Innovative Practice - Business sense

11th January 2013 at 00:00
Creating a community interest company to raise money and encourage youthful entrepreneurs

The background

SweetFE is a community interest company launched by Oxford and Cherwell Valley College in April 2011 to promote and embed enterprise across the FE sector. The college, which is the largest provider of FE training in Oxfordshire, has also transformed its curriculum model and is connected to other FE providers through conferences, seminars and best-practice study visits.

The project

SweetFE is overseen by a manager and has a team of 50 "ambassadors for enterprise", made up of teaching and college staff and others drawn from the local business community.

The ambassadors act as mentors and coaches for students looking to start their own businesses and provide practical support - for example, by offering their skills in marketing or ICT. One idea to emerge is SweetFE Learning, a free online resource overseen by a panel of student editors, where students can post research papers for use by their peers.

"Because SweetFE operates outside the usual organisational hierarchies, someone in an administrative role with ideas and enthusiasm can become a project manager. It is proving a way of spotting and developing our stars," college principal Sally Dicketts says.

The company generates income to support student welfare through projects including opening the college car park to paying customers on weekends and bank holidays.

It has also led to a cultural shift in teaching methods. A new curriculum model called 4one1, was launched last September. Students now have four weeks of intensive learning followed by a fifth week of "stretch and challenge" to develop a piece of work or expand their skills. A sixth week is then devoted to business and enterprise activities.

The college hopes that around 40 per cent of its business support functions (areas such as marketing and ICT) will soon be run by students, with the help of SweetFE.

"We believe that we must be ready to employ our students ourselves if we are telling local employers that we are getting them ready for business," Dicketts says.

Tips from the scheme

Keep it simple - be short on bureaucracy and management hierarchy and encourage people to keep business proposals to one side of A4.

Encourage positive action, but be honest and realistic. Don't say yes when you mean no.

Think about how enterprise and the curriculum can work together. Too often people tag enterprise on to what they already do. But if you are going to change your culture, it has to affect everything.

Evidence that it works

SweetFE is set to turn over #163;250,000 this year. This income has trebled the student hardship fund. The company has also sponsored a business area and new teaching and learning facilities.

In October last year, SweetFE hosted the college's "conference season", giving 2,000 students the chance to reflect on their progress. Employers and partners were invited to see how students were being prepared for employment.

Find out more about SweetFE by emailing info@sweetfe.co.uk or calling 0845 121 4152

THE PROJECT

Approach: SweetFE, a community interest company

Started: 2011

Led by Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.

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