In our latest podcast, we find out more about how Mickela Hall-Ramsay started her community interest company (CIC) as a young entrepreneur.
Sara Jones: Hi everyone. I'm Sara. I'm a Campaigns Manager at Companies House. Today I am joined by Mickela Hall-Ramsay who is the director of HR sports academy and today we’re going to be talking about her business as part of the #GetBizzy campaign.
So hi, Mickela, thank you for joining us today. And can you start by telling me a little bit about you and your company?
Mickela Hall-Ramsay: Yeah, as you said, my name is Mickela Hall Ramsey. I'm the founder and one of the company directors at HR Sports Academy.
I started up the business when I was 23 years old. So registered it as a CIC and have enjoyed the process ever so much, ever since. HR Sports Academy - we use sports to empower young people, we go into schools providing various different activities from running clubs, to after-school clubs, running P.E sessions, lunchtime sessions, literally everything throughout the whole day to really empower young people with skills which will allow them to develop and to just have fun and get fit, make new friends.
And then within the community as well, we do a number of activities. So we have a holiday camp which takes place during all school holidays. We have a youth club. We do competitive competitions, so we have teams that compete in leagues. We do tournaments, apprenticeships, traineeships, internships. It goes on and on, literally every and anything to support young people aged 3 up to the age of 23 years old.
SJ: So there's lots of stuff going on. What made you want to start your company in the first place?
MHR: So, I've loved sports from a very young age. I was studying sports science at university and in 2007, my sister sadly passed away. She had Down’s syndrome and throughout her whole life, I noticed that there were limitations placed on what she would be able to do. And literally through the support of my family and my friends, she was able to literally just smash all of the goals and pretty much live a normal life. When she passed away, it was obviously hard for me but youth crime at the time was really really high. And even though I was dealing with this tremendous pain, I couldn't imagine what families were going through when their loved ones were still young and they had been murdered.
Sport had been a massive part of my life and it had always kept me. I felt safe. It developed a load of skills within me. It was just an amazing thing that provided me with so many benefits and I just wanted to provide the same benefits to young people who were recklessly losing their lives.
So in 2008 after finishing my undergrad I did a project which basically allowed me to set up a basketball camp for young people. It kind of just got them to mix with others within the borough from different schools and just create cohesion within Haringey and I absolutely fell in love with the idea of being my own boss. After finishing my masters and working for the council for a year, I decided to take the risk and set up my own organisation. My mum had previously set one up, a community interest company that is in memory of my sister, so I kind of like, got spurred on and the idea of knowing that it was possible through seeing her do it herself.
SJ: So your mum inspired you quite a lot then?
MHR: Yeah, definitely.
SJ: And did you get any advice from anyone or any organisations before you started?
MHR: Yes, so obviously my mum was definitely one of the people that helped me and provided me with advice since she had literally just done it. I also used Business Links. I know it's not around anymore, but Business Links was really really helpful in terms of providing me with the step by step guides. Where I needed to go, what I needed to do and that's kind of I suppose where I found out about Companies House as well.
SJ: And did you get any funding to help you get things off the ground?
MHR: So when I formally registered as a CIC that allowed me to then access funding. So I suppose that allowed me to buy the balls, get some uniform and just pay for the coaching fees and other expenditures that I needed to help set up sessions.
Once I did that, then I was able to charge parents and charge the schools as they knew exactly what we were providing and were satisfied with it and kind of like just had faith in what we would do and knew that it was of value.
So yeah, I definitely did have funding at the beginning to start up. It was a bit of my own capital as well. So I had saved up quite a bit before I left my job and used that to really invest into the business.
SJ: And is there a particular reason you decided to register as a community interest company over another type?
MHR: Yes. A community interest company definitely stood out to me because it allowed me to apply for grants and gain that financial support, but still have financial independence in terms of, not having too many rules, what I had to file or loopholes which I had to jump through or just policies that I had to follow in order to run the business or monitor the business. And that allowed me to just get things going a lot quicker and I suppose feel more confident in terms of actually running the business and not being scared that I'm not doing this correctly or oh my gosh, I haven't done this and somebody's going to be knocking on my door. So that's probably one of the definite reasons why.
SJ: And when it actually came to registering your business, how did you find the entire process with Companies House?
