The room is filled with anticipation; lively conversations quickly lower themselves to hushed whispers, the stage lights spill out into the crowd illuminating a variety of telling expressions. What is merely a moment seems to last forever for the younger entrepreneurs among a room of 1,200 as they eagerly wait for their name to be announced as Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Ben Amanna isn’t one of those anticipating the announcement – his cool expression and casual posture contrasting those around him. Ben leans back in his seat as his name is called and, with no urgency, rises from his place to collect his well-deserved award.
“I know where I’m headed,” Ben begins confidently, no longer taking the stage before a thousand-strong crowd, but sitting comfortably in his office.
A member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 cohort for 2021, the newly crowned Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Midlands insists he has nothing else in mind other than “keeping the momentum going”.
“I like to let my actions do the talking,” says Ben. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s [winning the award] a great feeling, but it doesn’t change the task I’ve got at hand.”
A productive passion
The confident, Coventry-born entrepreneur paints a very different picture of himself as a child, initially spending a few years living in India when he was younger. Ben talks about his return to the UK, where he spent the rest of his childhood and found his love for boxing amidst struggles in a new school and new environment.
“I grew up in an all-white Roman Catholic school,” Ben recalls. “I got bullied a lot growing up, I was a very insecure kid. I was chased most days, but when I came to 12 years old, it was like, ‘I’ve got to put a stop to this now’.
“I joined the boxing gym – I had a free session over the summer holidays and I just stuck with it. I was there four or five times a week – it became a second home.”
Ben’s plans to use boxing to protect himself worked. The bullying “stopped instantly”, but it didn’t stop him. By then, boxing had become his passion.
Ben’s passion for boxing became so strong that at the age of 16 he was lying on an application form to become a fully-fledged personal trainer.
At the time, Ben’s passion for boxing was only matched by his enthusiasm for business. But he was yet to combine the two, setting his business eye elsewhere.
Starting off small, Ben began selling sweets from a young age at school. Ben says: “I would buy 25 2p sherbet sticks and sell them for 10p. At the end of the day I had that profit, I loved that idea of buying something and selling it for more.”
Realising his passion for business, Ben moved on to a market much bigger than the playground.
“Boxing and business have always excited me,” Ben says proudly. “I was the youngest Alibaba Bronze Buyer in history. I was buying 10,000 units a year and probably making more than my teachers at the age of 18.”
A love of boxing permeated every aspect of his life, despite his relative business success and studying for a degree in economics and management at University of Bristol. Ben made his love of boxing known wherever he was, refusing to stay down for the count.
“I went to University and started a boxing club,” he explains, having already started coaching before the move.
“I won the England Boxing National Amateur Championships, then called the ABAs at 19. Afterwards I finished university and owned a boxing business that was events-based. Boxing was always the recurring theme.”
“It was always just a passion project, though. I never thought ‘this business is going to blow up’,” Ben says, despite hosting some of the largest intercollegiate boxing events in the UK within the early days of his entrepreneurial journey.
Taking the dive
Ben launched BOXRAW in 2017. Initially started from his childhood bedroom, the business has grown into a large seller of men and women’s sportswear and equipment with a specific focus around boxing. Explaining his inspiration for the brand, Ben describes a scene of himself jogging down the street preparing for an upcoming fight.
“I remember thinking that I wanted people to know I was training for a fight. I wanted people to know ‘this guy is serious about what he does, he’s a boxer’,” recalls Ben.
“The more I looked into it, there wasn’t a brand that represented boxing. The brands that came before us [like Adidas and Nike] just focused on the end result, the athletes and competitors. No one really focused on the journey to get to that point. It was the journey which I found the most magical and so special.”
Starting to think about the bigger picture, Ben realised his idea had the potential to make big waves.
“My days of thinking in small business terms were long gone, I was thinking global. I realised every single major sports brand started off in one sport. It has been done with every sport in history apart from boxing.”
Boxing is in a “golden age”, Ben argues with the sports’ emergence as a ‘lifestyle’ activity – in 2017, online sportswear brand Fashercise suggested that boxing was becoming more popular than yoga.
Ben’s vision is to bring boxing to the world. And while BOXRAW is bringing products and the lifestyle to many, in Ben’s eyes it’s not enough. BOXRAW is a growing, thriving for-profit company with a multi-million pound turnover. But typical of Ben, his mind was drawn to the bigger picture – how he could help to bring his passion for boxing to the wider world. Enter Boxing is Love.
“We can’t disregard a third of the world’s population who don’t have access to the sport,” Ben says, “it would be inauthentic of us.”
Boxing is Love is a not-for-profit extension of the BOXRAW brand that aims to bring the positive lifestyle benefits of the sport to the rest of the world.
Boxing is Love works to bring boxing gyms and community projects to harder-to-reach corners of the globe to empower and inspire people. It is designed to develop traits such as determination and perseverance for the wider benefit of individuals and local communities.
“We’re using the sport as a mechanism of change,” Ben says enthusiastically. “I’ve seen what it did for me, I was kicked out of school multiple times. Boxing gave me that discipline I needed. Boxing gave me something to aim towards.”
“Boxing is Love is not about trying to turn all these kids in developing areas into champions. It’s about setting the mindset and attitude towards life around discipline, around love and community.”
Hitting an annual revenue of almost £6.2 million in 2021 and now starting to make waves in professional sponsorship – world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, Vasily Lomachenko Ryan Garcia, Tommy Fury, and even actor Michael B Jordan in Creed II can all be found decked in BOXRAW gear – Ben still thinks there’s a long way to go.
“It’s been quite consistent growth, but I still don’t think we’ve hit that tipping point yet,” he says, “from an outside perspective looking in it might look that way, but I have a vision of where I’m trying to take this. I don’t think we’ve had that ‘aha’ moment yet.”
There’s plenty on the horizon for the business as Ben continues to work towards his vision.
“We’ve got a lot of equipment launching next year,” Ben says. “we’re spending a lot of time on that, we’ve filed for 16 patents in the last two years but only one of those products has launched so far. So we’ve got a lot of innovations coming to the boxing market.”
“We’ve got a lot more in the events space for Boxing is Love. We’re trying to bring boxing to the world physically versus just through an online social portal,” he adds.
There are also plans for a documentary with a major network that focuses on boxing as a whole, rather than BOXRAW.
“[We’ve got] some big movies that BOXRAW is going to be featured in coming out next year. And we’ve got collaborations with some legends old and new.
“These projects are really going to show what BOXRAW is about.”
With such ambitious plans on the horizon and BOXRAW and Boxing is Love making such significant strides, there is no doubt that the tipping point is well within reach for both the brands and Ben.