Meet Portsmouth's double act 'unlocking' potential for city's future entrepreneurs
A young entrepreneurial double act branded the ‘two musketeers’ entered the world of business when they were teenagers and are now using their own experiences to help Portsmouth’s youth.
Hayden Taylor, from Hilsea, and Ben Dowling, from Milton, are now two of the city’s most notable young entrepreneurs, having founded Unloc, a Portsmouth-based not-for-profit organisation, targeted towards giving young people a platform to succeed, at the tender ages of 16 and 19.
‘I think it’s probably fair to say that we both come from pretty working-class backgrounds,’ says Hayden.
‘My dad was a bricklayer and mum worked in the school canteen,’ he adds.
The pair decided from a young age that there were not enough opportunities for young people in the city and they wanted to do something to help change that.
‘I come from a single parent, my mum moved to the UK from Vietnam in the 80s and it was never clear what I would do,’ says Ben, also an active city councillor and cabinet member for culture, leisure and economic development in Portsmouth
‘I’m doing what I do as a result of meeting Hayden and others who had an influence in my life. I’m very lucky, but it’s very rare for the average young person in Portsmouth,’ he adds.
As the head of rival youth forums, Ben as chair of the Portsmouth youth parliament and Hayden as chair of the council of Portsmouth students, the boys came together when, in 2013, the local authority decided they could no longer fund the latter.
After this decision was made, like-minded teens Hayden and Ben united in their desire for change and for their voices to be heard, in order to work out a more sustainable way to run the forum.
‘We got together to save the forum, one which still exists today and is facilitated by Unloc,’ Ben says.
After Hayden and Ben began working together - and in enjoying it - they noticed they had more in common than they realised, both motivated by the ambition to bring young people into positions of leadership.
‘In reality, we weren’t really rivals,’ says Hayden.
‘We worked really closely and well together,’ Ben adds.
Following an investment of £300 from a project known as O2 Think Big, which pledged to help one million young people across the UK develop skills and lead community projects, the duo founded Unloc.
‘I actually felt like education suppressed my creativity,’ says Hayden.
‘I wanted to change that and be more involved in the way education was taught,’ he adds.
Unloc is a social enterprise created by young people, for young people, which aims to give Portsmouth’s youth the support and opportunities they need to succeed, regardless of their background.
Now 25 and 28, co-founders of the company Hayden and Ben, project that this year they will work with 20,000 young people in more than 500 schools and colleges.
‘Effectively we’re showing young people all the different ways you can make a positive difference to the world,’ says Hayden.
‘We’re giving them a variety of different lenses through which they can view what it means to be a changemaker,’ he adds.
Working as a team, both in business and as friends, the Unloc founders say they have grown in different ways, joking that Ben is the social and Hayden is the enterprise, they add they are often referred to among friends and colleagues as the ‘two musketeers’.
‘Ben’s really focused on the impact we’re having on young people, which I counterbalance by making sure we’ve got the practicalities of the business’s finances,’ says Hayden.
‘Things cost money apparently,’ adds Ben.
But their alternative approaches have helped them to succeed which, in turn, they want to use to help other young people who were once in their position, unsure of what they want to do in both personal and professional ventures.
‘It’s okay to not know, there’s so many things when starting your own business that you just don’t know and would never have been taught at school,’ says Ben.
‘But that’s okay, you just have to want to,’ he adds.
Hayden and Ben share their struggles of dealing with finances on a larger scale, after following a curriculum which gave them no indication of how to deal with money in a business capacity.
‘We had no clue what we were doing in terms of how to secure money or how to log it,’ says Hayden.
‘I remember one year delivering a black bin liner of receipts to our accountant and saying good luck,’ he adds.
Hayden says the world of work and business is even harder for the youth of today, growing up in a world glamourising a field which in reality involves far more hard work than lucky breaks.
‘Dragon’s Den and the Apprentice and so on, make it look pretty sexy to be an entrepreneur. But they don’t talk about how bloody hard it is, you’ve got to be prepared to put long hours in and my god have we done that,’ he says.
‘I remember weeks in the early days to save money, we would share the cheapest possible Travelodge room between me, Ben and a friend offering to help out,’ Hayden says.
‘It would be the three of us in a £19 Travelodge room, somewhere in the country that was willing to put on an Unloc event,’ he adds.
The pair faced various trials and tribulations entering into the business world as young individuals and often, fighting to be respected or even taken seriously.
‘Even today I feel like I’m living a bit of an imposter lifestyle,’ says Hayden.
‘I remember speaking to a head teacher on the phone once, I was saying ‘you know this is what we can do…this is what we can offer you,’ says Hayden.
‘He forgot to put me on hold and I heard him refer to me as the little boy in the suit,’ he says.
‘I think every young person around the board table can find it daunting, we have to remind ourselves that we deserve to be where we are,’ he says.
‘We have a right to our voices being heard and they are equally valuable.’
But when they finally made it to the boardroom, the pair agree on one thing, it was all worthwhile.
‘When we launched our own office under our own steam and the day the logo went up on the wall,’ Ben says.
‘That was the day it all felt very real,’ he adds.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
Subscribe here for unlimited access to all our coverage, including Pompey, for just 26p a day.