Iqbal Wahhab on his commitment to mentoring through The Prince’s Trust

The founder of Roast on why the timing is right to mentor young entrepreneurs

“You’d hate me as a mentor! I’d make your life hell!”

Iqbal Wahhab is a man in demand, but despite the busy schedule he’s involved in a lot of grass-roots mentoring. Founder of Roast restaurant, a chair on the government’s Ethnic Minority Advisory Group and a trustee of the newly established Bright Ideas Trust, he is particularly committed to working with young people and does a lot with the Prince’s Trust.

He believes the timing is right for getting young people involved and interested in business: “It very much fits with the lean times we’re in. If there aren’t jobs out there, everyone wants to see social and community enterprises and young people who might be seen as hard to reach, to help them get off the dole and into work – and if that requires running their own business, then what better way can there be?”

As part of his work with the Prince’s Trust, he speaks with disadvantaged young teens about food and the restaurant business over breakfast in Roast, as well as taking them around the market and setting them various tasks in the restaurant. A lot of people apply for apprenticeships afterwards.

“Typically it starts off and all they’re ever interested in is the music business or sport. And when they hear that Kelly Roland was in Roast the other night, they start getting a bit more interested and then they learn how much money you make and they get even more interested! And by then, they don’t want to leave!”

Apart from hosting these inspirational breakfasts, Iqbal is also a financial contributor of the Prince’s Trust, with all of the profits from one of the tables in Roast always going to the charity. In addition, he is also involved with one of the Trust’s mentoring programs, Mosaic. He tells us he is uncompromising in his mentoring style:

“I visited some schools in North London and I met a group of boys: I thought at the time that though they were very bright, but they had a terrible attitude. So I sat down and I told them off! I said you need to stand up straight and shave, you need to be tidy, you need to speak properly. Otherwise, forget about becoming an architect or a doctor: you wouldn’t become a waiter in my restaurant!”

A tough style is a good thing in dealing out business advice though: and Iqbal’s involvement with Tim Campbell in the newly established Bright Ideas Trust, which will fund promising start-ups, will involve quite an amount of mentoring.

“The idea is to help young people – typically from the inner city, we launched it in Hackney – set up in business. What we’ll do is we’ll loan up to £20-25,000, which they have to pay back. We give them advice and access to the kind of help they never thought they could get!”  

In return for a 20% stake, the Bright Ideas team will be monitoring how participating start-up companies perform, and will give the entrepreneurs assistance in improving their business structure and legal arrangements, as well as helping with PR and marketing.

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