Londoner Bejay Mulenga started out selling snacks in the school playground aged 14 and within a couple of years had developed Supa Tuck, a social enterprise that gave young people a chance to practice business skills in the real-life marketplace of the school yard. Supa Academy is a step up, bringing the CEOs of businesses like Barclays Bank into the picture at a pop-up marketplace where young people can sell their wares whilst learning from experienced professionals. But what did his mother make of it all?
Has translating your vision to your mum ever been a challenge?
B: When I was growing up it was definitely hard to translate, and even when they understood it, I think they just thought it was a work experience type of thing but for me I had decided, this is my career. Now it’s easier for them because they see the shop and the events we’re doing.
Mrs Mulenga, when did you realise that your son had entrepreneurial qualities?
AB: When he was in secondary school, I think he was about 13 or 14, one parents evening we were speaking with his business teacher and I will never forget, the teacher said he had never seen a student like Bejay.
We also saw him doing the small shop [Supa Tuck]. I remember that time when he just started I didn’t understand how he could set up a shop in school, it was a place meant for studying.
He assured me it was part of his business education and it turned out to be a really good thing. It kept the kids in school and the money went back into the community from that I saw that Bejay had something special.
When did Bejay’s success become apparent to you?
AB: That one was a little bit of a shock. I was at Aldgate station making my way to work. I entered a carriage and sat down on a newspaper and the person before me had left it on the page with Bejay’s story. I looked at the paper and literally shouted ‘oh my God!’ and everyone on the carriage was looking at me, they didn’t know why I was shouting! When I got to work I showed everybody, it was page 17, that’s when I knew, he was a success and he’s going far.
As a son, how did you explain when things were going wrong at school and how do you think they responded?
B: No one likes making their parents unhappy. I never left my house with the intention of getting into trouble at school. There was no point coming with the whole ‘oh I promise to be good,’ they’d heard it all before, it was more about when I started performing better in school and they saw the dramatic changes for themselves and that was a big moment for me.
Now that Bejay has left home, do you ever worry about how his success and schedule will impact your relationship?
AB: Yes, in the beginning. It was not easy, before, you can open his bedroom door and see him or I would be making a meal and we would have five at the dinner table, now it’s four. But it’s for the business, as you need to move up. I tell him to call me every morning and text me back as soon as I message him.
B: I didn’t move out so I could throw wild parties, I don’t have that kind of time. The main benefits are all business related and being able to things without disrupting the whole house.
The biggest commodity we have is time, so a work life balance is really important to me, I like to utilise my time really well. I’m always about doing what I love, and being around people I love. I’m busy but it’s a busy life that I choose.
How do you think your success has impacted the way your mum treats you?
B: I think for me is that I have more responsibilities, I help out more but I think it’s more about the fact that the family value time, so each time we interact now it’s more meaningful. I’ve probably spoken to her more in the last two months since I’ve moved out than before.
What does being a successful parent mean to you?
AB: As a parent I don’t think the job ever really stops, my dad is 75 but I’m still his daughter. I’m extremely proud of him as I am of all my children, I just believe we move together through it all, taking each step at a time.