Sir Alan trawls classrooms for new Apprentice
For most playground entrepreneurs, spending lunchtime turning contraband cigarettes into a tidy profit, the main goal is to avoid being summoned to the headteacher's office. For a handful, however, it will be to avoid the call to Sir Alan Sugar's boardroom.
A new BBC series, Junior Apprentice, will apply the rules of the reality TV show - in which "Britain's brightest business brains" compete for a pound;100,000-a-year job in Sir Alan's company - to school-age entrepreneurs. Ten teenagers, aged 16 and 17, will spend five weeks proving their business acumen and money-making ability to avoid the ignominy of being fired.
The BBC is inviting A-level pupils and school-leavers to apply. Michele Kurland, the executive producer, said: "We're looking for potential, really. It's not something you can divine merely through exam grades. You wouldn't expect a 16-year-old who's only had a Saturday job to understand about the business world. We won't have Alan Sugar barking on about gross profit margins. But we're looking for spark, for evidence of potential."
She cites the example of a teenager on holiday in Greece who bought football T-shirts in bulk for pound;1 each. He returned to school and sold them for profit. Another persuaded a local factory to manufacture 100 friendship bracelets then sold them to classmates for pound;1 each.
"Lots of people say, `Why don't we do this?'" she said. "But only a few go out and do it. Most kids would rather spend their time talking about what they want to do on Friday night."
The producers have not yet decided what tasks the 10 shortlisted candidates will undertake for the cameras. But what is certain is that the losing team will be summoned to the boardroom to face Sir Alan.
"The boardroom is only terrifying when you're trying to bullshit your way out of something," Ms Kurland said. "When people have performed well and tried hard, they've enjoyed their encounters.
"Alan Sugar was a 16-year-old once. He knows it's not necessarily about getting it right. It's about understanding your mistakes and why you got it wrong. They're not adults who should know better. They're young people who are learning to know better."
Sir Alan started out selling boiled beetroot from a makeshift stall. He left school at 16 with no qualifications to sell car aerials from the back of a van. Within five years he had set up Amstrad, the company he later sold for pound;125 million.
"It's my long-held belief that we should be doing more to promote enterprise among young people," he said. "The future of our economy relies on them."
The winner of Junior Apprentice will receive a prize worth up to pound;25,000.
Reality TV for teens
This is not the first time that reality TV shows have spawned teen versions. Screened in October 2003, Teen Big Brother featured eight 18- year-old contestants.
Group tasks were specifically designed to promote co-operation and team spirit among the teenagers. And the producers deliberately generated discussions on controversial subjects such as politics and religion.
Teen Big Brother was intended to be screened as part of Channel 4's education output, but the resulting programme was so compelling that the show was broadcast in a prime-time slot over a single week.