. Vitae has just reached its goal of £75k today and is still accepting funding with a view to bringing even more people than they had anticipated along on this mission.
As we wrap up our conversation William mentions the last 18 months have been the toughest for him. He’s had to balance a newborn baby alongside the unstable nature of a startup. However, he is more charged up than ever with some great product launches coming over the next few months. As someone who was born in one of the poorest countries in Africa myself, I really appreciate what William is doing and I’m sure he’ll go on to succeed and impact many lives across the continent.