Anna Marie is a fascinating person. She has not had the typical entrepreneurship experience. You see, not many people dabble into different areas at different points in their life, and make it work, make it shine. Anna Marie is one of those people. It’s not every day we get to sit down with a winner of a beauty pageant. The first Miss Teen Nigeria pageant at that! Anna Marie is the founder of multi-media wellness platform ‘Home of AMARE’, and ToluAspire, a platform which carries with it her deep infectious passion for a notable cause. Read more to find out about it all.
Q: You were the first ever Miss Teen Nigeria UK. When you won, you emphasised that the journey was just beginning, and boy were you right. Tell us about your growth since then.
Wow, a lot has definitely happened as it was over 3 years ago. Looking back, it feels like a completely different lifetime. Since then, I managed to finish my law degree, and that accomplishment acts as a touchpoint to remind me of just how much I've grown as a person.
Winning the pageant was a great experience, but it was also a test of my emotional strength and was very character building. I used to take things very personally, but that's not the case anymore. My emotional intelligence has skyrocketed, and I'm grateful for the wisdom I've gained as I now approach life differently and view things from a better perspective - as is expected as we mature and grow as people.
Interestingly, I was recently discussing my personal growth with a friend, and they pointed out how much more expressive and vocal I've become over the years - and I couldn't agree more. I'm no longer afraid to publicly share my thoughts and opinions with the world.
I would say this confidence has taken me on some incredible adventures. After finishing my Law degree, I took a year to focus on exploring my passions and interning at a few different places, instead of pursuing an LLM which I had initially planned. During that time, I realised how much I love writing, creative strategy, partnering with people and building communities. So, I took the leap and became a freelance writer and, since then, I always look for new challenges.
Q: In 2020 you founded ToluAspire, a platform for supporting autistic individuals from the black community. Firstly, I want to congratulate you on providing such a needed platform. Tell us why this was such an important mission for you.
In 2015, I started advocating for autism awareness, and it became a personal mission of mine. Every time I participated in a pageant, it was the cause I championed. However, I felt like I needed to do more. I wanted to create a space where people could talk about autism, share their stories, and increase awareness. That's when ToluAspire was born.
Inspired by my older brother, Tolulope, who is autistic and non-verbal, ToluAspire started as a small initiative, but I always had a bigger vision for it. It wasn't just about the ‘awareness’, although that was important to me. It was also things like hearing and seeing people use the word ‘autistic’ as an insult. Things like this triggered me. So, I wanted to provide a space to share these stories, experiences, and learn from one another. I believe that by sharing our stories and experiences, it can break down stereotypes and promote understanding and acceptance.
Anna-Marie & David Oluwamayowa Amoko, Mr & Miss Teen Nigeria UK 2019
Q: Has the black community progressed with regards to acceptance and advancement of autistic people, and how had ToluAspire attempted to contribute to this?
While the community has made some progress in terms of accepting autistic individuals, there is still a way to go. Through ToluAspire, I attempted to contribute to this progress by starting conversations and connecting with people online and over Instagram Live. In 2020, I had the opportunity to speak with incredible individuals like Emma Finch (star of MTVs Teen Mom UK), Tyla Grant, Michael Odamtten-Mills and Vanessa-May Gavaris to share their experiences and help others understand the challenges faced by autistic individuals.
Despite the seemingly small impact of these efforts, I believe seeds were planted for much more progress to come. Together, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for autistic individuals in the black community and beyond, particularly in corporate and work spaces.
As I continue to learn and grow, I'm constantly inspired by the trailblazing individuals who are leading the way. Women like Venessa Bobb and Atinuke Awe, along with my mentor Prince Israel, exemplify the authentic approach and unwavering commitment needed to make a real difference in our community.
Q: Now that we have touched on some of your previous endeavours, let’s talk about today. You are the founder of Home of AMARE. Tell us about it.
