BCU graduate and entrepreneur nominated for young business person award

A Birmingham City University (BCU) graduate and budding businesswoman is celebrating after being nominated for the Young Business Person of the Year accolade at a prestigious regional awards ceremony.

Posted 31 January 2023

Rishika Bhalla, a BCU graduate and STEAM Hatchery finalist, has been nominated for an entrepreneurial award.

Shining a spotlight on cutting-edge young business leaders

Rishika Bhalla – who graduated from BCU in 2020 with an MA in Design Management – has been shortlisted in the Young Business Person of the Year category at this year’s Signature Awards.

The awards ceremony, which will take place on Friday 10 February, celebrates businesses, entrepreneurs, startups and creatives in the West Midlands region.

In particular, it shines a spotlight on the work of those business professionals who have provided cutting-edge thinking and have driven their organisations forward.

The Young Business Person accolade is designated to those in the West Midlands area under the age of 30 who have created an innovative, forward-thinking and energising project or business.

The Signature Awards is a ceremony where BCU have previously enjoyed considerable success.

In 2022, the University won the Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion award, with STEAMhouse member and entrepreneur Simon Caulton being shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year.

For this year, Rishika is not the only BCU affiliate nominated.

Dalbir Kaur, a client of BCU’s Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) service, has been shortlisted for Tech Innovation of the Year for her innovative health care app.

Meanwhile, BCU itself is a finalist in the Community Excellence category.

Putting your best foot(wear) forward

Rishika has been highlighted through her not-for-profit startup, Sole Circle UK, which donates pre-loved sneakers and trainers to the four million people currently living in shoe poverty.

Working closely with the 300,000 committed members of the ‘sneakerhead’ community, Rishika has taken pre-loved trainers – many sitting in boxes in wardrobes or cast aside under beds – and spruced them up, offering them to people without access to adequate footwear.

It’s something leading charity Shoe Aid know too well.

According to their website, there are at least 280,000 homeless people with no shoes. Meanwhile, out of every 10 requests that Shoe Aid receive for footwear, seven of them are specifically requesting trainers/sneakers.

This inspired Rishika to bring together fervent sneaker fans and those living in shoe poverty, to see if the former could donate to the latter, promoting a circular economy and giving something back in the process.

Key support and growth

Since then, Rishika’s business has thrived. Her idea won a national competition to receive support from footwear giant Nike, which helped her launch Sole Circle UK into the community.

Since then, the company has created donation boxes in established retail brands Offspring and Selfridges, as well as partnering with Shoe Aid to help in their mission.

Rishika was also part of the inaugural STEAM Hatchery competition in the summer of 2022, which looked to support budding entrepreneurs with prize money and expert mentorship.

At the competition’s conclusion, Rishika was named as one of the four finalists, receiving £2,000 to bolster her business.

The Hatchery, which is returning in June 2023, gave Rishika a vital springboard to develop Sole Circle UK further.

“The STEAM Hatchery gave me an opportunity to look at my business from a clear lens and decide what I wanted it to be. It pushed me to think about areas of business I wouldn’t normally think about and inspired me to grow my vision for the business,” Rishika explains. 

“From the programme, I have gained so many skills and become a more well-rounded person.”

For more information on STEAM Hatchery, contact steamincubator@bcu.ac.uk.

A passion that makes a positive difference

Rishika is delighted that Sole Circle UK has given her a Young Business Person of the Year nomination.

“I’m very grateful,” she beams. “Imposter syndrome comes easily and often when you’re chasing your dream, but a nomination like this helps you stop and acknowledge how far you’ve actually come.”

Despite everything she’s achieved, this is Rishika’s first ever award nomination, making it extra special.

“To be recognised in such a way makes me feel a sense of pride for what I’ve established,” she says.

“It encourages me to step back and appreciate the fact that I get to work towards my passion every day, a passion that makes a positive difference to the world.”