A former London Underground announcer, he became the first person to win The Apprentice. Now he’s intent on helping young people from ethnic minorities to enter the business world.

Tim Campbell hasn’t had much sleep. Like millions of people around the world, he was up late watching the result of the US elections. Now, the day after Barack Obama became president-elect of the most powerful nation on earth, he tells me: “It was amazing. I am very pumped … I am even using Americanisms in my speech. You see Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact playing the president and you think it’s never going to happen, but now it’s real.”

Campbell, who was the first winner of television show The Apprentice, sits on the Black Boys’ National Role Model programme, which the Government set up last year to improve the visibility of black male achievement.

The programme was created in response to the Reach report, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2007, which concluded that, if more black boys and men overcame the barriers preventing them from reaching their potential, it could benefit the economy by £24 billion over the next 50 years.

Campbell is absolutely thrilled at what Obama’s victory will mean for young black men. “In this country, it will have a huge impact on the black and ethnic minority population, particularly young black boys,” he says. “Lots of people, in my opinion, have used the excuse that there are no role models. But now we have an international role model who has shown that there is no substitute for perseverance and focus.”

These are exactly the qualities that Campbell hopes to inspire in the young people involved in his new social enterprise charity, the Bright Ideas Trust, which he launched last month with London mayor Boris Johnson. A pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit, Campbell set up the organisation after leaving his job at Amstrad – the prize awarded to him by Sir Alan Sugar for his success on The Apprentice. He was formerly a platform announcer for London Underground and had cleaned ovens as a holiday job. So, clearly a man who believes in the value of hard work.

The Bright Ideas Trust is aimed at funding and supporting business entrepreneurship in deprived parts of inner city London, targeting 16- to 30-year-olds who want to set up their own businesses. Campbell says that the charity will initially focus on the Olympic boroughs of Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, but eventually he hopes to branch out on a national level.

“Some of the wards in these boroughs are the most deprived in Europe,” he says. “If we can find focused young people in those areas and help them with their ambitions, then we can do it anywhere.”

That said, Campbell believes that it is important his charity does not “try to be everything to everyone” and that it maintains its entrepreneurial focus. This is a goal that Claire Dove, chair of national body the Social Enterprise Coalition, has said is vital if social enterprises are to be taken seriously as businesses and if the sector is to expand.

“To be successful, it is important to be focused,” says Campbell. “We’re not social workers or psychiatrists. But if you want to start a business, we aim to give all the help you need to get that off the ground.”

To implement these aims, Campbell says his organisation is working with established charities that have a history of engaging with hard-to-reach groups, such as Barnardo’s, Kids Company and the Prince’s Trust.

It is also being savvy with advertising, he says. “We are on the internet, on things like YouTube and other social networking forums. Without dumbing down, we’re talking to young people in their own environment and asking them if they want to climb the social mobility ladder.”

Campbell insists he does not want the trust to be seen “as a bucket- shaking charity”, adding that all of its funding comes from commercial, independent sources such as the Bank of America. “We will take government money, but on our terms,” he says. “We will bid for contracts and do work in return.”

This links to another notable aspect of his professional life, namely his role as a social enterprise ambassador for the Government.

It was in this capacity that he recently raised a few eyebrows when he slammed community interest companies (CICs) as not being “fit-for-purpose”. That was despite Campbell having established his own CIC – the Bright Ideas Social Enterprise Community Interest Company – in 2007.

He says he set the CIC up to get his business idea moving, but found it constrained because it did not allow him to use profits as he saw fit. Now it operates as the trading arm of the recently launched trust.

As the interview ends, our conversation turns back to the US elections. Campbell says there are a lot of similarities between how the Bright Ideas Trust aims to nurture young people’s talent and how Barack Obama’s election campaign operated, depending on the backing of major businesses, intelligent targeting and organisation, and the use of trusted experts.

Campbell’s organisation provides mentors from major businesses to provide advice to young people, cash backing and business advice. “With that combination of support, their own dreams and passion, then success may not be guaranteed,” he says. “But it is likely.”


1995: Graduates from Middlesex University with a psychology degree.
1996: Completes postgraduate degree in human resource management at Thames Valley University before joining London Underground as an announcer.
2005: Wins The Apprentice, joins Amstrad.
2007: Sets up a male grooming business.
2008: Launches a charity, the Bright Ideas Trust.