InspirEngage International and The Apprentice: Melody Hossaini

The former Apprentice candidate tells Startups her advice for entrepreneurs – and what she really does for a living

Melody Hossaini is the director of InspirEngage International and a former contestant of 2011’s The Apprentice series … in which she made it into the final five. Having worked in the youth sector since she was 13, Hossaini founded her business in March 2009 at the age of 24. InspirEngage International focuses on equipping young people with the skills to set up their own enterprises and launch successful careers.

Hi Melody. Before we begin, for our – and Lord Sugar’s – sake, could you clarify what InspirEngage International does?

We’re a consultancy company, so we deliver services for organisations. Whether it’s youth engagement, support, working with young people directly,we lend our services to causes that support young people. We’ve always been very keen on informal education, which is all the skills like leadership, communication skills, project management. Essentially I run it [InspirEngage International] singlehandedly, but I bring people on board who are fantastic and who help me with lots of different things.

What’s the most valuable business advice you’ve ever been given?

The most valuable advice that I’ve been given was by my father, and as cliché as it sounds, it’s really helped me: ‘just be yourself’. A lot of people may see someone’s path to success and almost try to copy it. Although that can sometimes work, more times than not you’ll find that you’ll have your own path to success – your very personal path. So, being yourself and being proud of what you bring to the world, is a great lesson to learn.

What did your time on The Apprentice teach you about being a successful entrepreneur?

I would say that it teaches you to be true to who you are and how you work. The Apprentice is a TV programme and it’s a very pressurised, short time. Sometimes being involved in things like that – that gets nine million viewers every week – can distract you away from what you love and what you should be utilising that platform for. Following the show I’ve been able to utilise that platform that I was given by connecting to so many… particularly young girls, who are sometimes difficult to engage in business. So that’s been really fantastic. I was the first ever social entrepreneur on The Apprentice, so being able to do that, I am very grateful for it.

Since you left the Apprentice process, have you been offered any career opportunities?

I think people are very clear about the fact that I love my business and I wouldn’t take up a job, or give up my business and what I do. For me, if I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t be a social entrepreneur. So I’m very clear about the fact that I want to stay with InspirEngage International, but because we are a consultancy company and we rely on contracts, I’ve been offered several really fantastic and valuable contracts with great benefits for our beneficiaries, which are young people. These are the contracts we’re working on so it’s really exciting times.

Did you learn anything new during the Apprentice process that you would insight to the young people you work with?

I think the one thing that I did learn is how much you can achieve in the space of a day. We got up at 4.30am – which I don’t necessary recommend, but we did – and during a day we would come up with a concept, we would do branding, we would do a pitch to sell it. In the space of a day it’s incredible how much you can achieve and, if you use your time well, how far you could get.

In light of the recent UK riots, how do you think getting young people engaged with starting their own businesses helps to keep them out of trouble?

I don’t think anybody grows up saying “I want to go and rob trainers when I’m older.” No-one wants to do these things and I think that it’s about young people having a purpose and hope. Hope and aspiration are the things that are the last to go so, once you lose that, that’s where the challenges begin in terms of engaging young people and making them believe again – whether it’s in the system or whether it’s in themselves. I’ve always said, you can throw all the opportunities in the world at young people but if you don’t give them the necessary support, in terms of perhaps skills development or giving them the right sorts of platforms, then some of these opportunities can be futile.

What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to start up their own enterprise?

I always refer to my personal cornerstones. One, have a clear vision. If you don’t know the destination then you may not get there. The second thing is passion. Passion drives me every day to do what I do. And three, plan. You need a clear plan. How are you going to do it? Ask yourself the questions in terms of time scales, in terms of who do you need to get involved in your project. So those three things: vision, passion, plan.

What are your hopes for InspirEngage moving forwards?

I think for InspirEngage International this year, a priority is supporting young people into employment. We are going to be launching an opportunity where we’re going to be giving away complimentary courses for qualifications, with a guaranteed job. I can’t say too much at the moment but I would say for young people, if they’re interested, to join up to my Facebook and Twitter, where I’m going to be posting lots of different opportunities.

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