It all began after a rather dramatic minute countdown.

Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk guided the flash mob onto the stage. One by one, they each emerged from their seat within the audience to form the Kayzer Dance Group. Clad in smart business attire, they had the audience clapping along in excitement. Break dancing and moving, pumping up the crowd and preparing us for the interactive day ahead.

Wanna Be An Entrepreneur is an annual conference of sorts founded by Baiju Solanki, with aims to motivate young entrepreneurs and get them networking with each other. This year, on Friday 16th January 2015, Wanna Be An Entrepreneur was held at the Skylark Hotel by Southend Airport. The event saw approximately 230 “wannabe entrepreneurs” all dressed sharp and ready to soak up millions of pounds’ worth of entrepreneurial knowledge. Our first lesson of the day: sometimes you make your own luck just by turning up.

Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

We were told to open up our Wanna Be An Entrepreneur goodybags, filled with helpful pamphlets and bits and bobs (like a single party popper – which my cat thoroughly enjoyed later at home), and find the Brights Locksmiths keyring. If there was a key on your keyring then you won a free copy of Baiju Solanki’s book, “I’m An Entrepreneur – Get Me Out Of Here!”. Though luck is random, you still need to be at the right place at the right time to even have a chance at winning at anything in life. Point well made, and it certainly set the tone for the remainder of the day. Make your own luck, meet new people, take chances, and recognise opportunities when they are right in front of you.

Erkan Ali: How To Get Anything You Want

Erkan Ali at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Image credit: Muselight

First up: Erkan Ali. A very friendly, likeable personality who asked us who we wanted to be if money was no object. Following on nicely from Baiju Solanki’s introduction, he explained that the world is full of opportunity and we just have learn to see it. Successful entrepreneurs not only learn how to see these opportunities that others don’t, but they also learn how to take them. It’s no good recognising a good opportunity in front of you but not doing anything about it; we have to make choices. He played a clip of that popular philosophical scene in the movie The Matrix, where Neo is presented with a choice between taking the red pill and the blue pill. Erkan Ali told us that life is full of these “blue pill / red pill” moments and that, as an entrepreneur, you need to develop a resilience to being uncomfortable. You need to be ready to adapt without hesitating. He briefly summarised the story of (personally one of my favourite books growing up) Who Moved My Cheese?, and how entrepreneurs can learn a thing or two from having their cheese moved….

Rich With: Brand It Big

Rich With at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Image Credit: @ciftcitfw

Rich With was the second speaker of the day at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015 with his talk on big branding, “Major Player Ideas to Small Firm Application”. Rich With is a local graphic designer based in Leigh-on-Sea. He discussed how big brands use marketing to trigger emotions in their audience, from the way in which Black Friday was introduced to the UK to how Star Wars has so successfully thrived from generation to generation. Rich With discussed how entrepreneurs should strive to come up with ideas to make the world a better or happier place, and the importance of maintaining brand presence – not only to build visibility to the brand but to build brand loyalty, effectively earning that all important real estate in the thoughts of the customer or consumer. He explained how brands can use their existing fan base to further market their product, and that it is important to find your “nerds” to help you achieve that.

Julian Hall: Entrepreneur to Ultrapreneur

Julian Hall at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Julian Hall invited eight people to stand up from the audience and make their way onto the stage for his talk, where each guest on stage represented a different emotional aspect of entrepreneurship. He showed us how these eight things help us to think like an entrepreneur, but more importantly, how they can help us to achieve our dreams. Julian Hall is a business coach, author and speaker – and is known for breeding these “ultrapreneurs”.

Thomas Power: Making It Online

Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Thomas Power‘s talk was particularly captivating, and certainly had the whole room erupting in laughter. But as one Tweeter cleverly Tweeted, the speaker should never be upstaged by his own presentation. Nevertheless, whether Thomas Power was upstaged or not, the demonstration effectively supported his message. And perhaps his brief supposed upstaging only served to support his message further. It was a clever, if not a little bit cheeky, attempt at making #WBAE a trending hashtag on Twitter. It was a bit of a “real time brand building” social experiment, in every sense of the word. By displaying a live TweetDeck stream of the hashtag #WBAE on the big screens, the entire audience were able to (over-)enthusiastically participate in an active social discussion using their phones to Tweet. Unknowingly at first demonstrating how social media virality occurs, with everyone in the room wanting to have their say, or have their photo seen on the big screen or just make everybody laugh with a silly captioned image. It felt as though for ten minutes, we were all reverted back to children in a classroom all trying to outdo each other. But, like the actively social consumers that we are, we all fell for the trap. The same trap that big brands pull on us all the time.

