Business savvy brings sweet success

3rd September 2010 at 01:00
School-age entrepreneurs often have the edge in developing a taste for enterprise - and recession need not be an obstacle, says expert

Fraser Doherty sells around half a million jars of SuperJam a year through the likes of Waitrose, Tesco and Asda, resulting in a turnover of around pound;750,000.

When he began setting up SuperJam Fraser, who is now 21, was just 14 and still a pupil at the Royal High in Edinburgh. He had no training in starting a company, nor was there a tradition of entrepreneurship in his family. His dad, Robert, was a lecturer and his mum, Anne, worked in the council's finance department.

This makes Fraser unusual: he does not fit the normal school-leaver- turned-entrepreneur profile, according to Jonathan Levie, a reader at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde University.

"Males with no qualifications who left school early and who worked in a family business have quite high rates of entrepreneurial activity," Dr Levie says.

Outside of this group, however, few school leavers decide to take the plunge, with people launching new businesses usually aged 35 to 40. But there are advantages to starting early, Dr Levie suggests.

"One advantage is that, usually, you have no commitments to other people - you don't have a mortgage, children or a spouse. So if it doesn't work, so what?"

Even when start-ups fail, the experience gleaned can be extremely valuable and make youngsters more employable, he argues.

And the current financial climate need not be a barrier, he adds. During a recession, the competition is focused on its own survival and difficulties securing finance make it less likely that your business will prove a flop, says Dr Levie.

"You've got to see your customers as the funders, which means you really have to learn about what customers would pay for instead of getting a lot of money upfront in the hope that your plans are going to come off."

But if Scotland is serious about encouraging more school leavers to build their own businesses, training in basic skills such as market research, accounting, financial management and sales is necessary.

The purpose of enterprise education currently is to engender an enterprising spirit in pupils, but Dr Levie warns that this does not lead to more entrepreneurs. For that, more specific training is needed.

"This is particularly important in a society like Scotland where a lot of people have no connection with business, have no idea what it's about and don't even think about it as an option. What does a society do if most of its people have no experience of generating new independent economic activity? The education system has to substitute for that experience."

However, Dr Levie says he is "concerned" about the future of enterprise education in Scotland, with the ring-fenced funding for the Determined to Succeed initiative set to end next year.


When Lisa Tobias left Mearns Castle High in East Renfrewshire, it never occurred to her that there was an alternative to higher education.

"I didn't get a huge amount of enterprise education at all and did not really think of going into business as an option," she says.

But after six months studying to become a PE teacher, Lisa realised that neither the course nor university life were for her.

"While I was at university, I was working part-time at Domino's. When I realised I wasn't enjoying university, I turned my part-time job into a full-time career."

By the age of 23, Lisa, who is now 29, had opened her first Domino's pizza store; today, she and her husband run five shops for the franchise chain in the west of Scotland, with a combined turnover of pound;3.5 million a year. The last store opened in Irvine three months ago, six weeks after their first child was born.

"There is quite a lot of pressure on children to perform at school and go on to college or university, but it's definitely not for everyone. So it's important they know they don't have to do that and there are other options. Sometimes, if you want to do well you have to do it for yourself. There are not always jobs available, even if you have a degree."


When Fraser Doherty left school at 16, he spent a year cooking jam in his parents' kitchen after being taught his gran's recipe at the age of 14. The result was SuperJam, lower in sugar and calories than regular jams because it is sweetened using grape juice.

SuperJam launched at Waitrose when he was in his first year studying business at Strathclyde University. He dropped out to focus on the business and now his product is stocked by most major supermarkets.

"If you start young, the risks are a huge amount less," he says. "You've got no mortgage, no kids and the support of your family. If things don't work out, it's not really a big deal and you'll have learned a lot regardless."

Enterprise education did not feature greatly in his schooling, but he says pupils should be made aware of entrepreneurship: "It's just about turning that spark on in kids and showing them you can start a business; you just need a small idea."

Fraser stresses that starting up a business is not just about making money. Two years ago, he set up charity SuperJam Tea Parties to offer entertainment for the elderly. A proportion of the profits from his latest project - The SuperJam Cook Book - will go to the charity.

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