Inspired in Nottingham – ITEMSeven

The entrepreneur
Olu Amodeni graduated in 2011 with an MSc in Entrepreneurship from The University of Nottingham and now runs ITEMSeven, an African Caribbean Takeaway based on University Park Campus. Olu developed his ability to spot opportunities for business while studying the MSc which lead him to identify a gap in the current food offerings on campus.

Once university fees for students went up, Olu recognised that universities need to be competitive and that one way to do that is through the catering services that they offer. Olu wrote to the Catering Services Director explaining that he could fill the current gap for African Caribbean food and says he was “in the right place at the right time” as catering services were struggling to find suppliers outside of Chinese food providers. Olu went on to set up ITEMSeven with business partner Jumoke Olufeko in 2011 as a partnership arrangement with the University which included their investment in the equipment that Olu needed to get started.

The mentor
David Park is Managing Director of Eminate Limited, a company specialising in sourcing and commercialising novel ideas related to food, ingredients and animal feed. David’s passion is running small companies linked to innovation and he has a wealth of experience in this area. David studied at The University of Nottingham for his three degrees in Engineering and Science, including his PhD, before working with a spin-out company developing satellite navigation systems and solutions. After coming back to the University for a stint as a senior research fellow, David decided to go back into business and set up his first company in New Zealand. After spending three and a half years abroad, David came back to the UK and was invited to review some of the University’s spin out companies. Eminate was one of these companies and David eventually took over the running of the company which he has now been doing for two years.

ITEMSeven - Olu Amodeni & David Park

Why Inspired in Nottingham?

Two years into running his business, Olu felt that the business could benefit from some fresh ideas and wanted to find new ways to grow the business. The obvious progression would be to increase the capacity of the restaurant to serve more people but this doesn’t necessarily lead to a high growth in profit because of increased costs. Olu said: “I thought that working with a mentor would help me to think outside the box. I have my vision of where the business ought to go but it’s difficult to spot other opportunities because I’m now so immersed in the business.”

As well as being passionate about innovation, David is also keen to support early stage businesses, and the Inspired in Nottingham programme facilitated this process for him. David offered to help apply focus and advise the young entrepreneurs based on his past experiences: “I understand what it’s like when you’ve got a blank sheet of paper and not even any furniture and you’ve got to make something go. I know what it’s like when you’ve got 6 weeks’ worth of money left, or even no money left!”
ITEMSeven’s business challenge

The long term vision is to make ITEMSeven a brand name, particularly within the university market. Olu says David helped him to realise that you must keep your long term goals in focus but you must also look at how you can improve what you are currently doing on a day-to-day basis. David suggested ITEMSeven’s branding could be re-vamped, particularly because they are targeting the youth market. Using some of the funding available from the Inspired programme, an external branding expert was employed to help him overhaul the look and feel of ITEMSeven’s logo and menu: “If it wasn’t for David, we wouldn’t have made any changes to the branding. Working with a branding expert really changed my thinking on how our brand should look and it has been vastly improved.”

As well as the practical advice, David said his role was also to give some psychological support to Olu such as listening to his concerns over a coffee and helping to re-inject some enthusiasm. David says: “It’s very easy to get sucked into the operational details of business. Part of you has to step back and get a strategic person to help look at the business from the outside. It can be hard to get someone coming in and questioning what you’re doing but learning to listen to their slightly different perspective is a valuable skill to develop.”

Would David and Olu recommend Inspired in Nottingham?

Olu’s experience of the mentoring sessions with David have been really positive and he would recommend other early stage businesses take part. He also has some words of advice for entrepreneurs that are taking part in the programme: “It’s good to bring in a new pair of eyes but you have to be ready to take on the advice. David provided me with great advice to enable me to reach my goals. I’ve learnt that even just making some small in-house improvements will still help you to get to where you want to go.”

For David, he feels that supporting young firms like ITEMSeven is important for the local economy: “We can all benefit from a chat with someone who has been there and done that. It was absolutely worth a few hours of my time to pay forward my experience to help Olu and his business which may end up creating more local jobs.”

Find out more

The city’s two universities, The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University are taking part in the programme, together with the two largest colleges – Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham.

To find out more about the Inspired in Nottingham programme and register your interest in becoming a mentor visit: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/uniei/business/inspired-in-nottingham.aspx

If you are a student at any of the four partner institutions within Nottingham or graduated within the last five years, you can find out more and register your interest in taking part here: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/uniei/student-enterprise/inspired-in-nottingham.aspx