How Jessica is helping young Black talent

Jessica with her daughter Storm. Pictures: Kate Elliott

The Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) are back and celebrating exceptional Black business talent for the ninth year. The awards ceremony will be held in the City of London on September 29. Here, SME catches up with one of the finalists, Jessica Elliott, who runs her own talent company.

Jessica, how does is feel to be a 2022 Black British Business Awards finalist?

It’s amazing! For me the best part was my four-year-old daughter jumping up and down in the living room shouting ‘Mummy you’ve won, you are the best business in the world!’ Bless her but not quite. She sees Mummy doing meetings and phone calls and sometimes comes to set so it’s great for her to see a tangible reward as going to watch people she knows in the West End or on the cinema is her normal. It’s also fabulous to have the recognition to show others it’s possible

What were the early challenges of setting up your organisation?

Not knowing where to start … it’s taken years to build industry contacts and credibility. Also challenging the status quo a lot of the children I started out with were black or brown so I was suggesting them for what were back then traditionally roles played by white children. We’ve come a long way since but there is still work to do. Having people take me seriously in the early days was hard. When I started J’s Dance Factory I was 19 I struggled to even set up a business bank account because they thought I was too young. I guess stereotyping me. When I started winning awards and showing up more in the press, people viewed me differently and it became easier. I tried not to make anything a problem. Lack of funds etc .. I just got creative. My company colours were black and white because I couldn’t afford colour printing.

What do you enjoy about your job?

There is no better feeling than watching kids grow and develop.. seeing one of your clients on a West End stage or in a film or tv show never gets old! I also enjoy educating parents about the industry. Knowledge truly is power and through my book and podcast “So You Think Your Kid’s Got Talent I’m able to really educate parents and help them navigate the industry. This helps create much better prospects for their children as they make informed decisions.

Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?

More of the same really. Still helping kids to achieve their industry dreams. Would be great to have a team of agents perhaps but all with my ethos and passion to see kids thrive so I can help more young talent.

What can companies do to retain and attract Black talent?

I think first of all making sure the playing field is level. In my industry a positive that came out of the pandemic was that for the first time it didn’t actually matter where you were based because no one could travel. Everything was being cast on self tapes and Zoom. I also think “the awakening” and the Black Lives Matter movement in reaction to the killing of George Floyd helped to show the disparity in opportunity in some black communities so I would say the first step is education in our schools. Making sure black children know that certain jobs are available to them in the first place. You cannot be what you cannot see.