Anna Richards is the founder and Director of Maymessy. Maymessy CIC is an award winning social enterprise which supports young carers, young people in the care system, families struggling financially, those with special needs and refugee families through empowering, bespoke cookery classes and wellness activities.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I used to be a primary teacher in London, within which I did some special educational needs teaching and later some counselling. Through this I saw a variety of young people who needed support in a way that formal teaching could not achieve, who would really benefit from some vocational skills. It was that interest in supporting young people alongside a desire to set up an ethical business that resulted in my company.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Taking on problems and solving them in a creative way. Being very solution focused!
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I had just moved from London to Oxfordshire and really wanted to make a start, but wasn’t sure how to do it! Part of what motivated me was my twin daughters, who were very young at the time, as I wanted to set an example for them. In all honesty, I didn’t do market research! But at the time there was a real cooking craze, with Bake Off being hugely popular, as well as a lot of food related social issues, such as obesity, which are still relevant. I’d seen it with my own eyes in London, so I knew I was going to create something that hit about both national interests and issues
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I’m a risk taker, and I think you’ve got to have a bit of that! I hadn’t always done that well in school myself, so that has helped me to keep an open mind. Creative problem solving is also a great thing to have.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Every day presents different and new challenges with exciting solutions, and I love that daily variety. I would hate to have every day be exactly the same, so I love the way that new challenges, even covid, make you mix up your approach.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I could think of many men, but I wanted to find women who inspire me too. Sarah Gilbert and her work on the Astra Zeneca vaccine is a super powerful example. More specifically to my work, I find Lorraine Pascal inspirational. Not only is she a female cook, but she was brought up by a foster family in Oxford and absolutely depicts what I’m trying to create. She has used cooking to overcome difficulty, and that is exactly what I want to help people do.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would want to ask how she became a chef, and how she combatted imposter syndrome, as I see a lot of kids struggling with that. Fundamentally, how do you pick yourself up and change your mental attitude to be positive?
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
When I first set my business up in 2017, the first event we ran was key. That was with young carers from Farringdon, and then the next summer we ran a whole festival in support of young carers. It was scary in the lead up, as I felt I didn’t know what I was doing, but it was amazing! We sold out, and that’s when I knew we were going in the right direction. More recently we held a cultural picnic with some of the refugee ladies we support. They all brought food from their home countries, as well as their husbands and children! My friend even brought her horse called Horatio, which was an absolute hit with the children. It was just so positive and a really lovely day.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I see the fact I didn’t do so well in school as a good thing, as it’s made me good at making mistakes. Going from that to being a teacher means I’m used to identifying mistakes and then what can be done better to solve them. I do find it hard to accept that not everyone is on the same page as I am. I’m so passionate about what I’m doing that I don’t understand why people don’t want to help, for example if someone has the money to donate and chooses not to. Due to that passion, I also find it very difficult to know when to stop and instead I tend to take a lot of responsibility on my own shoulders.
How have you funded your ideas?
When I first came to Oxford I used crowdfunding campaign through Crowdfunder in partnership with match funding with Santander. I only had 3 weeks to sort all of this and didn’t even have a Facebook page, but after the 3 weeks I had £20k to get the business started with! I had excellent support from companies like Miele, who were incredibly generous with providing us with a lot of the kitchen appliances for free and support from local residents. That got me started, but since then I’ve been applying for grants, such as those from both Faringdon and Wantage town councils, Oxfordshire Community Foundation as well as receiving lottery funding and funding from local supermarkets and housing developments. The community around Oxfordshire is absolutely fantastic!
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
I just received a Points of Light Award from Boris! It’s very exciting as they only pick approximately 260 people a year, so to be recognised is amazing. In 2020 our MP David Johnston gave me a Volunteers Award for work I had done during the pandemic providing food for NHS staff. Also in 2020, I was on the WISE Top 100. (Women in Social enterprise)
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
It’s the best county to be in and I’m so glad I moved here! The support from the community, both local and further out, is amazing. It’s just such a great place for social enterprise.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would direct them to the free courses I used, as well as advising them to start networking. It has taken me time to network, but it has really paid off. I see it as a useful investment of time.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
I think being a mum is great, but it does take up a lot of time. My business is like a third baby, so it can be a juggling act! To overcome this, I block months off, so this August I did that. Other than admin I was able to spend lots of time with my daughters. That’s when being your own boss is great!
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Join women’s networking groups. In Oxfordshire, we have DiscoverHER, which has about 250 members. You’ll find that a lot of the women involved are mums, and many have experienced challenges that a lot of women in business encounter. It’s also just really nice to have such a social and supportive group. It’s nice to feed off the positivity of other people’s success. But it’s still important to listen to men for a different perspective, my husband is a very useful voice!
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Institutions need to give good flexibility with time and hours. Don’t just have courses at dinner time, it’s a nightmare if you have children! Morning is always the best time for me, as the kids are at school, but a lot of male-led businesses don’t think like that. There’s still the traditional idea of networking at the end of the day, which is very outdated. It’s still a man’s world, but I think the growth of online business can help combat that.
Any last words of advice?
List of financial supporters in 2021
Oxfordshire Community Fund
Vale of White Horse Covid grant
Wantage Town Council
Bovis and Linden Homes
People’s Health Trust, Health Lottery South East & The Health Lottery
The Arnold Clark Community Fund
The National Lottery -Covid 19 support
Alison Haill – Oxford Professional Consulting for B4 Membership
The Ray Collins Charitable Trust
The Lord Faringdon Charitable Trust
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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