The daughter of Indian immigrants who arrived in the UK aged five has been made a CBE for services to entrepreneurship after setting up a mentoring scheme that now boasts 23,000 budding future business leaders among its ranks.
Shalini Khemka said she was “totally overwhelmed” and “delighted” to receive the honour in recognition of the E2E networking scheme she set up a decade ago, and hoped it was a sign of how vital entrepreneurs are to the future growth of the UK economy.
The businesswoman follows in the footsteps of her mother Dame Asha Khemka, who was made a Dame in 2014 for her work in the education sector – the first Indian-born woman to receive one.
Ms Khemka told the PA news agency: “I was born in India and came here when I was five years old.
“If you’d asked me when I was young would I have had a CBE in the UK, it never occurred to me that I could even hope to achieve something like this, so I want to encourage young people that there is a huge amount of opportunity and if you really work hard, this country can allow you to thrive.”
The entrepreneur started her career in finance, working for banks including Deutsche Bank and Lloyds, before moving into the world of private equity where she grew her interest in helping entrepreneurs.
She explained: “When I moved into private equity I saw how entrepreneurship could be done differently.
“I wanted to encourage entrepreneurs to be surrounded by the right people rather than going with the company in front of them.”
In 2011 E2E was launched to create networking events for entrepreneurs to learn and be mentored by top executives.
The advisory board includes Pure Gym founder Peter Roberts, former St Tropez boss Judy Naake and Hallmark Care Homes founder Avnish Goyal.
Ms Khemka said Covid has made it harder for entrepreneurs to thrive but said they remain the lifeblood of the UK economy.
She added: “Entrepreneurs are absolutely critical. It’s always been and it always will be that small businesses drive the economy, whether it is UK or any other country around the world.
“I think entrepreneurship is not just the lifeblood of the economy, but for a lot of people it’s what gives them the purpose, a reason to live.
“Covid has definitely made it harder in terms of building relationships with potential clients, knowing who to talk to, cash flow issues – everything from the financial side to the emotional side.”
She said she hoped the Government would support entrepreneurs and explained that many are shunning the traditional view of being a brash business leader, turning to empathy and passion instead.
The E2E boss added: “I think being a successful entrepreneur is about having purpose and passion, understand your clients and their needs, having tenacity and being kind.
“I can’t speak for whether everyone’s like that but there’s a definite movement towards that and Covid has made people think a lot more carefully around longer-term ambitions rather than short-term ones.”