Dance entrepreneur wins prize to build his business
04 August 2022
An urban dance student at the University of East London so impressed HSBC with his entrepreneurial vision that he walked away with the top prize in an incubator pitch competition, along with money to progress his business idea.
Levan Peart gave his polished pitch at the Student Incubator Programme finals day in Birmingham following a collaboration with the Canary Wharf-based bank and five universities aimed at supporting black and ethnic minority students into business.
In the finals, he was joined by UEL's Luis Pereira, a cyber security networks student whose business idea, Linxful, was to combine AI and content creative to develop a service for SMEs to curate bespoke content for their marketing materials.
Levan's pitch centred on developing Blackout Dance Camp into one of the leading dance education providers in the country. He specialises in Caribbean, hip-hop, vernacular and commercial dance and grew the idea for BDC after following his work in the community.
BDC is a social enterprise and community interest company that combats mental and physical health issues though a range of specialist dance education and wellbeing services. We integrate Caribbean dance styles with commercialised dance styles fusing them together that creates our signature dance style."
"I've loved dance since I was a little boy. I joined a dance school and I choreographed my leavers' assembly in Year Six. I feel like dance has always been in my household and in my culture.
"We had our own crew growing up – we took part in Britain's Got Talent and Sky One's Got To Dance. The actual idea came to me three or four years ago. A group of parents approached me in my community in Telford – my home town – and said, 'We want you to take our daughters and form a group competitive team'."
Levan went on to set up the girls' dance troupe which helped him to formulate his grander ambitions.
"I have suffered with mental health issues in the past. My own experience as someone who had big dreams but limited resources and networks was the driving force. I wanted to bridge the gap between industry and marginalised groups.”"
He said his idea "moved to the next level" when he came to London to study in the School of Arts and Creative Industries at the University. He called on a range of services offered by his tutors and the Student Enterprise team to accelerate his plans, drawing on networking and mentoring opportunities.
He said, "My mentors have a lot of industry contacts so my course has really helped with networking and I've actively tried to take as many opportunities as possible because I know that this is a finite amount of time I'm going to be in this unique situation at UEL."
It was through linking up with the University's Student Enterprise team that he heard about the HSBC incubator programme and his success means he receives further mentoring support from HSBC commercial experts alongside guidance from the Startup Discovery School, access to HSBC UK customer webinars and some financial support to enable them to bring their commercial ambitions to fruition.
Along with Luis, Levan gained access to a three months of top tier business training before finals day.
Levan said, "I've never had anything like it. It was really cool because the cohort was really diverse with different business ideas but the knowledge was transferable, so it was interesting. HSBC was training you to set up your business, but the focus was how to deliver a successful pitch deck.
"I knew my pitch deck was really strong – not in a conceited way – my mentors had said it was strong. I worked really hard on it and there was lots of guidance."
He was put through his paces by a four-strong expert panel at HSBC's showpiece One Centenary Square offices in Birmingham.
"When they announced the placings, the announcer was kind of giving me eye contact. I was listening to the words and I thought 'that sounds like me' – but I didn't want to get too excited just in case."
But he won and collected a cheque for £2,500 from Mandy Nyarko, founder of the Startup Discovery School.
Levan said, "I've actually got the cheque on my wall in front of my computer because in those moments of self-doubt I can look at it and say – 'I can do this. Look what I've already done and achieved'."
So what now for Levan?
"I want to raise more investment. I've already applied for further grant funding and I've been shortlisted for a separate investment programme and then really map out the next stage of the vision which is rolling out our programme so that we can attract higher echelon choreographers in these marginalised communities.
"There are so many avenues the business can take. We can work with corporate companies, we can work with children, we can work in schools – we want to do it all but we have to work our way up."
And his advice to others looking to follow an entrepreneurial route?
"Don't fall at the first hurdle. There are going to be a million hurdles but the more hurdles you jump the easier it will become and the more people you will meet to help you jump over those hurdles."
Levan is not the only award-winning entrepreneur to come out the Urban Dance programme in the School of Arts and Creative Industries. Charlie Blair graduated in 2017 and has since set up a successful social enterprise company, The Blair Academy, which uses hip hop dance and movement to help elderly adults who face isolation.
She won £6,000 from the University's own E-Factor entrepreneurial competition and has been recognised in the NatWest WISE 100, which showcases the most inspiring and influential women in mission-driven businesses.
The careers and enterprise services that Levan called upon are available to all students at the University. To find out more about receiving mentoring, coaching, networking, grants and advice to help you launch and grow your own business and more, log on to the Career Zone platform.
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