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‘Giving something back’ – Black and Minority Business Leaders’ Forum set for first event

The Black and Minority Business Leaders’ Forum will hold its inaugural event at the Helix in Newcastle next month.

The forum, which plans to hold a monthly event in the region, is the brainchild of Newcastle University alumni Sola Idowu, founder of HexisLab, which produces dermatological and pharmaceutical products, and is now a major global company.

Nigerian-born Sola, who graduated from Newcastle University in 2000, has been advising like-minded entrepreneurs from similar backgrounds on a personal level for many years, passing on the expertise he has gained while scaling his business.

He is now expanding that support and backing with the formation of the BBLF, aiming to create a networking platform which will facilitate collaboration among black and ethnic minority business leaders and encourage them to establish and grow businesses in Newcastle and the North East.

The first event will be held in The Catalyst, within the Helix, on Thursday, June 6, from 4pm, with speaker David Adenekan, a UK-based management consultant, who will provide a talk and workshop on leadership.

Sola, whose background includes studying at Cambridge and Stanford universities, and time at NASA and Shell before setting up his own company, said BBLF wants to help entrepreneurs navigate the business world, from start-up to scale-up, with like-minded peers and experts.

Sola says: “I know there are many brilliant guys from Africa who come over to the UK, who have wonderful entrepreneurial ideas but do not understand the system and how things work here, and I can see they are missing out on a lot of opportunities.

“It can be very difficult to navigate the landscape, and the forum is designed to help businesses on their journey and create an environment which brings people together, promotes dynamic discussions, shares practical insights and inspirational stories which reflect the diversity of our communities.

“Over the years I’ve provided support on a one-to-one basis to so many individuals – African guys who are brilliant at what they do but just do not understand the system and how things work within the UK business world.

“If they aren’t thriving in their academic or professional careers, it is not because they’re not hardworking or don’t have the ideas or the desire to succeed, but a lot of the time they don’t have the know-how to survive in this environment, never mind thrive.

“I’m also learning myself, and I have limited knowledge and don’t have all the answers.

“I’ve made a lot of contacts and friends, here in the UK and internationally, who I know can help and contribute and assist in helping.

“We want to create a support environment they can be part of, meet people with like-minded skills and grow together, and also it is a celebration of our diversity, resilience and innovation in the North East and all we’ve got in this region, because I know these people are out there and we want to give them a voice.”

Sola, who recently attended a Buckingham Palace garden party with wife Elizabeth, says future BBLF events will centre on a range of subjects to assist members, including branding, marketing, sales, business development and expansion, and many other areas with workshops provided by guest speakers and experts.

His own company HexisLab, established ten years ago, continues to go from strength to strength after securing nearly £500,000 funding from Innovate UK in the last year, which has helped his Helix-based team develop and scale manufacturing processes to replace traditional synthetic and animal-derived product ingredients in cosmetic and hair products with environmentally-friendly alternatives.

The company has launched in India and Africa, and is involved in a number of new collaborations, including work alongside Teesside University and BiBerChem, as it reaches into the ever-growing consumer demand in a global market, a market which is expected to be worth more than $600 billion by the end of next year.

And as his own enterprise expands from the Helix and into an untapped global market, Sola has never been keener to help others navigate the difficult roads to business success.

He adds: “There is no better time to do this.

“You have to do it when you have the capacity to do it, and this is a way for me to contribute something back to an environment and ecosystem that has sustained me.

“It is not without challenges, and I have wounds from how not to do things and how you have to navigate the culture, society and business world.

“I have been around for 20 years in Newcastle, and I have seen many black people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds who have tried to succeed but just given up.

“I know of one other person who is doing well – he’s coming to the forum – and he has tales of woe and frustration after having to deal with a system which is set against you as a black person – because it is hard to understand and there is prejudice in the system.

“If you want to succeed, it is doubly harder.

“Entrepreneurs needs perseverance to deal with setbacks and blows, and it is hard enough to succeed as a start-up; you need even more perseverance as a black entrepreneur, which is often why you don’t see many flourishing.

“But I love a challenge.

“The difficulty itself is what spurs me on.

“It’s like chess; if you have a difficult opponent, you work on a different strategy to win, and this is the goal of teaching black entrepreneurs – if you look at a problem differently, you will find solutions.”

For more information on the Black and Minority Business Leaders’ Forum, and its first workshop, visit

May 31, 2024

  • Business & Economy

Created by Colin Young