MHR: The process was pretty straightforward, and it's been 10 years now, almost 10 years since I've been a registered company and it feels like a long long time ago since I actually sat down and done it. But I remember doing it by paper. So I know now (because I was trying to help my friend and set up an organisation) going online and seeing that pretty much everything could be done online. I know that would make things a lot easier, but even when I had to file the paper forms, it was pretty straightforward. The information packs were pretty comprehensive. So yeah, I would say go for it. And because it wasn't that bad then, I can only imagine it's a lot easier now.
SJ: At what point did you start to see the business take off?
MHR: I would say, I started to see the business taking off when a lot more schools were requiring our services. So a lot of schools were referring us to other schools, and parents were in demand. So I was the only person at the beginning and doing after school clubs pretty much and there's only 5 days in a week. So there was only 5 after school clubs that I could actually do.
So, knowing that say, there were 10 clubs that we needed a week, I knew that I needed to get an employee to deliver the other sessions and it was only then when I realised that I was kind of onto a winner and that the business was taken off because we needed to deliver more sessions to actually fulfil the need of the community.
SJ: And were you aware of all of the responsibilities that you would have as a director before you registered with Companies House?
MHR: I would say no.
I kind of, I suppose, had an idea and it seemed to be really really good, especially based on all the research that I had completed and working in sports when I was younger as well. It just seemed like pretty straightforward and I didn't realise I had to do the accounts and file them and complete the confirmation statement in addition to the other daily tasks of just being a director. I suppose like payroll and then submitting stuff to HMRC, managing staff, sorting out the insurance, the list is endless. It just goes on and on and on.
SJ: What would you say some of the biggest challenges are that you’ve faced when you've been setting up your company?
MHR: One of the biggest challenges I face, I would say, is finding the right employees. At the moment I’d say it's amazing because we have a lot of young people who have come through our services. So whether they’ve been ex-participants, volunteers or done work experience with us or something. Then training them up and getting them qualified. Because they've been through the whole system, in terms of worked with us and know the benefit of our services, they basically provide that same opportunity to others and they know our culture and what is expected. So it just works perfectly.
Whereas when I first started the organisation, even though we would have good coaches, and these are open quotes, even though we would have good coaches, they did not necessarily deliver the sessions in the way what that we would like. And that wouldn't necessarily reflect the image that I wanted. Or if they did something that did not necessarily sit right with me it was because I suppose, I was young as well and I didn't know how to manage people. So definitely employing the right person and training them and managing them was the challenge that I had when I set up the business.
Funding would be the next. Money I suppose is something that everybody finds challenging, regardless of what business you run. For me it was a lot of time that I spent on applying for grants and because it was so competitive you didn't necessarily get anything, so it’d just seem like a waste of time. But not even just that. Simply not having work done and invoices not being paid on time really affected the business because when we didn't have any reserves or anything, when money was there, it was literally making sure that employees were paid and bills were paid. So for instance, our rent, venue higher, insurance etc. Just to make sure that those expenses were covered and then myself would be paid last or when the money was available just to ensure that we could continue and run as a functioning business.
SJ: So, October is Black History Month. Would you say that you've encountered any obstacles in business being a black female?
MHR: I wouldn't say I've encountered any obstacles but I predominantly work in Haringey, and the neighbouring boroughs that we also work in, I feel that they're diverse. So they're used to black business owners I’d say. And a lot of the work that I've done with organizations or schools or parents, I've kind of known them already. So a lot of the research that I did when I was at university was with these schools or with these organisations. So kind of gaining access and contracts was pretty easy simply because that relationship had already been built.
But I suppose, as I grow as a businesswoman and I'm going to more high-profile events and meeting more high-profile professionals, honestly, I would say it maybe, not even maybe, it's likely, very likely, to be a challenge that I might face. But at the moment, I've been very fortunate and I haven’t.
SJ: So obviously you have a community interest company. So how important has the community support been in the success of your company so far?
MHR: I would say that the community support has been everything. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing at the moment. Simply attending our sessions, again the referrals from the schools, the parents or even the children telling their friends, has really allowed us to be where we are and the success that we are today.
Also we've received a number of nominations and won a number of high-profile awards and that recognition and that support that they give us then allows us to go on further and reach other people. So if it wasn't for our community, I'd definitely say we wouldn't be where we are. And yeah, thanks, whoever's listening.
