Have you ever watched an opportunity show on TV and wanted to be one of the contestants or the judges in the panel? When I was a teenager, I was obssessed with this kind of TV show - something like 'Dragon's Den' these days. I used to write my own business pitch and present it in front of my family and friends. If they were not interested, I would present it in front of the mirror! Yes, I was THAT desperate! And then one day (about 15 years later) I found myself presenting a similar pitch in front of a bank manager with my husband to discuss about a business start-up. Yes and that was the birth of Bridges 21 years ago!
Last month, I was thrilled to receive an invitation from Charlotte of 'Form the Future' which is a social enterprise that inspires students by connecting them with local businesses. They visit various schools (both state and independent) helping students from primary school pupils to sixth form students. And they need some volunteers from the local businesses to talk to teenagers and role-playing something like "Dragons Den" for a day. Of course, I didn't say no to this.
On Tuesday 13th June, myself and volunteers from various businesses, including catering, engineering, legal, computing, finance and sports management, met with a very enthusiastic group of 13 year olds in Cambourn Village College, to work on feasible business plans. We had 25 students each to inspire and advise. In total there were 160+ students we were working with.
I led my group to the library, and told them in more detail what I do and how I set up my business. We discussed the important elements we all use in business every day, the old theory of 5p’s (Product, Place, People, Price, Promotion) and to recognise a USP (unique selling point)
In the ensuing brainstorm session we heard some brilliant ideas. Lots of their peer group laughed about the impossibility of some of what they call ‘weird’ ideas, but after discussion and modification, nothing seemed to be impossible!
Once they decided on their product or services, they moved on to think about location, target customers, assigning tasks, decide the market position in pricing, think about the logo and media and means of promotion etc and most importantly ‘what makes them stand out’ from the others.
After an hour of discussion, 5 businesses plans emerged. They included:
o 'The Advisory' – A unique advice café in the centre of Cambridge
o 'Gaming XL' – A game shop set up locally but also have branches nationally and products available online
o 'HECCAI' – The combination of a gym, sports centre and sportswear shop on the top floor and on the roof of Grand Arcade
o 'D-Design' – An interior design company, providing both structural and interior changes to higher-end houses
o 'Props World' – A props hiring company for movie and film making.
I was impressed by the various personalities of the characters in the classroom environment . What a mini picture of the real world – a combination of different roles in the business world. Having children myself the same age, it was really interesting to see the school day in action.
After more than 2 hours of planning and group discussion, they started the wording and drawing of some posters. Some went directly to the computers. By the time I had turned round, I saw slide after slide of colourful Power Point presentations. You just can’t believe how quickly this generation pick up skills so quickly with their little fingers. It made my head spin!.
Without letting them know, I had a task to do while they’re working hard – to observe who had the ‘best leadership skills’ and which group had the ‘best teamwork’. Before they were ready for the presentation, I quietly prepared certificates for these 2 awards.
After a well deserved break, students were presented in front of their classmates and us. There were hot debates, but it all proved that they were all engaged in the subject and each others’ businesses. Lots of laughter and questions ended the five brilliant presentations.
For the in-class presentation, I had to decide who would go to final. It was such a struggle to decide, as they all had very different, innovative and amazing ideas. Finally, ‘HECCAI’ – the gym company won my heart. This group not only thought about the business side of the industry – covering all the area of 5P’s we discussed in the morning, they know their USP, and they presented brilliantly. Most important, they emphasised the ‘No Judge’ policy. They considered the misconception and self-consciousness of body image. They introduced ‘Plus size’ in a positive manner. Personal trainers would not only focus on clients figures, they would also work on the nutritional side of health, but most important the mental well being overall. I was very confident to put HECCAI to the final.
After lunch, the winning team of each class met for the final. A total of more than 160 students all sat down quietly to listen to the 7 winning teams to present. It’s really eye-opening to hear the other 6 amazing business ideas including:
o ‘Collied’ – A light-weight collar & lead for big and small dogs
o ‘I-Drone’ – A drone that can beat the traffic for emergency supply e.g blood to another hospital
o ‘Cool Band’ – A child tracking wristband which can digitally connect to parents’ phone to avoid missing children
o ‘Spectulla’ – Innovative glasses with windscreen wipers and a camera to stop the pain of glasses-wearers
o ‘Sports Design and Create’ – A sportswear brand design for personal need
o VRs – Virtual reality goggles to give a near real sports experience
After hearing all 7 in-class winners presenting brilliantly, it was such a difficult task to decide who the final winner was. Among us, the panel decided ‘HECCAI’ as the overall winner!! Apart from what I mentioned earlier, they did even better after the first warm up presentation in class. When faced with questions like ‘how do you get permission from council to build such a big project on top floor and the roof of Grand Arcade?’ Team leader Kai paused for a second cleared his throat, answered in a calm voice, ‘My uncle’s cousin’s friend’s dad is working as the head of council’. Everybody laughed and clapped.
How brilliant! It’s obviously a joke. But in the business world, isn’t it important when a solution couldn’t be found quickly, to have a light heart to face our everyday issues calmly, have a sense of humour and put a smile on the team's faces before start thinking how to beat the problem together?
I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It fell on a busy day of my own schedule, but I’m very pleased to have put aside my routine for this day. I’m pleased to have chosen to spend time with a group of students of my own children’s age, to experience a day in the classroom, to feel the long lost memory of school life, and surprisingly satisfying – to smell the long forgotten smell of books (!!) as we were working whole morning in the library.
At the start of the day, I was aiming at inspiring a group of young people in this business world, but honestly, I was totally inspired by them. They were full of energy, full of positive and ‘possible’ attitudes. They were loving the challenges, loved to talk, ask, listen and loved to have their views being heard. They were not only talking about practicability of business models, they considered the soft side of the human world – and ‘with a smile’
Getting involved with Form The Future is highly recommended and it’s a day well spent. If you want to volunteer and spend a day with young people, please contact Charlotte Steggall of Form the Future UK.
Or if your organisation can take on work experience students, please give them a ring.
To find our more abour Form The Future, visit their website here.