Final year Drama and Literature student Daniella Opoku-Acheampong’s goal is essential. Through her YouTube channel, Town of Tawiah, Daniella has been endeavouring to explore intersecting identities within the black community and debunk common misconceptions about them. Over time, Daniella has managed to create a multi-faceted business that actively fights against stereotyping and discrimination.

How it started...

I chose the University of Essex because when I was looking for the best universities for Drama and Literature, Essex was very high up in the league tables. Many other universities focused on English Literature; however, literature is a broad spectrum that contains Chinese literature, African literature and many more. It spoke volumes to me that the course at Essex reflected a de-colonized perspective.

I started working on my YouTube channel about four years ago, but during my final year of study, I began considering the possibility of pursuing an entrepreneurial route. This led me to Essex Startups which was recommended to me by one of my classmates. I booked my first 1:1 mentoring session and started the process of breaking away from solely creating content and establishing other business pathways.

After that first meeting, I signed up to the Empower: Female Founders Programme. Every Tuesday morning for six weeks, we would take part in workshops which focused on different areas of growing your business. Having an all-female led program was an amazing experience. It was a very intimate process, allowing each of us to receive tailored feedback and advice to progress further. At the end of the programme, I pitched my business to an expert panel and was awarded £1,000 in funding. Following Empower, I pitched for the Essex Startups Grant and was delighted to receive a further £1,500.

Business development

Town of Tawiah is a social enterprise which is comprised of different avenues including video content, production and online and in-person community. It’s intended to support members of the black community who feel ostracised, while debunking common misconceptions within the community by discussing the different intersecting identities present. This is done through video content posted on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram which have a large following. As it currently stands, my YouTube channel has over 17,000 subscribers while my Instagram and TikTok have 3,000 followers. I create both long and short-form content including video essays, think pieces and cultural critiques.

The overall aim for the business is to provide a platform for people who feel like outcasts and to give them a chance to tell their stories, while connecting with like-minded people. The ultimate purpose with Town of Tawiah is to build a community.

The support I’ve received from Essex Startups has been fantastic. The funding I received allowed me to purchase new equipment, including a camera and a new monitor, to make my videos look more professional.

The team’s continuous encouragement has helped me broaden my perspectives and given me the confidence to explore new avenues. They have also supported me with the practical side of my business, such as advice on opening a business bank account. Whenever I’m delving into new territory with the business and might feel slightly uncertain about the direction its headed in, it’s very reassuring to know I can just book a meeting and have all those potential doubts resolved.

How it's going...

As a black woman on the autism spectrum, I grappled for a long time with feeling like I didn’t belong. Through my platform, I have created a space for people to be seen, which is something I wish I could’ve had growing up. It is very rewarding to create content that resonates with so many people and provide hope to those who have felt their options in life were limited.

Regarding my work-life balance, as a neurodivergent, it’s especially complicated for me, so I follow a schedule. From Monday to Wednesday I focus exclusively on my studies, and from Thursday to Sunday, I prioritise my business and taking time out to rest. This helped me to compartmentalise as my work requires a lot of brain power and can become very overwhelming. Planning out specific days and allocating portions of my day to individual tasks has really helped me maintain that balance. It’s always very tempting to try to record something extra on a day that I’ve allocated to studying, but I’ve become good at disciplining myself to stick to the schedule; so, I don’t burn out.

The next step...

I have started an online and in-person social space for black neurodiverse girls and queers. It’s called NeuroNoir and is an online chat community on Discord and Instagram with over 200 members. This summer I’ll be hosting the first in-person event, giving black neurodivergent people the opportunity to meet others with similar experiences.

Pitching for the Essex Startups Grant unexpectedly gave me the chance to network and collaborate with others. I ended up meeting, and become friends with, the two other winners of the grant, Noah Pantano and Jessica Lee. Getting to watch them pitch and chatting with them afterwards was very valuable as I recognised strategies with their businesses that I could implement in mine. Their enthusiasm allowed me to become more confident and comfortable with my business offering and enjoy having a shared passion with other budding entrepreneurs.

The business planning process certainly surprised me. Initially, I assumed that once I had the funding that everything would go smoothly, however, the negotiation and administration process was a learning experience for me. While setting up meetings and deals with established brands has been amazing, it’s been important not to get intimidated and accept offers that do not align with my values. It’s been essential for me to appreciate my worth and assert myself when required.

That’s not to say it’s all negative, it’s been exciting to see just how quickly the business can grow. I went from making YouTube videos at the beginning of the year to now planning for a community event, as well as a separate venture with its own name.

Words of wisdom...

My advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business is to go to Essex Startups for a 1:1 as soon as possible! I’ve been telling everyone how lucky we Essex students are to have an opportunity like this. I’ve met so many graduates from other universities who don’t have this sort of support from their own institutions, so it’s vital we make the most of it!

Even if you aren’t sure which events to book, reach out to the team and discuss your ideas. Everyone on the team knows their stuff and they are always willing to help however they can. You’re only missing out if you don’t get some sort of support from Startups!

Find out more

If you have a potential business idea, or are interested in developing your business skills, find out more about the training, events and support Essex Startups offers to current students and recent graduates.