Melvin Riley lives by his motto; “Be the change you want to see”. He has dedicated his life so far to social empowerment and tackling the socioeconomic challenges that he can see. Race equality, sustainability development goals, and empowering young people and new entrepreneurs all fall within his remit.
He has now been selected as a finalist for ‘young business person of the year’ at the LeicestershireLive Business Award having designed a new app that helps Black students throughout their university life. This is his story.
When you speak to Melvin Riley, it’s hard to not be impressed by his accolades.
Aged just 20, the Economics and Politics student from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has already been invited to 10 Downing Street, UK political party conferences and the United Nations’ headquarters in New York to speak about youth entrepreneurship, sustainability and young people.
He has met Anne, Princess Royal, he was chosen as a baton bearer for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and was named young citizen of the year of his home city Wolverhampton, as recognition for his eight years of advocacy and activism work.
He is currently spearheading a small team called ‘NOT so MICRO’, campaigning to make microaggression training a mandatory part of the school teachers qualifications, all while working closely with The Diana award/ UK Youth as a young change maker, the West midlands race equality task force and previously with the West Midlands Police as a youth commissioner, and many other organisations.
But now Melvin is vying to be named the young businessperson of the year at the 2022 Leicestershire Business Awards, having founded ATLS BLK while studying at DMU.
ATLS BLK is a social media platform designed specifically for students of Black heritage. It’s a place where Black students can create, share and connect with experts across different disciplines for professional and personal advice.
Melvin’s app is only at a concept stage currently but despite having no physical presence just yet, it managed to catch the eye of the judges, which speaks volumes not only of his idea but the young man himself.
“I did not expect to be in contention,” Melvin admitted. “I wasn’t even sure I had submitted my application in time, I had about 10 seconds to get it in before the deadline closed.
“I am still shocked to be a finalist. The concept is there and I’m very happy with it, so I’m continuing to raise capital and looking to launch the first version in the next 18 months.
“ATLS BLK is the quick university guide that has been missing from the pockets of Black students for decades. The app comprises seven key elements: ranking, guide, forum, community, wellbeing, business and connect all designed to tackling the key issues we face. This allows, for example, Black students to know how many other Black students are currently on their course or how inclusive a university is for Black students.
“Even if I don’t win, it’s a huge achievement for me to just be in the running – probably on par with being a baton bearer for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.”
The number of Black British students starting undergraduate study from 2019 to 2020 was 50,655, while the number of Black academics in teaching positions has stalled at around 1 per cent – just 160 out of 22,855 professors – according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).
That disparity was the catalyst for Melvin to create ATLS BLK and build a community that could discuss issues such as microaggressions or racial prejudice in a safe environment.
The app is set to rank universities on their inclusivity by measuring the number of Black staff members and students, as well as allowing users to have a safe online space to express their views.
Melvin's trip to the United Nations' headquarters in New York
He worked with the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre, housed within DMU and which works to influence how British society thinks about race and social justice, to build the concept of the app further.
“I want to tackle challenges I see as part of my life and play a part in helping Black university students feel comfortable and represented when embarking on their university journey,” he said.
“I had lots of support from the team at the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre. They were fantastic and I trusted them with feedback and different directions I could push the app.
“Rachel Stevens, a senior lecturer in management and entrepreneurship as well as Simon Baines, Vikesh Mistry and Tammy Meahan from DMU Entrepreneurship have all played a big part in my journey in the last year. They have helped me develop the fundamentals of the business and scale the concept up to where it is today.”
Growing up, Melvin was surrounded by business - even if initially he didn’t realise it. His mum runs her own healthcare agency while his dad was a self-employed plumber, and while Melvin aspired to study medicine and become a neurosurgeon, he watched as his parents built their own businesses, not realising that one day he would follow in their footsteps.
Life however can hit you fast.
In 2020, just as Melvin was approaching the end of sixth form, he was blindsided by the sudden death of his dad. Keith Riley died unexpectedly of heart disease during the coronavirus pandemic.
Melvin has credited his dad for “shaping” him into a smart, proactive, and diligent teenager but Keith’s unexpected passing prompted him to take a gap year to find himself.
Having become increasingly inspired by entrepreneurial parents and other notable entrepreneurs, Melvin looked beyond learning medicine also and discovered how an economics and politics degree would allow him to combine his passion for social justice/ politics and empowering young people with his new-found entrepreneurial spirit.
Melvin as a Commonwealth Games baton bearer
Having joined DMU in 2021, it didn’t take Melvin too long to take advantage of the university’s many entrepreneurial initiatives. He took part in the inaugural BAME Lead and Inspire programme, where he received a commendation from the Business and Law Faculty for his attitude.
From there, his entrepreneurial journey has gone from strength to strength, having won £1500 in an HSBC & start-up discovery school national student business incubator programme, coming second in DMU Entrepreneurship’s Pitch2Win competition and winning social enterprise of the year at the DMU enterprise and entrepreneurship awards, to grow ATLS BLK.
“I met the Entrepreneurship team on a DMU Global Trip to Los Angeles. It is through Simon and Vikesh that I learned about pitching, business in Leicester, entrepreneurial resilience and the team’s mentoring has helped me grow as both an entrepreneur and a person.
“In fact, it was Simon and Tammy who pushed me to apply for the Leicestershire Business Awards, so I wouldn’t be nominated and now a finalist without their guidance.
“I like to think that if dad saw me now, he could see how far I’ve come and would be happier that I’ve gone down this route.”
The 2022 Leicester Business Awards takes place at The King Power Stadium on Thursday 13 October.
With so much experience already under his belt, Melvin’s career is destined to climb. And while winning at the Leicestershire Business Awards may not become a defining moment in several years’ time, scooping the crown would be the icing on top of a very sweet 2022.
Posted on Thursday 13th October 2022