For the first time in a long time, I actually felt nervous walking up to the podium this week to collect The Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Award for the North. I was already chuffed to bits having collected the “Entrepreneur for Good” award on behalf of our amazing teams at SingleMuslim.com and Penny Appeal. Before the closing of the glitzy ceremony, the infamous GoCompare opera singer, Wynee Evans, announced there would be an overall winner across the ten award categories and I was left speechless when they called my name out – ‘Adeem Younis, The NatWest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ – I had to pinch myself.
The Great British Entrepreneur Awards celebrate the hard work and inspiring stories of businesses across the UK. Now in its fifth year, with stiff competition from over a 1000 entries nationwide, these awards represent the crème de la crème of Britain’s Entrepreneurial best.
Taking home the most coveted prize of the night meant more to me this time than ever before. My social media erupted with commendations and congratulations flying in from all over the world. One of the phrases that filled up my notifications was “role model” another was “trailblazer” – big words that I hadn’t really reflected on before.
A role model is ultimately someone you hold in esteem that you also can identify with. When I was young, the only people I identified with, in so far as a business role model, were taxi drivers and restaurant owners and if you were really successful you might be a taxi driver who owned a restaurant! With my father passing away when I was young, God have Mercy on his soul, and my mother just about making ends meet, real commercial success was hardly something people of my generation aspired to.
Whilst I never got around to driving a taxi, unless carting the kids around counts, true to my inspirations in my early 20s I set up my own restaurant and even pioneered Britain’s first ‘Chocolate Curry,’ which went down as well as it sounds. (Not very well!)
What made a huge difference for me was having the courage to step out of my own comfort zone and into the unknown. Through opportunities at Wakefield College I ended up doing an internship at ITV Studios in Leeds.
Through hard work and determination that internship became a job where I picked up essential skills and the confidence to start my own business, SingleMuslim.com – you guys know the rest of the story!
Winning these awards and stepping up to that podium, having been acknowledge by veteran Judges from the CEO of JustEat.co.uk to Toni (from Toni&Guy), felt like breaking through another glass ceiling. To have a British Muslim of Pakistani extraction recognised at this level, with a company that couldn’t be more overtly Muslim, is a big deal, not just for me, but for our communities too. Just like Tony and Ron at Wakefield College, who set up that internship for me, there are people outside our communities who recognise potential and can help open new and exciting opportunities.
We’ve come a long way with SingleMuslim, even further with Penny Appeal and I know we’ve got an even longer way to go. But when I think of the young British Muslims in their teens or 20s, maybe even reading this now, instead of their bar being set at taxi drivers and restaurant owners, perhaps now they might aspire to be the ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ and if they dare to grow beyond their comfort zones? They’d trump all I might hope to achieve and I couldn’t be prouder for them.
Ultimately a role model is someone you look up to and someone you hold in high regard. If I’m ever worthy of that title, I can only hope to be a springboard for even greater successes, so that those who come after us might be able to do more, serve more and become more than we can ever imagine.