Joined up thinking – or just a pipe dream?

Primary and secondary schools, businesses, local councils, students (young and old) all working together towards a more entrepreneurial and enterprising future? Wishful thinking? An idealistic/ utopian society? Or even, dare I say it, big society?

Global Entrepreneurship Week stemmed from a project that Enterprise UK set up in 2004 and is now in over 100 countries around the world. It is movement that aims to inspire, educate and promote entrepreneurialism and enterprise. For one week every year businesses, schools, entrepreneurs and students come together to learn from one another and help shape a more enterprising future. Well that is the aim but does it actually happen?

The first two days of GEW 2010 I spent in Yorkshire, going on a tour of different projects and businesses in the region and it struck me that all of them had one thing in common, a real drive to promote and support enterprise AND it worked.

Charlotte Britton and Kenton Robbins , who head up the IoDs Young Director Forum and West Yorkshire Branch in the region, kindly hosted me for the two days and took me around some fascinating initiatives. From a space centre and mission control in Keighley, to a enterprise activity with over 200 primary school children and a Leeds venture that not only provided support and mentoring for new graduates to help them set up their businesses, but also paid for their accommodation!

What better way of inspiring primary school children into the sciences and technology subjects than setting up a mock mission control and space centre . Then conducting science experiments in a space station on an alien world. There was a group of us adults touring the centre and it is fair to say that we all found it both inspiring and engaging. The highlight had to be the space station doors complete with Star Trek sound effects!

In Leeds, we visited an initiative set up by a local successful entrepreneur Justin Whitston called Venturelab. With a small team, Justin delivers a complete package of support for eager graduate entrepreneurs who have an idea but need a bit of help to make their vision a reality. This includes everything from advice on finance and marketing to mentoring for the individual and their new business. We are all aware that new graduates are coming out of University with spiraling levels of dept and quite often this can hold an individual back when they are thinking about taking the leap to setup their business. So Venturelab, in addition to the above, will pay for their accommodation for 6months. Now add in the fact that all of this is free for the would-be entrepreneur and Venturelab receives no government support/ funding. It is currently only able to take on a few graduates every 6months but it is growing, with plans to expand out of Leeds. Definitely worth watching for them in a city near you soon.

However, the highlight of the visit was getting to see real enterprise education and inspired learning in action. I attended a school enterprise event run in Hull by Charles Cracknell from Youth Enterprise Hull and one of the local schools. They had over 200 students taking part, from ages 12 to 15, as well as local business people who were giving up their time for free to mentor the groups and they also put up prizes for the winners. I chaired the judging process and got to see some fantastic ideas and pitches, not one of which was unrealistic and all of the groups had thought about the feasibility and financial viability of their ideas. They showed real creativity and flair, and judging by the amount of noise in the room, they were thoroughly enjoying the experience. In addition to this and without realising it, they were learning some basic skills, which will enhance their employability in the future; including team work, leadership, problem solving, along with basic marketing and financial understanding.

Finally I must finish with the fact that, yes this was all pulled together for GEW and it provides a focus for these types of projects, but they and similar projects happen every day all over the UK and have been doing so, in some form, for years. A lot of the people, who make these things happen, have done so in the past and will continue to do so, by giving up their time for free and for little or no recognition. But they are helping to change the perception of enterprise and entrepreneurialism in young people, thereby future proofing the UKs economy and ensuring it is one that is full of idea creation and innovation.

If Britain is going to have an enterprising future I would suggest every child must have the opportunity to take part in such initiatives, as the ones I saw in Yorkshire. When you see a child’s eyes light up as they are solving a problem, creating a business idea or getting excited and engaged by science, you know this is an experience that no book or exam will give. Learning through doing and inspiring through insight at is very best. Initiatives like this can not be allowed to fail; they must be embraced, supported and allowed to become a core part of a young persons learning and development.

Well done to all those involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week in Yorkshire and for that matter to everyone involved in the week from all over the UK. From me a heartfelt thanks for your continuing efforts.

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