Kofi Oppong: Homeless Hackney teen to Urban MBA entrepreneur

Kofi Oppong

Kofi Oppong - Credit: Archant

Emma Bartholomew speaks to the remarkable Kofi Oppong – who was once homeless but now coaches young people to get in to business

Suddenly finding himself homeless aged 17, Kofi Oppong can remember walking down the street carrying all his belongings in two black bin liners with tears streaming down his cheeks.

He’d returned from a hip hop gig featuring Big Daddy Kane to find his parents had “kicked him out”.

Now 44 and a successful entrepreneur, as a teenager he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life – which did not go down too well with his mum and dad.

He said: “They are first generation Ghanaians, so if you aren’t doing law or medicine they don’t take it too well. It was purely about control. “They were trying to make me conform. To look at getting into university – and it just wasn’t something I wanted to do.”

Although he resolved to “never let his parents win”, the experience did make him think about setting goals.

This is one of the main things he now teaches young people from disadvantaged backgrounds at the “university for street entrepreneurs” he has launched – Urban MBA.

Most Read

The 30-week course is funded by Peabody housing association and the charity Bootstrap, and held at their base in Ashwin Street, Dalston.

It boosts the confidence of the 18- to 25-year-old participants, who get advice on how best to launch their own business. Kofi makes reference to sport, music and fashion to portray potentially boring subjects like finance and accounts in a way that is relevant to the young people. “Our strapline is ‘the university for street entrepreneurs’ – that’s tongue in cheek,” explained Kofi, who went to Southwold Primary School in Upper Clapton and Homerton House secondary school.

“Some of my friends growing up are now drug dealers. They were really bad with maths, but when it comes to money with drugs they are unbelievable. I’m not condoning that in any shape or form, but it shows when they are doing things for real it makes sense to them.

“It made me realise a lot of these people have transferrable skills. If they understood how to apply them in the right way they would be good at jobs. There are no longer jobs for life. Young people don’t know what the job market is going to be like – they have to prepare themselves.”