Supporting budding young entrepreneurs

With the way things are heading with the stuttering economy, university fees / graduate loans, examination grading debacles, and so on it’s a wonder that any young people want to start up their own business, but they do and they are.

As a mother of teenagers I have been told of their friends setting up an e-commerce site to sell digital head-phones purchased from China (site now closed as he sold all of them!), another using social media to create an art space and sell some of his works. My son’s friend has rented space in the loft of a pub to run sessions with local musicians, while another visits local produce markets and sells her handmade jewellery. My son has purchased a bundle of T-shirts and is in the process of setting up an online site where he can sell them with his own unique stencil designs online. Their ages range from 16 to 18 years.
For most of these youngsters their forays into entrepreneurship are just a means to express themselves and make a bit of money so that they can enjoy their young life. The benefit of dabbling so early in their lives is that it gives them a taste for business, for independence, and success.

A Global Entrepreneurship Study in 2011suggested that 6% of the UK’s 18 to 24 year olds are early stage entrepreneurs, surprisingly low since over a third of colleges and universities are visited by young entrepreneur organisations such as Shell Livewire and Start-Up Britain. It is hoped that the number of start-up businesses amongst young adults is a growing trend because there is increasing support across schools and youth communities.

Young Enterprise is the UK’s leading business education charity; it helps children in schools understand the business world and it enables them to run their own small company. The Princes Trust provides advice, training and support in the form of cash grants for young people at the lower end of the education output. These grants and training enable potentially unemployable school leavers attend interviews and demonstrate the best of themselves. It also provides development grants for youth led community projects.
Shell Livewire and Google have been excellent sources of information and advice for my son. Online help certainly lowers barriers to starting up a business and is a good reference point for grants, especially as young people are not often seen as a good risk by banks.

Companies are also getting more involved in children’s future by working in partnership with local schools. Young Enterprise encourages mentors from the business community to visit schools and help children set up and run their own business. The Company Programme culminates in a national final to find the UK’s best student company and aims to inspire the next generation of budding entrepreneurs.

Until recently my local education authority in Buckinghamshire received funding for a similar business partnership. Quite a few of us from the local business community signed up, went into schools and mentored various business challenges to 14 and 15 year olds. Since the funding was withdrawn in 2011 we have continued to deliver support and mentoring, mainly because we can see the interest and enthusiasm amongst the children (not simply because it provides a change from normal lessons) and the schools find that the children are more engaged at school. Perhaps that’s because many of the students we work with express an interest in starting their own business, or they see that their lessons are more relevant.
Local business involvement in schools should be more widespread and schools should be encouraged to embrace the benefits. Not only are children learning how business works, it opens up new career possibilities to them, the children deliver fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the business which can also see potential recruits for the future.

In the current economy there are fewer opportunities for school leavers and graduates in the workforce so it is likely that there will be more people considering working for themselves. Although grants are available the onus is on financial institutions to make loans more accessible and reflect the confidence and vision of our young entrepreneurs.

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