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Look out for teenage tycoons

The world has room for only a few Richard Bransons, but enterprise education is relevant to many careers, even being a doctor.

Ajibola Omokanye, a Year 13 student, wants to read medicine at university, but when he visited a general practice, his experience of Young Enterprise showed him something he didn't expect. "You don't think of it as a business, but it is - they have accounts, partners, AGMs." He will value the business side of Young Enterprise all his life, he says, as well as the personal skills he learned. Being managing director of the 16-strong company CRE8 developed his confidence and ability to speak, not just to his team, but also to such people as the mayor of Lincoln and the chairman of HSBC.

CRE8 reached the national finals of the Young Enterprise business of the year competition with the Jitterbug, a plastic toy for small children.

"It gave us the chance to work in an adult environment," says Ajibola. "We had to use an outside firm (for the manufacturing) so we had to send them designs and mouldings. They could see we were a serious company, so they helped us on."

To finance the company, they persuaded 100 students, parents and staff at Queen Elizabeth's high school in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, to buy shares.

"It's really a case of growing up," said Ajibola. "It's real money in the real world, you can't mess people about." But the shareholders must have been well satisfied with their 40 per cent dividend.

Forty-five thousand students from 3,500 schools across the UK were involved in the Company and Team programmes that culminated in the HSBC Young Enterprise 2003 Innovation Awards. Advice and support for setting up and running each company comes from local business volunteers through Young Enterprise. They suggest options, but the decisions remain with the student company.

Meanwhile, at the Royal grammar school in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Edward Thompson, another Year 13 student, already had a money-making idea, but had yet to turn it into a real business. "Young Enterprise was an incredibly good starting point, it makes you jump through hoops," he said.

Realising the amount of entertaining that goes on in Buckinghamshire, Edward spotted a niche market for his company Sharp Service Waiters. "If you've invited friends you haven't seen for ages, you don't want to be pouring drinks for people - we take all that off our clients' minds."

"We've had a varied clientele. We've done lots of corporate work at conferences and private work, including dinner parties and weddings. Our biggest was 200 people, right down to small dinner parties for 12 people," he said.

Edward's company organised their own training in silver service waiting and came second in the Young Enterprise national competition, but it didn't end there. "We decided it was making too much money to abandon. We've had a pretty successful year - we've turned over in excess of pound;10,000."

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