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Meet the 20 year-old social entrepreneur defining the future of work-based training

The breadth of routes into the creative industry are bountiful for young talent but it’s still challenging for many to forge long-term careers. Bejay Mulenga is doing something about it, amassing a collective with the sole purpose of giving creative but inexperienced minds the skills to thrive.

It’s a lofty goal and yet Mulenga is relaxed about the route to it. Yet to turn 21, the entrepreneur is wise beyond his years, concocting his vision for the future of work-based training ever since he started putting on talent shows and events at his local youth club when he was 12. A world away from those business schemes, his latest venture – Supa Academy – is out to shake work-based training from a state that doesn’t always benefit those most in need.

A cacophony of rules and regulations have helped larger training providers secure the largest government contracts, explains Mulenga, who along with business partner Liam Tootill has positioned Supa Academy as the antithesis of that status quo. Much of the work being done there is inspired by the hacking mentality instilled in many technology startups, which Mulenga believes is yet to spread to the marketing and the creative worlds.

“There are new apprenticeships and levies as well as more accountability happening with peoples’ outputs online so that now I think people look to high-quality training and better quality activations for their brands,” says Mulenga. “The new issue we’re facing now is how to actually support people who are at university looking for that extra bit of income and experience. The idea for me was that there must be a way for people to run their own event and also be able to collaborate with a brand.”

Supa Academy sits at that nexus of work-based training and partnering with brands. Job placements, research projects and freelance opportunities are on offer to those aspiring individuals at the academy, which is also backed by mentors. The next cohort is just being finalised for September when it will focus on music and retail.

In a previous project, the group built the UK’s first pop-market run by teens. Backed by Barclays, Pepsi Max, EE, River Island and Facebook, 400 budding entrepreneurs took over 50,000 square feet of the Truman Brewery last year and designed and ran a mini department store for a weekend. Such was the success that 5,000 consumers passed through the doors in that time. Others have gone on to secure jobs at River Island and launch their own tea line, while someone is also currently working on a travel app.

But that’s just a taste of what Mulenga and Tootill are cooking up for the coming months. Among them is a QVC-style e-commerce channel that will feature a mix of influencers and brands supporting young social entrepreneurs. Beyond that, Mulenga wants to play a part in what the new age degrees and apprenticeships will look like.

“We want to help co-create the next versions of apprenticeships and degrees, whether it’s collaborating with universities and training providers or maybe becoming one ourselves,” says Mulenga. “We could really push the barrier of what it looks to not only support the next generation but also push them to keep improving their skills.”

So what does the future hold for Supa Academy? Mulenga isn’t one to plan too far ahead, though he would like to get to a place where the organisation is bringing young talented people together with brands and government.

“If we’re working on helping people be the best versions of themselves it’s about collaborating with as many firms and organisations to help people,” says Mulenga. “You can’t just have an idea and then not execute. You need to accelerate it and then implement it. We’re a people accelerator.”

Mulenga will be discussing how the startup economy is breeding a new generation of entrepreneurs at the Innovation Stories event next week (3 May). To register for a ticket click here.

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Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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