Founder & CEO
Lola Atkins is the CEO of London based social enterprise EWAV Works.
Founded in 2004, Lola’s award winning organisation creates projects to empower young people who are facing social challenges.
EWAV Works develops engaging opportunities for 7-25 year olds using digital and new media platforms, such as animation and motion images production. The company has worked with thousands of young people over the past five years, including partnerships with schools and young offender institutions.
Why did you decide to start EWAV Works?
EWAV Works took shape in 2004. A couple of years after working on numerous film/TV/indie projects. I came to the realisation that opportunities were scarce for those looking to enter the industry if you don’t know the right people. If you’re not well connected it will take a long time, and may even prove impossible, to break into the media industry as a writer, producer or director.
After producing, writing and directing a couple of films, one of which was successful and ended up at Cannes and the BFM International festival, I decided to set up my own company and do my own thing.
I had a great script I had co-written and needed finance to produce it. At the time it was tough to raise UK finance and a friend told me that America is more open to new scripts. I made a few calls and received a lot of positivity so I made plans to go to New York.
I remember going to New York in 2002 and knocking on doors at almost every well-known film production house in the city. I literally asked producers to fund my film and they were all like “sorry, can’t help you.”
After that I felt a bit low and came back to England, unsure of what to do next. I was working on an indie production in an estate in Clapton, Hackney and while we were shooting a group of young guys were hanging about watching us. One of the guys, who was about 16 years old, came up to me and asked how he can get involved in what we were doing as he was really interested.
At that point I hadn’t a clue what advice to give as I knew that asking him to go college was not going to happen, or suggesting he go to a film school would cost a lot of money which I knew he could not afford.
It was around that time I had my “a-ha moment.” From that day on I decided to venture away from trying to make films and create projects and activities that empower young people of disadvantaged backgrounds instead.
What was your career path prior to starting EWAV Works?
I graduated from Kings College with a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology and Immunology. Despite the fact science was always an integral part of me, I’ve always had a calling for working on projects related to social issues, young people and media.
After graduating I worked in the NHS laboratories and large pharmaceutical companies. I would do evening and weekend courses at a variety of independent media schools and colleges like Raindance, London Film and Video School, CONEL to gain skills in producing, directing and script writing.
From there I worked for a number of indies and film production companies. I also produced and directed my own short films and shortly after I decided to set up my own company LOAT Films, which then later was re-branded EWAV Works (Eye With A View Works).
What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe your typical working day?
We are in the process of launching a new initiative called The Invisible Path which is a great project. We are also currently liaising with several primary schools across a few boroughs in London to run our Veni, Vidi, Vici Experiment which is a catalogue of different programmes, including animation.
In addition, we are launching a new profit streamline to our business. We’ve always been funded by the local authorities and other private organisations, but as the new government will be slashing funding we need to develop ways to sustain ourselves. Consequently we are launching new projects that will take us on a new exciting direction and also make our company larger.
My days vary but generally include meetings, emails, recruiting new clients, seminars, exhibitions and travelling to new sites.
Tell me more about the Invisible Path initiative you’ve just launched. What was the driving force for the conception of the programme?
The Invisible Path was conceived sadly after my own personal experience with knife crime. A young innocent girl I knew and whose mother is a neighbour/friend to my mum was killed in April 2010.
Despite the fact we have been working with young disadvantaged young people and that mentoring was always offered I realised that something is missing. Young children who get caught up in these crimes were missing either someone or something. The moment we identify what that hole is and it is filled with the right materials or person then, slowly, this can help or improve a young man or woman’s life.
While delivering projects in YOIs and YOTs we realised this crisis will continue to grow and innocent kids will be killed until we fill the gap. With the Invisible Path we are hoping to fill the gap and achieve that by focusing on the “hard to reach” young people. If we can help just one person it’s amazing how many others you will be helping indirectly.
How many students have participated in EWAV Works courses to date?
Over the past five years since we launched thousands of young people have come through our doors, we also go to schools and young offender institutions. The age group we target is 7-25 years.
Did you have a business mentor?
Sadly I didn’t have a business mentor, I wish I did though. It would have saved me from making lots of the mistakes I accrued over the years. But, I have to say, making mistakes only pushed me to learn things faster and operate wiser.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
Over the years there have been many highlights, from being awarded Best Ethical Business at the Precious Awards in 2009 to becoming an OCR accredited body.
However, the biggest highlight is knowing that the work we do helps many young people in London, especially our programme with young offenders. The satisfaction I get from delivering a service that can possibly help a young kid steer off the violent streets when he comes out of prison is just mesmerising and a profound experience.
I’m a strong believer that everyone should get a second shot in life. My motto is “don’t ever quit on life.”
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
I think one of my challenges is getting the balance right with work and my personal commitments. I was one of those people who like to take on too many roles at a time because I was so adamant in the past that the only person that can get things done is me.
It’s only now I’m learning to delegate to others, which has worked out tremendously but this was after a lot of soul searching, trust and finding the best people to work with. Now I have more time to focus on new projects that have been sitting on the bench for years.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Never, ever, ever give up. Even if someone shuts the door in your face, knock again and keep knocking, and, if they still don’t open the door try another door. There are loads of other doors just waiting to be opened.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I’m inspired by people who are passionate in what they believe in. Whether they are entrepreneurs, charity workers, or even a nanny. I just marvel when I come across people who would bend over backwards to do more than what is requested of them.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a social enterprise?
Just do it, whether it’s fresh, new, or it’s been done before go for it. At times discouragement may come but always keep your eyes on the prize.
It may appear far off but you will eventually get the prize, you just need patience, endurance and long nights of research and planning. Get lots of advice from friends and family who are happy to give you constructive criticism or advice.
I highly recommend you surround yourself with people who are like-minded who can sharpen you when you’re not at your best. They will always fuel the fire especially when rejection comes, because during the first couple of years there may be too many rejections to handle.
It’s important you only share your vision with people you can trust and be able to push you when you’re almost down and out.
The only person who can stop you from launching your social enterprise, or any kind of business, is yourself, so start telling your ego to get in check and launch whatever you want to do.
What are your future goals for EWAV Works?
Well, we are planning to branch out nationwide, not just focusing on London and Bristol, to reach other parts of the UK. We are also in the process of launching a couple of new projects in 2011 that will really make EWAV a force to reckon with. I’m excited about the plans we have in the pipeline…so watch this space!
Lola Atkins was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
Twenty Ten Club is a Best Business Blog Finalist at the 2010 Black Weblog Awards in the United States. If you enjoyed this post we’d appreciate your vote! If you’d like to vote for the Twenty Ten Club Blog you can do so here until August 31, 2010.