This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m Jennifer Okolo and I am a 25-year-old occupational therapist and the founder of SASA (She Aspires Skills Academy). I’m passionate about personal development, and have made it my mission to educate, encourage other women, as explored through social activism, podcasting as 1/3 of award-nominated podcast ‘She’s In A Pod’, and numerous other public speaking engagements across Europe. I have also been a part of several impactful campaigns such as #mybodyvictory and Prevent Breast Cancer. I am currently is also an ambassador for Be Real (a project created by Dove) which involves supporting young people to redefine beauty. I continue to be an advocate for the rights of women and aim to inspire new ways of thinking within traditional spaces.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
SASA formally known as She Aspires UK originated from a leadership programme that I participated in a few years ago where we were tasked to start a project of our choice. I wanted to create a safe space where women could write and interact on a series of real-world issues that affect them. Career and personal development became one of the main focal points and since then we have been providing educational resources for young women to elevate and progress onto success.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I was so taken aback by the amount of interest shown in what I thought was just going to be a small project. It made me wonder about the prospect of me fully committing to this and this becoming a successful business. During that period I had just started university and made the conscious decision to step outside my comfort zone and pursue growing the brand. I knew I was totally committed to it when I snuck into the graphics suite in our library which was closed just to start creating my website and logo. All businesses should come from a place of passion which makes it durable and more manageable even during the difficult times.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Honestly, a lot of the challenges have stemmed from low confidence and not being as consistent as I wanted to be. There has been a lot of discussion about Imposter Syndrome and that was literally the pinnacle of my life (and still is now from time to time); where I start to doubt myself based on comparison or slow growth in the business. I started watching YouTube videos of business owners talking about their journey and I soon learned that everyone’s journey is different and that it was ok to fail but what matters is that you get up and try again.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Well, one of the most memorable one for me was our event ‘She Creates’ in 2018. Over a hundred people attended and paid for tickets – to me that was everything as knowing that people were willing to invest in my business and trusted the event to be successful only.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I am currently still self-funded with a three-woman team who work freelance, tirelessly so we can hopefully get to our goal of getting investment into the business. During this process, I have understood the importance of building a community and consistency in order to be in a better place of receiving investment.
What has been your best investment?
Hiring three of my team members on a freelance basis. As much as I wanted to do everything myself, I knew it was impossible knowing my own strengths and weaknesses.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Consistency is key! I wish I didn’t take such long breaks with my engagement in the brand which evidently halted any progress, but rather utilised tools such as Later and Hootsuite to help manage this.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I have thoroughly enjoyed building a community full of women from different career backgrounds so that has made it a positive experience for me. However, I have been in spaces, perhaps more male dominated spaces where I have felt like I need to prove myself even more, purely because I’m a woman. Again, this goes back to me feeling like an imposter and being my biggest critic. What needs to change and what I’ve been working on is to believe in myself if I expect others to do so and to just go for it – life isn’t always going to be perfect but as long as I’m open to learning, that’s the best step forward.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
It’s easier said than done but… it’s to stop comparing my journey to others. With the rise of social media, a lot of people starting their own ventures, it’s easy to think the grass is greener on the other side and abandon the journey that you’re currently on. I read a book called, ‘Slay in Your Lane’ by Yomi Adegoke, Elizabeth Uviebinené which in summary talks about enjoying and sticking to your own journey. Another lesson I’ve learnt is to be very aware with the constant changes that are happening to make sure that we are still visible. For example, on social media reels on instagram have become a huge success for a lot of brands, so we’ve been looking at ways of how we can utilise this feature.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Yes, I have a mentor who has supported and guided me in the past year by providing me with connections related to my brand and as he runs his own successful company I always find myself asking him questions which he is more than happy to answer. I have also met people who have similar brands to me which has been really refreshing because it creates scope for collaboration and seeing what I can apply to my own business using their tools and ways of working.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I would like SASA to become a global skills academy which is featured in company learning programmes and schools to support people with soft-skils and career related tools.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2021?
To create SASA products to support women in their personal development.
What can our readers do to support your business?
If you’re looking for articles centred around mental health in career or tips on how to better yourself in your career journey, check out www.wearesasa.com
Sign up to our newsletter if you would like to get your hands on some of our free downloadable resources!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- The Penny Pal
- She’s in a Pod podcast
- Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba
- Heart and Hustle by Patricia Bright
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
- Seek out quality training. As you plan and start your business, you’ll require the skills necessary to succeed, and chances are you’re going to need at least some training to help you start off.
- Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Take it and run with it. The worst thing that could happen is that you might be wrong, the best thing is that you build a game-changing company.
- Speak up. I have had this saying stuck on my mind that says, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ which could be said for asking for help when you need it. Only when we create our own opportunities do we really see results.
Find Jennifer at:
She Aspires Skills Academy:
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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