Ready Set StartUp: Leeds woman who runs doll business to feature on Amazon Prime entrepreneur show

A Leeds entrepreneur will star in a new TV show with her inspiring range of dolls that celebrate diversity.
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When she was growing up, Olivia Thompson, 32, said that she never had a doll that looked like her. That experience inspired her to launch her own range of kids’ toys two years ago. Akila Dolls, which she fundraised to set up, features a variety of different skin tones, hair textures and clothes, with dolls celebrating a variety of cultures and disabilities.

Now, her hard work has paid off, as Olivia from Yeadon is set to star in a new Amazon Prime series called ‘Ready Set StartUp’. The show will chronicle the challenges of setting up a new business and will see her competing in challenges in each episode. Tom Blomfield, the founder of online bank Monzo, is among the judges.

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Olivia, who is Afro-Caribbean, said: “Akila Dolls is a start-up which currently has prototype dolls that celebrate African and Caribbean culture. Our dolls are designed to inspire children of colour by reflecting their beauty and culture.”

Olivia Thompson launched Akila Dolls after a childhood without any toys that looked like her. Photo: James Hardisty.Olivia Thompson launched Akila Dolls after a childhood without any toys that looked like her. Photo: James Hardisty.
Olivia Thompson launched Akila Dolls after a childhood without any toys that looked like her. Photo: James Hardisty.

She set up the company with money raised from crowdfunding. Each doll comes with its own story book that educates children about the doll they are playing with.

Olivia added: “Growing up I never had a doll that looked like me or reflected my culture. I wanted to create a brand that celebrates our beauty, and empowers young girls to be proud of who they are.”

The businesswoman left school at 16, finishing a National Diploma in Uniformed Public Services at York College. She went on to university, but dropped out after a year. Olivia later took part in the Prince’s Trust and subsequently NatWest startup programme, raising £6,000 to help make her prototype dolls. A single mum, she has two children, a one-year-old and 10-year-old daughter who has autism.

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Olivia said: “Akila Dolls are inspired by my daughter’s obsession and love for dolls. Aged six, she was diagnosed with autism. She struggles with social interaction, restrictive behaviour, and many other symptoms. As a mother, it was important for me to support her, and a lot of her education was based on role-play learning. She loves to interact with her dolls.

“It has become apparent to me, and more so now as a parent, that diverse dolls were and are still massively underrepresented within the UK toy industry. I believe it is extremely important that not just my daughter, but that every boy and girl can see dolls on retailers’ shelves, that both look like them and relate to their cultures and beliefs.

"The only way we can do this is with new toys and books. A greater diversity of the toy’s children play with will have a greater impact on how they perceive themselves, and others.”

She added: “We as women can be much more, we juggle childcare, we are mothers and care givers, and also business women.”

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