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Levi Roots fires up budding Brum entrepreneurs

IGNITING THE SPARK: Levi Roots (centre) with his first set of pitching business winners Stephen Arthur (right) and runner up Antonio Mankulu

WITH A mustard-coloured suit, as spicy as his famous Reggae Reggae sauce, Levi Roots literally set Birmingham on fire with tips to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

As one of the most successful business hopefuls ever to appear on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den, the multi-millionaire chef was dishing out sound advice by the ladleful at the Custard Factory as he teamed up with Entrepre-neurial Spark, the world’s largest free business accelerator, which is about to open a ‘hatchery’ in Birmingham in February.

“When someone first mentioned the word ‘enterprise’ to me I thought it was something off Star Trek,” laughed the Jamaica-born father-of-seven, who left his homeland at the age of 12.

“But I soon realised that, just like Star Trek, you have to boldly go where no-one has gone before when you start your own business, but I went and slayed those dragons in the den with my sauce and my song.

“I think when people saw a Rasta man singing on Dragons’ Den they thought why isn’t he next door in X Factor.”

Before Dragons’ Den, some had warned Roots that his sauce idea was “too black, too Jamaican, too Rasta” but he thought what the hell and was true to himself.

For 16 years he’d already been selling his sauce at Notting Hill Carnival – and in shops in Brixton he said it was outselling records in local record shops.

Within weeks of his TV appearance in 2007, his sauce was on Sainsbury’s shelves, even outselling Heinz in its first year.

But he puts much of his success down to having a mentor like Dragon Peter Jones, ‘the most important tool in your armoury’ who once famously said: “I like the sauce, but I like Levi more.”

Those hungry for crumbs from the master’s table on how to start a business were told that before they even thought about their business plan, they had to think about “fixing yourself up.” Roots puts great store behind making sure you have the right image.

He said: “Before young people even start on the business plan, they need to be able to speak properly to potential investors. Ghetto talk won’t work.

“But at the same time you have to be yourself – your business plan has to be about you,” added Roots, who was born in the village of Content in Clarendon, the youngest of six children who was brought up and inspired by his grandmother’s cooking until the age of 12 when he left for the UK to join the rest of his family.

When asked during the session what had spurred him on to be a success, he explained how he has seven children by six different mothers, and he felt proud to be able to provide for them.

Roots, who has lived in the same Brixton flat for the past 20 years, told of how his daughters had helped him make the sauce in the early days, adding: “When the sauce out-sold Heinz that was my proudest moment because I was doing this for the family.”

And what are Roots’ future plans?

GIANT

“My next step has to be a restaurant chain because Caribbean food is a sleeping giant in Britain. Watch out for my ‘Rastaurants!”

During his session with Entrepreneurial Spark, several young business people put forward their ideas and Roots became a Dragon for the occasion.

His first winner of the day was 23-year-old Birmingham fashion designer Stephen Arthur, who wowed Britain with his ‘perfect party dress’ two years ago after winning a competition in 2012 organised by ITV’s This Morning. His scarlet gown was subsequently sold at selected John Lewis stores.

After winning his pitch, which gave him a £500 prize, Arthur said he would spend the money on buying dress patterns and taking out his mum Carol for a slap up meal.

Entrepreneurial Spark, which was powered by NatWest, and also includes an ongoing online #PitchOff, is the brainchild of Professor Jim Duffy, who praised Roots’ inspirational input.

He said: “We are all really excited to have Levi on board because he is an icon in entrepreneurial terms.

“Businesses are built on emotions and Levi has shown everyone how you have to be tough and passionate to succeed.

“In those all-important and vulnerable early days when you start off on your own, you have to learn to be ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable.’

For more details about the #PitchOffs and Entrepreneurial Spark’s Birmingham ‘hatchery’ visit http://birmingham.entrepreneurial-spark.com.

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