Thomas Power is a social media expert who, unlike a lot of the self-proclaimed social superstars out there, actually deserves to be called a social media expert. You see, Thomas Power has quite the online reputation, boasting rank number one worldwide for written LinkedIn Testimonials and posted Endorsements. He is actually one of the most connected people on LinkedIn, having networked on the social platform since 2002. But, as Thomas Power said himself, “The winner of the game is the one with all the names”. And that is the true power of networking. Aside from LinkedIn, he has a pretty impressive history of internet activity throughout the past couple of decades. Which you can browse on his LinkedIn…

Farah Idris: Be Fearless

Farah Idris at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Image Credit: @kelliejones37 & @wendywoomas

Farah Idris is an amazing woman with an amazing story. Interviewed by Baiju Solanki on stage, stories unravelled that left the audience silent in shock and awe. You could have heard a mouse sigh in the room whilst she told of her family background and tragedy, the struggles that she has had to face throughout her life, and how instead of wallowing in it she has come to have a greater appreciation of life. Despite there being one thing after another, she has learnt to be fearless. The treacherous road to overcoming fear doesn’t look easy though! Farah Idris has spent the past few years conquering mountains… Literally!

  • In 2011, Farah climbed Mount Kilimanjaro raising £13,000.
  • In 2012, Farah ran the London Marathon raising £7000.
  • In 2013, Farah attempted to climb Mount Everest raising £25,000. And though she couldn’t get to the summit, that in itself taught her valuable life lessons.
  • In 2014, Farah completed a 250 mile North Pole Trek raising £12,000.

This April, Farah Idris will be taking part in the Marathon des Sables 2015; 6 marathons in 5 days…. in the Sahara desert! She will be carrying everything with her during those 6 marathons. That means her food, her clothes, everything. Farah Idris really puts things into perspective, and she is an absolutely phenomenal inspiration. Conquering her fears whilst raising money for charity. For Marathon des Sables 2015, Farah is trying to raise £20,000. If you want to support Farah, please visit her Just Giving page and Tweet with the hashtags #MdSAngels and #FearlessFarah.

Sammy Blindell: How to Build a Buzz Around Your Brand

Sammy Blindell at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Image Credit: @ciftcitfw

Sammy Blindell is an experienced brand strategist, so she definitely knows a thing or two about creating a buzz. Upon introducing herself on stage, she immediately gets everybody in the audience to jump out of their seat and scream and shout with a ferocious amount of positive energy. That is, after all, her job. She asked the audience what they wanted to be known for, and then told them to focus on that. Be known for just one thing, and everything else can be introduced later. Sammy Blindell gave us examples of how business can be fun, and that in this generation money really shouldn’t be an obstacle anymore. Use creativity; not budget. One example was the popular Will It Blend lot over at Blendtec. How they were able to build a brilliant viral campaign, that is still enormously popular, without having to spend a shedload of cash.

James “Jimbo” Sinclair: The Millionaire Clown

James Sinclair at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015The eccentric millionaire clown, also known as James “Jimbo” Sinclair, brought extreme amounts of anarchic energy to the room when he appeared on stage at Wanne Be An Entrepreneur 2015 as an unannounced special guest speaker. Bringing with him two huge soft inflatable cylindrical things (no idea what they were…. wands?) and getting the audience to chuck them around the room. If there was a point to this, it was lost on me – I was far too distracted with the inflatable wand thingamajigs flying over my head. Great fun. James “Jimbo” Sinclair, for those who don’t know, is the brilliant man behind The Partyman Company and Partyman World of Play. He is the original Partyman, and now lives in a farmhouse at Marsh Farm. Because, oh yes, he took over the financially failing Marsh Farm from Essex County Council a couple of years ago and has since increased its visitor numbers. Another success story for his ever-growing empire!

