Today in our 4th blog of Entrepreneurship week, we welcome Shazia Saleem of ieat foods; who shares her recipe for success as an Entrepreneur.
Ideas are what Entrepreneurs are all about. They have lots of them; good ones, bad ones and just occasionally ones which are simply inspired. Recently I had the good fortune to interview entrepreneur Shazia Saleem, who as the founder of ieat Foods has turned her moment of inspiration into a thriving business.
Shazia is proud of both her British and Sri Lankan heritage. As a practising Muslim she is very aware of the requirements of the Halal conscious consumer. She clearly recalls the frustration of her youth that some of her favourite British meals were not available in the supermarket aisles. Her idea is based on the simple, but brilliant idea of Halal supermarket ready meals.
Today ieat foods is a flourishing business, a quick tour of the company website will not only reveal a mouth-watering array of family favourites such as lasagne, shepherd’s pie and pesto chicken tagliatelle, but an impressive list of stores in which the products are stocked. Such a rapid take up of the range provided confirmation that she had indeed spotted a gap in the market.
Shazia believes that finding niche gaps in the market and then moving at speed to exploit them is at the core of what makes a good entrepreneur. In the case of ieat foods this meant conducting market research, sourcing halal suppliers, designing packaging and agreeing recipes. Not content with this Shazia then went one step further by ensuring her meals were sourced from ethical suppliers, thereby making her idea more difficult for rivals to copy.
Shazia is happy to concede that she has probably always been an entrepreneur. At university when injury curtailed a budding career as a netball player she turned her attention to coaching. She soon found herself in demand with more coaching requests than she could handle. Her next opportunity came when she worked for leading entrepreneur and “dragon” Peter Jones. It proved to be very hard work, but it provided her with a wonderful grounding in understanding how a business works.
As someone who is single, female and a practising Muslim, she concedes she may not fit the stereo type of an entrepreneur. Nevertheless she sees each of these attributes as a distinct advantage, and points to two very different role models from whom she has drawn inspiration over the years. Firstly, Khadija (the first wife of the prophet Mohammed), who was a very successful business woman in her own right. Secondly Perween Warsi CBE who as founder of S&A Foods has built up a multimillion pound business supplying curries to supermarkets.
For Shazia it is clear that financial gain is not her primary motivation, for her the real satisfaction comes when a customer stops her ( often whilst out shopping herself) to say that her food is appreciated.
For the next generation of entrepreneurs currently cutting their teeth on their first business ventures, she has some encouraging words. Firstly she highlights the importance of courage, for as she succinctly puts it “the fear of the hurdle is often greater than the hurdle itself”. Secondly she points out in today’s social media savvy world how fast ideas and conversation topics travel. For an entrepreneur this brings an opportunity to ride a wave of public interest and draw attention to their services or products. If you follow Innocent drinks on Twitter you will soon gain an understanding how this effect is achieved with considerable wit and charm.
As the conversation draws to a natural close it is clear this is an individual who has travelled a long way in a very short space of time. Today the products of ieat foods are stocked by branches of Morrisons, Sainsburys and Tesco. It is the largest ready meal brand launch by a start-up ever in the UK.
Later as I reflect on our conversation, I am left with one overriding impression. It is this…..
When the media is full of stories of financial scandals and dubious commercial practices, ieat foods offers the consumer an alternative view of business, one where the ethical beliefs and timeless values of its founder can be located within the very ingredients of its products.
I find this very refreshing indeed.