SJ: Do you have any particular role models who have inspired you in business?
MHR: So like I said my mum set up a community interest company in memory of my sister and she would definitely be my biggest inspiration. Just seeing her do it, seeing the process that she went through and then obviously her providing me with that support. I would say going to different events. I'm inspired daily by a number of business owners and individuals just because of what they've achieved and it also allows me to see where I can go as well.
Famous people, I don't necessarily think there's any one person that stands out probably apart from Oprah Winfrey. Simply because she's been through a lot of adversity just for the background that she grew up in and being one of the richest if not the richest black woman in business. So what she's achieved is definitely amazing and inspiring.
SJ: And what would you say is the best thing about being your own boss?
MHR: The best thing about being my own boss, I suppose, is just having that creativity and being able to get on with what you want to do. I love sports and I love coming up with different projects and delivering different events, especially for young people. So not having to go through a process of ‘I have to ask this person and then that person’ and for that idea to be shot down is amazing because it just allows me to get on with doing what I know I'm really really good at.
And another benefit of being my own boss is just having that flexibility to kind of still live my life. So if I needed to go to the doctors, not having to ask for somebody to get time off or knowing that I couldn't get time off and just not taking care of myself.
My brother recently had a baby as well. So little things like him being able to go to every single doctor's appointment and being with his partner and his daughter is valuable because if we weren't the company owners, he would have to again miss those milestones and I think it's very important to have that work-life balance. Being my own boss allows me to do that.
SJ: Do you think that there's been one particular factor that's been really important in the success of your company?
MHR: Definitely partnerships are important in with regards to my success and the business as a whole. I’d definitely say the partnership that I have with my brother. So we're both the company directors. We're both the company directors and his support is invaluable. So he's there to bounce ideas off. He's there to take stress away. He's literally my rock and having that support from him and our team is so important.
So I think definitely having a team behind you is key. I always say teamwork makes the dream work. And that's not just being a sporty person. I think it's really important to have somebody there to provide you with help when you need it. And even sometimes when you don't think you need it, just having that support there.
And partnerships with other organizations, so one of our biggest partnerships I would say is with Haringey council. Little things like being able to use their ‘Supported By’ logo is key because it allows us to get into places because we are seen as a trusted organisation.
SJ: And would you say that there's one particular lesson that you've learned in business that's really important?
MHR: I'll definitely say delegation is one of the lessons that I've learned. I like to take on everything and do everything myself because I think I can do it right and I'm not going to be wasting time having to show somebody to do this, etc, etc. But taking on everything can be detrimental especially if you're not necessarily that right person to do it or if your time could be spent better elsewhere. So I'll definitely say that's one of the key lessons that I've learned.
And also just asking for help. So not being afraid to seek guidance. I had a mentor when I first started the business and I recently had a mentor, I’ve pretty much had a mentor throughout the whole process. And again, it's just having that support. So yeah, I'll definitely say having that support is key and would be one of the lessons that I've learned.
SJ: What advice would you give to any other young entrepreneurs that are maybe just starting out, or those who are maybe thinking about starting a business. Is there one piece of advice that you'd pass on to them?
MHR: I would say make sure you research your business idea. If you can, get some experience in the actual field. I love sports so I've been playing it and I've been working in it, and I've researched it. So that has helped me to kind of like get a full rounded knowledge of what I was going to do and step into.
Working in retail also helps because I was able to learn valuable skills in terms of working in customer service. So I'll definitely say research and experience is key. And if I was to add in anything else it would be to basically dream big and really work hard. There's that saying about working smarter instead of working hard, but if you're able to combine the 2 then you'll reach where you're able to and it could literally be the stars.
SJ: So speaking of dreaming big, how do you see the business growing. Or going from here on out?
MHR: So from here, I would love to see us in a lot more boroughs. So Haringey is our main borough, and we do a lot of work here in terms of our reach into schools and within the community and I would love that to be replicated in other neighbouring boroughs.
We should have our own buildings soon. So that will be lovely and I think that will allow us to develop what we do. So we do an apprenticeship scheme and it will allow us to have more cohorts coming in and working with us as opposed to just having one or two a year. So that will be amazing.
SJ: For more information about the #GetBizzy campaign, or to find out more about transforming your young entrepreneurship dreams into a reality, visit the Companies House website at companieshouse.gov.uk and follow us on social media.