Home of AMARE is a platform that is incredibly close to my heart, born out of my personal journey. Home of AMARE is a multimedia-wellness platform founded to empower Gen Z and Millennials to build healthy boundaries for themselves, their relationships, and their work/personal ambitions. The name AMARE is derived from the Latin word for love, which is a central theme in the Home of AMARE philosophy. We believe that self-love and self-care are foundational to building healthy boundaries and pursuing one's passions.
As a recovering people pleaser, I realised the importance of setting healthy boundaries, especially in a world where we're busier and more distracted than ever before. During the summer of 2021, I read a book called "Boundaries" which deeply resonated with me. This inspired me to create Home of AMARE as a platform to share my own experiences and knowledge about boundaries and personal empowerment, and to create a community where others could do the same.
Home of AMARE is especially relevant now as we navigate a time when people are feeling more pressure than ever before. This includes navigating cultural implications, breaking generational traumas, and managing the demands of a busy and complex world. We offer a range of resources, including workshops, consulting, and digital products to empower individuals to redefine their boundaries and build the skills and resilience necessary to thrive in today's world.
The name AMARE is derived from the Latin word for love, which is a central theme in the Home of AMARE philosophy. We believe that self-love and self-care are foundational to building healthy boundaries and pursuing one's passions.
Q: Studying your career so far, you have always been in the thick of building things, constantly re-inventing yourself. Would you say you fell into entrepreneurship due to a particular opportunity, a eureka moment, or that entrepreneurship has always been in your DNA?
I believe everyone has the power to change and evolve. I'm the biggest advocate of re-inventing yourself. It's liberating to know that you have the power to pivot when something no longer serves you.
But this is a good question! For me, I wouldn't say entrepreneurship has always been in my DNA - I would consider myself more a creator than an entrepreneur. I've always been drawn to creative expression and making things happen. The more I embrace my creative side, the more I find myself being pulled towards entrepreneurship. There's something thrilling about coming up with new ideas and finding ways to turn them into reality.
For me, the desire to serve and have empathy towards my audience and customers is what ultimately leads me to entrepreneurship. It's important to care about those you're serving and be ready to serve them well if you want to start a successful business. While I may not fit the traditional mould of an entrepreneur, I am excited to collaborate with others, exercise my entrepreneurial muscles, and bring Home of AMARE to life.
Q: I have noticed two interesting things as you have progressed from endeavour to endeavour. You have always had a mission of helping people.
Secondly, and more interestingly, you’ve become more business conscious, integrating more & more elements of a sustainable business into each new project. You started with developing your personal brand, then you built ToluAspire, a social enterprise, however lacked certain operational elements necessary in sustaining it. You then started #amTalks your podcast and shortly after you founded Home of AMARE, a wellness media platform with its own native content and digital products including your e-book on healthy boundaries. Tell us about what brought about this growth in your approach to projects.
I love helping creators and aspiring entrepreneurs, especially now. I try to offer advice on branding and community building where I can.
Hearing about my journey, with all its ups and downs, is something I'm glad is public for all to see. As I gained more experience and knowledge, I realised the importance of sustainable growth in business. When I set up my first business, AM Wigs, I would often burn out and realised first hand how operational elements were necessary to keep my projects running smoothly and effectively serve my audience. I used to believe that I needed to build and learn everything myself, without having to rely on others for help, which was unhealthy. But now, I am always looking for ways to delegate and grow projects in a healthy and sustainable manner, with stable foundations and the right support.
I used to wait too long to pursue an idea, due to overthinking and excessive planning. For example, I sat on the podcast idea for almost a year. But now, I understand that being an agile person and embracing the "fail fast" mindset is an important trait to have. This is what I've adopted with Home of AMARE and I'm seeing the rewards today. If I had waited until I was fully ready to start, trust me - there would be no content or e-book right now.
Q: You’ve been building Home of AMARE for almost a year now, and accumulated over 70 thousand followers. Due to the stress that comes with scaling a business a lot of entrepreneurs fall out of love with their projects, yet you are always filled with so much passion doing what you do. How have you been able to maintain this, and what’s your advice to entrepreneurs in similar positions?
