Words Kirk Truman
Portraits Dan Court
“Whereas I was once solving problems in law, today I’m solving problems in tech…”
Plenty of passers-by don’t even notice Newman Passage, tucked away between Newman Street and Rathbone Street; but if they were to turn down this obscure alley, they might discover something else that’s equally well hidden: the award-winning creation of one of London’s leading female entrepreneurs. Dupsy Abiola’s Fitzrovia-based company Intern Avenue is a leading online recruitment platform that has revolutionised how employers find the qualified students and graduates they seek.
Modupeola “Dupsy” Abiola was born in 1982, the daughter of Moshood and Dele Abiola, and raised in North London. On graduating from Oxford University she begun working as a barrister for a leading law firm, working on a number of high profile disputes. Dupsy comes from an entrepreneurial family background. Her late father Moshood was a successful Nigerian business tycoon and philanthropist, and had a notable influence on her interest in business. “I started out my career as a barrister, which is a wonderful thing to be. It’s a very traditional career in which you learn a really great skill set, she tells me. “You’re presented with wonderful challenges, and really what you are is a problem solver, which I think at heart is who I am. Really though, I think I always knew I was a technophile. Whereas I was once solving problems in law, today I’m solving problems in tech.”
In her time as a barrister, Dupsy was involved in finding the best entry-level employees for her law firm. It was here that she began to recognise the importance of putting the right people into the workplace, and the difficulties of sourcing the appropriate talent. “In many careers, and in almost every company, who your people are effects your productivity and your everything. If you don’t have the right people, you’re screwed,” she points out. “Every single business owner, the world over, is thinking: how can I get better people and how can I make the people in my organisation happier, better and more productive. Getting in the best and brightest people really early is the best way to do that. So, if you can find and attract the best people fast and early, many of your problems kind of resolve themselves. Doing that however, is really hard. Hard in a way that later on, when you’re finding more established talent, doesn’t occur; people have history and a company reputation behind them – you already know what they’re capable of. The diamonds in the rough are the ones at the very entry-level stages and typically only very large companies have the pick of the bunch.”
Dupsy saw how huge companies spend thousands attending university events in order to cherry-pick the best talent, long before individuals even graduate. “I felt that every business could use that. I was very much struck with the fact that if you’re not the kind of company that wants to hang out at universities and poach people two years before they leave, then where are you going to find this talent?” At this point, her own sister was leaving university and intending to get into finance, but wondered how she should go about it. How might she be discovered by the right employer without having to do endless applications? It was a question that inspired Dupsy. “I wanted to create a meeting place where people could more easily find one other without going through a lot of the more problematic elements of the hiring process. So I had this epiphany moment about what would eventually become Intern Avenue,” she says. “I was at the stage where I could’ve easily continued as a lawyer, which I did enjoy greatly, but I think when you’ve got something in your mind and the set of talents to achieve it, it doesn’t easily go away. I’m the kind of person who always likes to bite off more than I can chew. So I thought, why don’t I just quit my job and do this instead?” She laughs, but insists: “It made complete sense to me. All of my friends thought I was nuts, but nuts in a good way. You only live once, and you’ve got to look back and be able to say you did something or went off and took a couple of shots. So, I quit my job and started from scratch.”
So began Dupsy’s new venture. Positioned to fill the large gap between Facebook and LinkedIn, Intern Avenue is designed to connect the most talented students and graduates with employers. At first, indeed biting off more than she could chew, she downloaded Python and tried to build and create the website herself. “I called it my crazy Python week,” she says. “Not a reasonable use of my time, as it turned out! I built the first site myself, but it was nowhere near as technical as the site we use today. It’s interesting – when you quit your job, you suddenly become very interested in what other people do. It turned out that a lot of my friends actually made websites for some of the biggest companies in the world.” Seeking help from these friends and other contacts, she begun to learn much from other entrepreneurs about how to get a project like hers off the ground. At first, her tech advisor was the head of technology for Yahoo in Europe, instrumental in helping Dupsy build her online platform. “I was really fortunate that I had people around me who could point me in the right direction and give me a glimpse into what best practice looks like, and point me at really good people to help me start building things,” she says. In 2012, her platform received a well-earned push after she successfully pitched her business on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, becoming the first recruitment business to successfully pitch on the show. Dupsy was described as a “real entrepreneur in the making”, and received £100,000 in investment from telecom giant Peter Jones.
When setting up office, Dupsy found herself looking at various locations in the West End, rather than the tech scene that seemed to cluster around East London. “Fitzrovia is great!” she says. “There are a couple of different creative central working places that are in the area, that have this wonderful combination of technical talent and creativity, which is why I think I love it so much here. I was looking at a couple of places when I found this space on Newman Passage. I walked in, and straight away there was something characterful about it.” Today, Intern Avenue’s client list includes the UK Government, Lloyds Banking Group and AOL. The platform has also been featured by the Financial Times, CNN and in Investec Private Banking’s ‘Restless Spirits’ campaign, in which Dupsy appeared. She is passionate about promoting diversity, open access, and reducing youth unemployment and is an active advisor on these policies. In the coming years, she is determined to expand her multiple award-winning platform throughout Europe and globally.