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Alumna Charlie Blair wins E-Factor 2019 with business that counters loneliness through hip-hop dance   

Charlie Blair wins 2019 E-Factor business competition with her plan to combat loneliness with hip-hop dance workshops and events.

A University of East London (UEL) alumna who turned her experience of being homeless into a hip-hop dance business aimed at combatting loneliness has won the University’s prestigious E-Factor entrepreneur competition.

Charlie Blair, who graduated from the Dance: Urban Practice course in 2017, took the crown over five competitors at the Natwest Conference Centre in Bishopsgate. Charlie receives £6,000 to help get her The Blair Academy up and running, as well as free working space for a year in the University’s Knowledge Dock business centre.

Charlie said, “I am completely emotionally overwhelmed that I’ve won. I want to thank UEL’s enterprise team for this incredible opportunity to invest in my dream. Thank you so much.”

University of East London Vice-chancellor and President, Professor Amanda Broderick, said, “We live in a world of the continuous next. It is critical that the University of East London provides our students with the tools and methodology required to sustain creativity and innovation and to become pioneers in an ever-changing world.

“Events such as E-Factor, which is hosted by our excellent enterprise team, are essential for our students to not only survive but thrive in their careers post-university.”

E-Factor is designed so that finalists, who are selected during a competitive application process, pitch their business ideas in front of a panel of industry professionals, who then select a winner. One of the judges was Nick Howe, the regional enterprise manager for NatWest Business. NatWest is a supporter of E-Factor.

Charlie’s The Blair Academy is aimed at helping adults and children in the UK who face social isolation and loneliness.

She explained that the idea for The Blair Academy was inspired from her experiences of being homeless. One of the hostels she stayed in had a dance studio, she said, and she spent hours there to escape her feeling of loneliness and isolation. 

The Blair Academy will run hip-hop dance workshops and events to engage diverse groups of people, ranging from older adults to those with disabilities – and the homeless, as well. 

Ultimately, Charlie said she hopes to turn the academy into a franchise, and to build a wide-reaching community initiative that will eliminate loneliness within vulnerable groups. 

Rebecca Moodie, the University of East London’s enterprise manager, said, “Our finalists were selected from over 100 applications and have undergone a rigorous, competitive development programme. We are overwhelmed by the innovation, passion and tenacity they have shown. I am thrilled that Charlie has won and we look forward to seeing the fruits of her investment in the year to come.”

James Firkins, who graduated from UEL in 2018 and studied creative and professional writing, took second place. He was awarded £1,500 and will receive a year of free space at Knowledge Dock. 

James’ business idea, Man Age, is a communications initiative designed to help provide mental health support for men and prevent male suicide.

James said, “I’ve already had a lot of interest from academics and businesses who want to work on projects with me and who have attended the final tonight. It’s pretty awesome. It doesn’t end here, it starts here.”

The four other finalists, Abigail Joanne Lennox of Bread & Roses; Laetitia Zanga of Back in Time; Dan Sharp and Arela Williams of Sharp Training; and Warren Kent of Veritas Technologies, were each awarded £500.