Blessing Maregere, 18, started his own contract cleaning company at the age of 16. Since then, he has founded Bright Futures Enterprise, a social enterprise aiming to inspire, educate and motivate young people to become successful. He has also written the business book 'Who Said You Can't be Young and Successful'. In this Q&A, Blessing gives us an idea as to what it's like to be a young entrepreneur.

Q: At the young age of 16, what inspired you to start your own business?

A: When I was taking my final GCSE exam, which was maths (a subject I always struggled with), I became worried I had failed. So I started to think of what I was going to do if I had failed my GCSEs. I tried to find a part time job but most companies didn’t reply to my applications and the ones that did rejected me. So I decided to set up a contract cleaning company and offer cleaning services to offices, schools and student halls.

Q: What challenges did you encounter when starting up your first business, Essential Cleaning Services, and how did you overcome them?

A: Due to being so young, I faced a lot of challenges when I set up Essential Cleaning Company. One was when the bank refused to open a business bank account for me because I was 16 and not 18 years old.
I also didn’t have support from my family. My mother thought I was wasting my time and I should stop. This was a big challenge for me as you need that kind of support when you are just starting out. But I ignored all that and kept going because I enjoyed doing it.

Q: How did you market your business at the beginning?

A: At the beginning I created a website for the business and used word of mouth. Once a week I used to go to local offices and do a pitch to them about my services.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence?

A: I would say my biggest influence is Theo Paphitis. He came from a difficult background and he has got dyslexia, however he ignored all that and changed his life around. His story inspires me into believing I can do it too!

Q: Do you think that a person has to have certain characteristics to be an entrepreneur?

A: I believe being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. An entrepreneur has got to have passion for their ideas, and the determination to keep going until they make it, no matter what challenges they face along the way. You need to be prepared to work longer hours and be committed otherwise it’s not going to work.

Q: Where did the idea of Bright Futures Enterprise come from?

A: I got the idea for Bright Futures Enterprise when I realised there are a lot of young people out there who have the potential to become entrepreneurs but lack self-belief. So our mission at BFE is to inspire, educate and motivate young people to become successful entrepreneurs. We run enterprising events and show young people that if I can do it you can too. In March next year we will be running an event for young people called The Young Start-up Show which will hopefully inspire young people to become entrepreneurs.

Q: You mentioned that you are organising the Young Start-up Show. What will this event involve and why should prospective entrepreneurs attend?

A: The Young Start-up show is the event of the year for aspiring young entrepreneurs. The main aim is to inspire, educate and motivate young people to become successful entrepreneurs.
We are still finalising the event's programme, however I can currently tell you that the event will feature:
  • Stands and Activities from companies who support young entrepreneurs
  • Free business advice for entrepreneurs and networking opportunities
  • High profile guest speakers sharing their entrepreneurial journey
This event is free for young people who want to be entrepreneurs.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

A: In future I hope to be doing what I am doing now: making money, making a difference and having fun.

Q: What is the best thing about being a young entrepreneur?

A: I would say the best thing is that you are your own boss. I enjoy deciding what I want to do and when to do it. Another great aspect is that if you want to take a day off you don’t need to ask for permission -it’s your business, you are in control.

Q: What is the worst thing about being an entrepreneur?

A: In my experience, the worst thing about being an entrepreneur is that most people don’t believe that you can make it. However I see people like this as a motivation to prove them wrong. But you will always meet people who think you are wasting your time.

Q: Do you feel starting up a business at such a young age has meant you have missed out on some teenage experiences?

A: Yes, I have missed out on some aspects of adolescence, however I realised it’s always good to start-up young as I have more time, no bills or kids to look after. I used my age as an opportunity, not as a barrier.

Q: What advice would you give to businesses that may be struggling in the recession?

A: I would say that you need to be prepared for a change in your organisation; the change could come now or later. Anything can happen in this recession, so prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Q: What stops you from giving up on your business ventures when you are frustrated?

A: I do get frustrated sometimes, with how much work and hours I do, but I just think about the future to motivate myself. I want to be having fun, making money and making a difference and that keeps me going.

Q: This year you joined several other young entrepreneurs to launch a new social enterprise Not Just Us Leeds, which focusses on raising awareness of fair trade business and poverty. Why do you think raising awareness fair trade is so important, and how does Not Just Us Leeds plan on doing so?

A: A lot of farmers are being exploited and their produce undervalued which is unfair and unethical. We want to make people aware of this injustice and encourage fair trade in Leeds. Not Just Us Leeds is a youth led social enterprise that aims to change the way people shop by buying fair trade products.
The social enterprise was set up in January 2011 since then we have been running events, raising awareness in the community about fair trade and developing our own brand, trading directly with farmers across the world.
We have developed our own brand of fair trade products that range from rice, coffee, tea, chocolate bars and hot chocolate. The products will be launching in January were people and businesses can buy from our online shop. We are also in talks with one of the main UK supermarkets to put our products on their shelves.

Q: If you could give future young entrepreneurs 3 pieces of advice what would they be?

A: Network: Networking is the key to success –it’s not about what you know it’s about who you know. So I would advise you to go out there and network with likeminded people. You never know who you can meet.
Get a business mentor: when starting up in business you will be lonely so I would advise you get a business mentor that will guide you and help you succeed.
Do what you love and love what you do! You need passion to make your dreams a success -without passion it will never work.