I think it's important for entrepreneurs to recognise that falling out of love with what you're doing is completely normal - there’s no shame in it. In fact, sometimes we outgrow things we once wanted rather than falling out of love with them. I've experienced this firsthand, but fortunately, I have a talented colaborators who share my level of excitement and passion for Home of AMARE. Delegating tasks that I don't enjoy doing, such as social media posts, and focusing on what I'm good at and enjoy, has helped not to suck the joy out of things. I have a vision that excites me and is bigger than me, which is crucial to maintaining my passion.
My advice to entrepreneurs in similar positions is to surround yourself with people who share your vision and passion (if not more) and can offer support and encouragement when needed. If you can, delegate things you don’t enjoy doing. Once you have that passion and there’s an idea that keeps coming to you, it’s best to go at it with full force. Don't do it half-heartedly. The passion is there for a reason.
Finally, be honest with yourself about what truly brings you joy and fulfilment. It's also okay to take a step back and reassess your goals if you need to.
Q: In your new series multifaceted on #amTalks, you mentioned not wanting to be put inside a box. Tell us about the effect this type of thinking has had on your entrepreneurial ambitions & career.
From a young age, I've always had a bit of a disrupter energy in me. I didn’t like being boxed in or confined to any particular label or category. Even when I started pageantry, it wasn't to fit in or conform to any particular stereotype. It was to break free from the box of athletics that I felt like I was put in. I didn't want to be known as just "the girl that runs" in school. I wanted to explore all the different facets of who I am and express myself in different ways.
Recently, I've been exploring the world of UX design, which is something that I don't talk about much. But it's something that I'm really interested in, and I feel like it's a natural fit for me because it's all about psychology and creating new and innovative solutions to problems. As an entrepreneur, I've always valued the importance of being multifaceted and not limiting myself to any one particular field or industry. I believe that the more diverse your experiences and skill sets, the better equipped you are to navigate the ever-changing landscape of entrepreneurship.
However, there is a downside to having such a broad range of interests. It can be easy to lose focus and become spread too thin. As someone who does quite a bit of freelance work, I have to be careful not to take on too much and to maintain balance in my professional and personal life.
Stay tuned for more episodes of #amTalks, where we'll dive deeper into other people’s stories surrounding creativity, self-discovery, and innovation. I hope that by creating the series, people feel inspired to embrace their own multifaceted nature and not limit themselves.
Anna-Marie with Shevelle Serita for the 'I AM multifaceted' series of her podcast #amtalks
Q: Tell us 3 things Anna-Marie enjoys doing when she’s not working.
Firstly, spending time with my family is my absolute favourite thing. Family is everything to me, and I love cherishing those little moments of joy, whether it's watching football together or having a movie night.
Secondly, I really value catching up with friends and exploring new events. Whether it's trying a new restaurant, attending a concert or some other activity, I always feel refreshed and inspired after spending quality time with my friends.
Finally, one of the most important things to me is worship and music. It's a time for me to reflect and connect with God on a deeper level. Whether it's attending church or worshiping at home with my favourite gospel songs, it's powerful for me.
Q: What does the future hold for Home of AMARE?
We're excited about our two-sided platform: wellness and media. On the wellness side, we continuously develop new workshops and products. Our work is founded on good research. Recently, we held a workshop where we invited people to share their stories of friendship. By listening to these stories, we gained valuable insights that will help shape our content on the media side. More of these kinds of insights will soon be featured on our upcoming website - www.homeamare.com
We're also collaborating with top brands and communities to spread our message and create more collaborative content. Our ultimate goal is to create content that inspires our audience and has an inter-generational impact. We're exploring ideas such as producing mini documentaries and long-format series that showcase people's real stories and even hosting wellness retreats. Our aim is not only to educate but also entertain our community. There’s a lot going on but we’re taking one step at a time!
Maria McDowell and Anna-Marie on the mentorship panel for Lollipop mentoring CIC