As many in my generation will have experienced, I left high school full of self-doubt and confusion about my future. I certainly didn't have a plan about what to do with my life and the idea of running my own business seemed completely alien to me. The only thing I was sure about is that I wanted to improve my English. So at a young age I took the plunge and moved from my hometown in Italy to the capital of the UK, full of nerves and anticipation for my future.
I fell in love with London instantly and after my six months were up, I wasn't ready to leave. In fact, ten years later, I'm still here. My English came on leaps and bounds, giving me the freedom to study other subjects in the UK and I began a degree in International Tourism Management. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of my journey to starting my own accessible holidays business.
As a student in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I took on various jobs to survive. I tried my hand at everything, from receptionist work in a hostel, to being a waiter at a Japanese restaurant and a sales assistant in a clothes store. These were not the most glamorous jobs but they gave me some important skills needed for running a business, such as negotiation, sales and organisation. Turns out London's challenging living costs forced me to engage with various jobs that were all preparing me, bit by bit, for my next big step.
This big step was to launch my own tourism company focused on offering accessible holidays for visually impaired and disable people. Two main factors led me down this path. The first was my final dissertation that focused on accessible tourism practice, where I learned that there was a serious lack of tour operators offering accessible holidays. At that time (2009), 300,000 blind people were registered in the UK and only one tour operator was responding this potential market. I was shocked that it was still such a challenge for some people to go on holiday, an experience that so many of us take for granted. Discovering this was a wake up call that became the major motivation for creating my business.
The other crucial inspiration came from my own father, a specialised scuba-diving instructor who has been working with disabled people for over 15 years. In fact, his training was so successful that his students, Martino Florio (wheelchair user) and Bendetta Spampinato (blind) managed to achieve the Guinness World Record in deep sea diving. It seemed crazy that nobody was offering a service to help more people like Martino and Bendetta to experience the thrill of an active holiday.
With a strong belief in my idea and seeing the potential market, I decided to present this idea to the business plan competition of the Accelerator, the business incubator of London Met. To my luck, they were impressed and I was given the chance to have an office space, mentoring and tools to transform my idea into a business. This was the start of Seable, launched in November 2013 to enable people with limited mobility, impaired vision or deafness to easily participate in life-changing experiences. We have now been recognised by UK charities and organisations and I am humbled that Seable is a double award winning social enterprise. I also won the People's Vote in the NACUE Varsity Pitch Competition, where I received some brilliant support, with over 1,400 votes.
When I graduated from high school and moved to London, I never imagined that a few years later I would be the founder of a successful social enterprise. Taking that leap into the unknown has given me so many opportunities to be grateful for. The buzz that surrounds London played an immense role in helping me to realise my ambitions. The capital offers more than just infrastructure, but a cultural hub of innovation and inspiration where people believe in you and your ideas.