Brixton man swaps suit and tie for t-shirt and trainers and is now changing the business world

The typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work environment is fine for many people, but it’s becoming an outdated concept that you have to wear a suit and tie to make an impact in the business world. Akil Benjamin, from Brixton, tried the traditional day job idea but never felt quite comfortable with it.

The 28-year-old was getting anxious thinking he had to wake up in the morning and commute, and wearing a suit and tie was not normal for him. Having had a flair for business from an early age, he took the plunge when he was just 18 and started his own business working with Waltham Forest Council, Nike and M&C Satchi to develop new products and services.

Now he’s using his own success to help other start-ups, with a particular focus on supporting black business owners to level the playing field and ensure they thrive.

READ MORE: “I was homeless and didn’t even know how to make a cup of tea when I came to the UK – now I’m a chef”

Akil knew he could ‘offer more than a suit and tie’ and would have more impact without it

He told MyLondon: “I used to show up to places in a suit and tie and that wasn’t me. Now I show up in a t-shirt and trainers and that’s who you are. going to receive and I know that I “will have even more impact than anything else. There’s still a lot to do on this journey, but I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.”

He added: “I used to be petrified report to work in the morning for a 9-5. I used to be very anxious. I have always been intrigued by entrepreneurship, so I decided almost 10 years ago to take the plunge. If I worked a 9-5, people wouldn’t see the value in me – I was scared, anxious and thought I had a lot to give but I didn’t know how to express myself.”

In 2019, he launched DOES, a social enterprise, and partnered with M&C Saatchi for Saturday School to help support almost 5000 people to start, develop and grow their business in three years. Akil started the M&C Satchi Saturday School to teach the communities that need it most the basics of trading. The idea was that rather than trying to step in and help individual businesses, he would run free classes for women of color and people between the ages of 16 and 25 to give the most marginalized people the skills they needed to succeed in business on their own.

A crowd listens to one of the Mentor Black Business sessions at Somerset House
One of the Mentor Black Business sessions at Somerset House

He said, “I remember doing it [running my own business] and my friends were like, ‘How are you? How do you do a business? I realized that if I tried to help everyone individually, I wouldn’t have time to focus on myself.”

After doing this work and helping teach thousands of people, her classes took on more prominence in the summer of 2020. As the tragedy of George Floyd gripped the world and protests took place, Akil realized he could do more for black communities in particular. He said: ” When George Floyd arrived, I asked myself ‘how can I help more people the same way I was helped in business? I have all the access and support I need, how could I do this for hundreds and thousands of other people? “That’s when I decided to start Mentor Black Businesses (MBB).”

MBB, with the help of M&C Satchi as a platform, aims to help black business owners by connecting them with mentors and businesses from big organizations. Mentors cover industries such as music, technology, media and advertising. All of this helps business owners share their expert knowledge.

Akil Benjamin, founder of Mentor Black Business
Akil Benjamin always knew he could do more with the life he was given. Now he helps the most disadvantaged people realize their potential

MBB provides or connects people with masterclasses, personal mentors, and a library of resources for success. They have partnered with Somerset House, Lloyds Banking Group and Morgan Stanley to name a few under their Black Business Incubator program. Akil is now looking to expand MBB’s reach to other groups that need support.

Akil said, “I don’t want to wait until I’m rich so everyone can feel the joy. I have the opportunity to give it to them today, so I really should. There’s a systemic bias to through health care, benefits support, who is more likely to be in poverty, who is more likely to be a working class citizen, who is more likely to have health problems based on the where they live – black communities pretty much top most lists.

“To keep up with the times, we recognize that black communities need support and will always be the primary group we serve – but with the cost of living crisis, inflation, Covid – we know the the whole world also needs help. The question is can we expand our reach to disadvantaged working class and minority communities, not just black communities? This makes room for those from other backgrounds who are face these challenges to be able to participate in the program as well.

Do you have a story you think we should cover? If yes, please email [email protected]

Elizabeth J. Harless