Running a business at school almost doubles your chances of self-employment

Running a business at school almost doubles your chances of self-employment later in life, according to independent research by Kingston University Business School for Young Enterprise. It shows that teenagers who get the chance to set up and run a profit-making enterprise in the classroom are almost twice as likely (42%) to become company owners than those who have not (26%), according to the new report “Impact: 50 Years of Young Enterprise.”

To compile the research Dr Rosemary Athayde conducted a series of in-depth surveys and interviews with 371 ‘alumni’ who attended Young Enterprise programmes between 1962, when the charity was founded, and now. She compared the results with a control group of 202 people who had never been on a Young Enterprise programme, adjusting for the difference in sample size.

The study also found that the companies that Young Enterprise alumni create tend to employ more people, turn over more money, be more innovative and high-tech, and are more resilient in surviving a recession than the companies set up by those who did not experience enterprise education at school.

The key findings were:

  • Young Enterprise alumni are more likely to end up running their own businesses: 42% of the alumni surveyed set up firms compared to 26% in the control group of non-alumni.
  • Alumni firms have a larger turnover: 12% of the alumni firms are turning over £500,000 a year compared 3% of the control group’s firms. In fact some 3% of alumni firms turn over more than £1 million, compared to none among the non-alumni.
  • Alumni companies employ more people: 11% have 51-99 employees compared 9% of the control group. Two per cent of the alumni have 100-249 employees compared to none in the control group.
  • Alumni firms are more innovative: 21.2% of alumni firms were digital and ‘cloud’-based firms compared to 3% in control group.
  • Alumni firms are more diverse: Alumni firms ranged from internet sales to advanced engineering, corrosion control and ‘retro’ tourism. Control group firms were concentrated in fewer sectors, particularly health care and education.
  • Alumni firms are more likely to be resilient: 49.6% of alumni firms said boosting sales was top priority in the downturn while only 5% opted for internal cuts.

The Kingston findings came as a separate survey commissioned by Young Enterprise showed young people believe they are facing a bleak outlook for jobs.

The Opinium survey of 1,051 14-18 year olds found that 63% agreed either with the statement “I am worried about getting a job in the future” or “I am terrified” about the prospect of not landing a job in the wake of the double-dip recession.

Girls appear to be more concerned than boys, with 70% feeling terrified or worried about getting a job in the future compared to 54% of boys. Seventeen years olds are the most concerned about their future career prospects, with 69% being either terrified or worried.

Dr Athayde said: ‘The evidence presented in this report demonstrates that Young Enterprise alumni are more likely than average to run their own business; be serial entrepreneurs and show resilience in developing strategies to cope with difficult times. The businesses they run are more likely to be innovative, limited companies, employ others and have a larger turnover than the typical small firm in the UK.’

Michael Mercieca, Young Enterprise Chief Executive said: ‘At a time when youth unemployment remains unacceptably high, thisresearch shows how vital it is to give young people the chance to run businesses at school. It demonstrates that Young Enterprise has, for 50 years, been an enormous engine nurturing the crucial entrepreneurial talent that Britain desperately needs to revive the economy.”

The report contains testimonies from 50 of the charity’s alumni: For example, teacher’s son Bob Wigley said Young Enterprise gave him the bug for making money. He rose to become European chairman of financial giant Merrill Lynch and is now Chairman of Yell Group plc and David Cameron’s Ambassador for UK Business.

Multi-millionaire Nick Ogden, hailed as the inventor of the internet payment system WorldPay, who now presides over a business empire turning over £1.5 million a year said Young Enterprise was “critical.”

Naomi Kibble said the charity “planted the seed” for her crushed ice cocktails ‘Rocktails’ business.

Steve Manley said Young Enterprise gave him the “clear vision” to launch Universal Office Products from his mother’s back bedroom – and turn it into one of the UK’s top 10 independent office supply companies.

David Lammy MP was born in deprived Tottenham, London, one of five children raised by a single mother. He attended a State-funded school. He said Young Enterprise inspired him to be a leader and he subsequently became an Education Minister and a rising political star.

Sabirul Islam, from London’s tough Tower Hamlets, has carved out a successful career for himself as a global speaker, published author and social entrepreneur at the age of just 21.

Jonathan Lewis said he learned a tough lesson from Young Enterprise while a Wolverhampton Grammar School pupil: “how hard you have to work to make money.” It helped him rise to become Chief Financial Officer at Japan’s powerful Nomura bank

Anthony Impey said Young Enterprise helped give him skills to launch his £6.5 million a year technology business.

You can read a selection of inspiring case studies at

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