What I really admired about “Jimbo the Partyman” was not just the way in which he holds the crowd as an entertainer, but how informative he was as a speaker. His energy and his brilliant on-stage presence merely paved the way for his talk. It wasn’t just a motivational presentation on how you can do anything you set your mind to; he delivered valuable information about how you will need to borrow money to make your dream work. How you need objective strategy tactics – “Goals are bollocks without a vision”. How experience has led him to see that seasonal trends in some industries require a deep analysis into multiple streams of income as insurance. And that branding is all well and good but, if you’re still small-time, focus should primarily be SALES SALES SALES. Brand visibility should be a by-product.

Billy Schwer: Why a Winner Never Quits

Billy Schwer at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Billy Schwer was the last speaker of the day. He asked us all a familiar question. One that we had been asked multiple times already throughout the day: What do we want in life? But this time it was different. This time the question was followed by a heartfelt personal life story about persistence. How if we really want something, we have to persist. Billy Schwer is a former professional boxer, and his talk was about how you have to fight for what you want. Brimming with boxing metaphors and analogies for business, Billy Schwer’s bouncy manner on stage gave way to an inspirational tale of seemingly endless disappointment that really hit home before he finally gets to the happy ending. Over the course of twenty years, Billy Schwer desperately tried and tried again to become the world champion boxer. His second attempt even saw him at Las Vegas, his name literally flashing in lights on the MGM Grand – the biggest hotel in the world at the time. He lost. Then he tried again at Wembley Arena. Lost again. It was not until his fourth attempt, after a change of direction and strategy (upping his weight class), did he eventually win. He held his belt up on stage with pride, “It took me 20 years to win this poxy belt”. But that’s what he wanted in life. So what do you want in life?

The Live Pitch at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Live Pitch at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Image Credit: @BaijuSolanki

As well as all of these fantastic speakers throughout the day, there was also a Live Pitch section of the day where four lucky entrepreneurs, who had earlier submitted their business ideas to Wanna Be An Entrepreneur, were given the opportunity to present themselves in front of the audience. In a Dragons’ Den like fashion, each wannabe entrepreneur had just four minutes to pitch their business idea to the Wanna Be An Entrepreneur judges, in front of everyone. Nerves were definitely on show, but each of the pitchers presented their ideas fantastically, and responded fantastically during the Q&A grilling after their pitch. If their idea won, they could win a £5000 business package to help kick-start their business. This includes a website, logo design and business/financial coaching for 6 months as they get their business going.

Later on in the day, just before the Closing Comments of the event, the judges gave the entrepreneurs their feedback, financially and in regards to scalability.  Sam Burnham won the business package with his Porch Honey business idea, derived from his existing hobby of making honey with his family on the porch. It was beautiful, and he was so brave in front of the huge audience. Well deserved, and I wish him all the best on his new entrepreneurial adventure.

Could you pitch your business idea in front of this lot? Well, could you?

Steve Lilly WBAE Twitter

Image Credit: @shrimper25

Performances & Special Guests at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Special Guests at Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2015

Image Credit: @AnnaHeimUK & @HummingbirdPY

Breaking up such a fantastic day, we watched a number of talented performers on-stage. The Kayzer dance group was first to head on stage, showing off their amazing dance routine with a hidden celebrity within the group. But we also saw Khafi Kareem performing a live spoken word poetry, with her amazing YouTube video of the same poem being played in the background. It was moving. Local singer, Jordan James, performed a couple times during the day – once after lunch with “Together We Run”, then again with a fantastic rock number “Addiction” as we waited for the Live Pitch result. You can check him out on Soundcloud here. A wonderful treat to behold though was Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist, Kieran Lai, with his Tin Man dance routine. Did not know that bodies could move like that. Just wow.

Looking forward to next year’s Wanna Be An Entrepreneur! Well done and thank you to Baiju Solanki for organising such an amazing local event, and for inviting us along! Wanna Be An Entrepreneur goes beyond just a motivational conference; it was an enjoyable learning experience and a great way to create new connections.

Read about Wanna Be An Entrepreneur 2016!