Tomorrow the world

15th December 2006 at 00:00
Bill Gates and Alan Sugar would be proud. Ned Browne reports on a new scheme that's inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs

The great thing about teaching business studies is the amount of real-life examples there are. From Google buying YouTube to British Airways' pension crisis; from the rise and fall and rise of Marks Spencer to Tesco's global domination plan; from John West's viral marketing campaign to the proposed "fat tax". The list goes on and on.

But this ever-changing landscape seems to have one fixed feature: whenever teaching students about entrepreneurs, the old names such as Sir Richard Branson and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop fame are invariably rolled out.

Fine role models, but they are also so detached from most students' lives, they might as well be from a different planet.

This is where Blue Skies comes in. Blue Skies introduces students to some of Britain's most exciting young entrepreneurs, with a view to inspiring the next generation.

I took 20 sixth form students from Southfields Community College to a Blue Skies event at the Odeon cinema, Tottenham Court Road, London, to try it out. The kids were surrounded by loud thumping music, lasers and dry ice.

The compere was Lucie Cave, features editor of Heat magazine, who talked about famous entrepreneurs and introduced a short video featuring two start-up businesses before introducing the guests.

The young entrepreneurs were ideal role models. One was a fashion designer, the others were recording studio managers and the boss of a football academy. They were all "ordinary" people, and all in their twenties. The dress code was casual, which also helped to break down barriers. The students had the opportunity to ask them loads of questions, to which they received some enlightening and frank answers: "Hard work and long hours are unavoidable"; "I can count on one hand the friends I have left. You need to be surrounded by the 'positive', and if your friends aren't being positive, are they really your friends?", and "It's very scary presenting a business plan in front of a load of people wearing suits but if you don't, where will you get the money from?"

Later, Lucie ran a couple of interactive TV-style game show quizzes and introduced quirky concepts such as the "lift test". The latter involved students coming up with a business idea which they had to sell to Bill Gates in 30 seconds if they bumped into him in a lift.

There was also a session that gave some pointers as to how to come up with your own business idea. For example, if something annoys you, it probably means it could be improved; or if you liked an idea in one place, could it be launched somewhere else?

The event was vibrant, energetic, inspiring and the students were buzzing.

This is why those few hours will last long in the minds of those there.

There are obvious links with Young Enterprise and BTec's Starting a Small Business unit, but there are also links to any marketing course, unit or topic. So it wasn't just an informative event for students, but aimed at teachers too.

On the train home, students were discussing whether or not they would "set up on their own", what ideas they had, and people they knew who'd "made money". And if just one in 100 decide to start their own business, that would be success Ned Browne is head of business studies and a school governor at Southfields Community College in Wandsworth, South-west London

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