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‘My teachers’ empathy really helped me’: Rotherhithe man co-founds women’s nutrition company

A Rotherhithe-born man who has co-founded an “inclusive” nutritional company aimed at women has told how his school days helped shape his character.

Jamal Ramsay, who in January launched Boxd, a company that sells protein, mineral and vitamin shakes “for all women” with his childhood friend Jamal Ayton-Brown, grew up in Balman House on Rotherhithe New Road.

Mr Ramsay, who described himself as an introvert, went to school across the road at Rotherhithe primary school and said how whenever things got rowdy he would go into his shell.

“I had some of the best teachers… they were really helpful and my mum told me how they would be active in me getting the best out of my education.

“When the class was being naughty I didn’t necessarily like it so I would revert into myself. The teachers could see that and they would take me out and put me into my twin brother’s class. I would just go into the next class over and that would make me a bit more calm. I think that empathy really helped me.”

As a teenager Mr Ramsay moved to Lewisham where he met Mr Ayton-Brown at college. There they had the first of their business ideas – a modelling agency.

“That didn’t last very long,” Mr Ayton-Brown laughed. “It seems a bit dodgy in the current climate. We realised early on was it wasn’t a good idea.”

The men, now 30, had “five or six” other business ideas over the intervening years before Mr Ramsay, now a health advisor at Bupa, noticed during assessments of women for work that many had iron or vitamin B12 deficiencies.

He said: “Especially with the sports supplement market being quite male focused, a lot of powders focus on the sports side, like muscle building, but don’t focus on other side that proteins can give you, which is things like hormone regulation, and hitting diet goals. We thought that we would serve women with a product that was actually beneficial to their overall health.”

The two friends went through a months-long research and testing drive and managed to build up a waiting list of 1,800 women who wanted to try their products. Now they needed funding.

They approached Virgin’s start-up fund and soon got a £48,000 loan to launch the company. “That was the easiest part, it only took about three weeks,” Mr Ayton-Brown said.

The company only has about 100 customers a month now but the two founders have big ambitions. “We want six figures minimum from a revenue perspective in the next six-nine months,” Mr Ayton-Brown said.

The friends said they understand how some women might be sceptical of a company for women that is run by men.

“We totally get that,” Mr Ayton-Brown said. “But we don’t want this to be a short-term marketing thing. We think there is a real opportunity for us to improve women’s health.” He pointed to the extensive research the two did before launching the company as a sign of their commitment.

Although founding a successful company has been a long-term dream for the friends, they said that their race had sometimes appeared to be a stumbling block in the past.

“We would go to these networking events for businesspeople and it would sometimes be difficult to find a way in to talk to people and we’d be left standing in a corner,” Mr Ayton-Brown said. “To be honest, that might also have been because we’re introverted but I do think sometimes you just go to what you know. We really had to force our way into these conversations, and that was hard at first.”

Even finding a supplier for their products was tricky, he added. “Sometimes you could tell that people would be looking at you and thinking ‘are these guys in it for the long-term’?”

Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests led to a step in the right direction for business, he said. “But what I’m interested in is if we can sustain this over the years to come.”


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