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Young Enterprise - A Learning Curve

Young Enterprise (YE) is an educational charity which aims to inspire young people about the world of work and enterprise.   YE will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary this September at a time when we urgently need business skills and enterprise. 

In secondary schools YE sponsors the setting up of limited companies which are “owned” and operated by groups of students who have joined the scheme.  This is a voluntary activity on the part of the students although participation can gain university entrance points.    Each group needs a link teacher and a business advisor.  

I joined the scheme at Hereford Sixth Form College as a business advisor in September.   The business advisor acts as a mentor giving guidance based on experience but does not and should not take any part of the actual running of the company.  In my case I was joining Kate as the link teacher and Edwin an experienced business advisor. Our group consisted of 14 students at the outset which reduced to ten as we progressed.  

The students have to come up with a saleable product or products (or a service), find the initial working capital through buying shares in the company, fundraising and/or obtaining sponsorship.  They then have to trade the business through from September to April and, if they are really successful, beyond.   Each business is tested against its peers from April onwards at county, regional, national and eventually EU level where each company gives a presentation and with the winners going forward after each heat. 

Our company was called Empresa Limited which is the Spanish for Enterprise and also sounds a bit like “impressive”! The company produced a 2012 calendar celebrating the scenery of Herefordshire and Worcestershire followed by a presentation pack of flowers and pot plant to catch the Mothers’ Day market.   The team’s efforts resulted in a healthy profit on the calendars and a smaller loss on the Mothers’ Day presentation packs.  

It would take too long to tell the whole story of the ups and downs of Empresa’s progress and the following comments apply to all the competing groups:

  • Like many other tertiary colleges, Hereford Sixth Form College  draws its students from a wide area so they need to get to know each other before they work can effectively as a team.
  • They have to learn the disciplines of running and trading a limited company particular in areas such as financial controls, entering into legal contracts for products and services and decision making.  
  • They need to identify saleable products or services and then apply themselves to producing and selling them successfully.  In the case of Empresa that meant understanding and applying the principles of successful marketing since neither of the products would sell on originality alone.
  • Perhaps most importantly they had to discipline themselves to put the time in, attend meetings regularly turn up and do what they had committed themselves to doing and generally supporting each other. 

All this has to be achieved against a background of their normal studies, exams, long travelling times for many and of course the demands of their social lives.  Financial success is not crucial. The scheme is all about gaining experience and confidence so, (in the case of Empresa) making a loss on one product was probably at least as instructive as making a profit on the other.
 
It was particularly gratifying to see how the individual members gelled, developed and in some cases blossomed as the project went on – particularly when we won the Herefordshire round – nothing succeeds like success.  I suspect that, to their surprise, by the end the team discovered that business and enterprise can also be fun.   

The whole experience was a learning curve for me as well as for the team.  In my case, both in terms of where I could be of most assistance and the vital importance of Kate as the link teacher.   The YE scheme is a wonderful introduction to the world of business and enterprise.    

Not all of the participants will become entrepreneurs but they will all have learnt skills which will help them in  business should they chose to enter it and may well give them an edge in whatever they do in an increasingly challenging and competitive world.

I shall be signing up again for this coming September but this time without Edwin who is  taking a well earned (second) retirement.

I hope to start a blog so that anyone who has found this article of interest can follow the progress of the new team wherever that might lead.

If you would like to find out more on Young Enterprise and the role of a business advisor (volunteers are always needed) please go to http://www.young-enterprise.org.uk/