Twenty-two-year-old Azeem Amir from Rochdale is a blind England international footballer who is passionate about changing perceptions about disabilities and the stigma associated with them.
In 2019, he took part in a start-up programme run by the GC Business Growth Hub at the Launch business incubator at the University of Salford.
The support from the Hub has been invaluable. It’s helped me to start my business with confidence, adapt to the challenge that COVID-19 presented and reach new markets.Azeem Amir
The programme led to the successful launch of Learn with ESS (Education, Sport and Speaking), with Azeem focussed on delivering workshops incorporating classroom-based activities on learning, visual and hearing impairment awareness. They also included taster sessions on Paralympic sports such as blind football and goalball, and a motivational talk from a local role model or athlete.
Aimed at schools and colleges, as well as professional and grassroots sports clubs and businesses, ESS was piloted last March, However, COVID-19 restrictions meant that face-to face sessions soon ended, and as with so many companies last year, Azeem was left wondering how his fledgling business was going to survive.
Azeem had worked closely with GC Business Growth Hub advisor Isabelle Farquhar from the start: “when this was just an idea in a notebook,” he explains. “She has made a huge difference, pushed me and has been a brilliant sounding board all the way through.”
Initially, support included 1-2-1 mentoring and advice on a wide range of issues, from branding and website content to social media and employment law. Isabelle said:
“We helped him to research and set up the business whilst he was on the Launch programme and we have been with him on every step of his business journey.”
Azeem was able to turn to the Hub again during the pandemic, she continues. “COVID-19 was a challenge but Azeem rose to it. We worked together to ensure the business survived and I helped him redefine his strategy, which helped him switch to delivering sessions on-line.”
“Whilst he has been developing his business with us, we have also supported him with other opportunities that have come along. He really is an inspiring individual,” she adds.
Azeem has since partnered with the National Citizen Service to introduce his programme into English Football League clubs and worked with both Nike and Santander, with Learn with ESS finishing in the top six of the bank’s emerging entrepreneur's programme.
In between studying for his Masters, speaking at TedTalk events and working as an ambassador for several disability awareness organisations, Azeem is now in talks with the Football Association and other organisations about delivering his workshops internationally, and to corporate clients as a team away day.
“The support from the Hub has been invaluable. It’s helped me to start my business with confidence, adapt to the challenge that COVID-19 presented and reach new markets. It's fantastic that entrepreneurs can access this sort of support to help them start their business in the strongest position possible.”