BA (Hons) Media and Communication, 2006 and MA Media Enterprise, 2008
Alumni of the Year 2012: Community Engagement and Leadership
Combining business acumen with a social conscience, media graduate Daniella Genas runs successful city event management company Aspire4u - with all profits re-invested in the Aspire4u Community Interest Company (CIC) which organises a range of exciting and innovative projects to provide experience of the workplace for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Daniella organised her first events while still a student at Birmingham City University, going on to set up Aspire4u in 2007. A year later, she returned to study a Master's degree in Media Enterprise, adding practical business knowledge to the event management skills she already possessed.
Since then, the company has helped to put on a number of high-profile events in the city - including a fashion and talent show as part of the Jamaica in the Square festival in Birmingham City Centre, the finale event for the Birmingham Made Me design awards, the Music Video and Screen Awards ceremony for the Black International Film Festival, and marketing support for The Drum arts centre in Newtown, Birmingham.
"The teaching was fantastic, and I particularly remember Tim Wall and Paul Long who gave me a lot of support when I had some personal problems in the second year - they offered to let me delay my studies for a year which I didn't want to do, but they were very helpful in making sure I caught up with the work I'd missed. The facilities were also great, and I loved the radio suite where we could go in and make programmes, or take the portable equipment out and about - and in hindsight I wish I'd made even more use of it than I did. I built some really great industry contacts, and got to take part in placements at BBC WM and BBC Radio Nottingham. It was through the course that I made contact with New Style Community Radio, where I started off shadowing another presenter and then got my own show, which I carried on presenting for several years even after I'd graduated.
"While I was at the University, I started the African-Caribbean Society as the University didn't have one at the time - I went to the Students' Union who helped me set it up and I ended up being president for two-and-a-half years. It was there that I got my first experience of managing events, and my first one was one called Talent, which was a talent showcase for local students which is still running today, and the African-Caribbean Student Festival.
"I graduated in 2006 and over the next year I had a number of different jobs but I was still involved in events and I started to see that as a career opportunity. I heard about an organisation called Insight Out which helps young people to set up businesses and this was where Aspire4u was born. I teamed up with three other former students from the University and Insight Out gave us all the support we needed to get started - from drawing up a business plan to designing our corporate identity. Our first new business was Insight Out's own graduation event; we continued to run Talent through the company and we started working for The Drum."
Meanwhile, the linked CIC has got involved in a number of exciting projects to provide work experience opportunities to those who need them, including Study and Train in Events Management (STEM) - a training scheme devised by Aspire4u for 17 to 25-year-olds not in education or employment. With an emphasis on practical, hands-on experience rather than exams, those taking part receive a certificate of achievement and a reference for future employment on completion. Participants also get first refusal on any future stewarding positions at Aspire4u Events.
Other activities include Project Talent TV - an online community TV station which gives experience to budding journalists or presenters, Future Focus professional workshops for budding entrepreneurs, and the INSPIRE project to provide unemployed young people with training in fashion design, graphic design and photography. The company has worked with thousands of young people over the years in various capacities, many of whom have attributed their subsequent success in education, employment or enterprise to the support gained from Aspire4u.
"Because we're only a small company, people can be flexible and get involved in different areas of the business, depending on what's of interest to them - and if they're not sure, they can try out different things during the course of the placement. For example, one person came to us on a six-month apprenticeship to do customer service, but because he was very articulate, I encouraged him to write blogs and he ended up going to university to study politics. We always do exit interviews, and I remember him saying that he didn't even realise before that he was a good writer, but he can see now that writing helps him articulate his opinions."
Daniella's work has not gone unnoticed, with the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour series "Women in Business" following her for a year which helped give her fresh insights and raise the profile of the organisation. She regularly comes back to the University, and is generous with her time and advice as a guest lecturer and dissertation supervisor, as well as offering placement opportunities to students currently at the University. She has big ambitions for the Aspire4u brand and believes it has the potential to grow nationally and internationally in future.
"My ambition now is to build up our event management client base so we are employing more staff on a permanent basis, and in a position to provide even more placement opportunities. We're working with an organisation called Development Keys which is helping us analyse the commercial side of our business and how we can attract more funding. My ultimate vision would be to grow the business to the extent that we have Birmingham as our head office, with branches in other major cities of the UK and international offices in Jamaica and Nigeria, all run on the same basis with the event management business in turn giving opportunities for young people.
"I was overwhelmed to hear I'd been selected as one of this year's Alumni of the Year - I remember when I got the letter it had just been a very busy, demanding week at work and to be recognised like this makes everything we do worthwhile."