The thing I love most about FEO is that everyone gives their time and wisdom freely and without expectation of reciprocation, purely to further the common believe that by working together and supporting one another, we can make a difference in the region. It constantly amazes me that business leaders take time out of their busy schedules to help other business, start-ups and budding entrepreneurs to establish and grow.
Like many FEO members, I have benefitted greatly from the help and support I have received, and for that I am truly grateful. But I would say that I have gained just as much talking to new businesses and budding entrepreneurs. It is fascinating to encounter the diverse well of creativity that exists in the city and whilst there I always try to offer as much help and advice as I can, I seldom leave a meeting without feeling energized with some new ideas myself!
But if I am totally honest, the element of FEO I am most passionate about is the work in education.
If you read through some of the FEO member profiles, there is often a common theme. Most entrepreneurial stories start with a successful career that, for various reasons, leads them to the conclusion that they could do better. Sometimes this is adversity (being made redundant etc) and sometimes it is though opportunity but more often than not, the drive to launching your own business often comes a little later in life.
This makes sense because you have experienced of life and (hopefully) in your chosen field. You also might have access to more resources.
But there are a lot of difficulties for this path including:
- You might have more responsibilities (mortgage, family etc)
- You may find it harder to change and learn new things.
- You are likely to be more risk adverse as you have more to loose!
Despite these challenges, most new businesses are created by people with some life experience, but there is another way.
My personal journey is quite different to most of the FEO members I have met because we (me and my business partner) started our business while still studying at University. When we graduated we were faced with a dilemma, get real jobs or carry on with our crazy idea. The second option didn’t involve getting up so early, so we opted for that!
Everyone said we were crazy and that it would never work, but we were not alone.
At the time we got some help from the Princes Trust who assigned us a Business Angel called Michael Buck. Michael guided us through the early years and much like FEO members today, did so purely to see us succeed and with no gain for himself. It is not an overstatement to say that we would not have made it to 21 successful years in business without his help, guidance and encouragement.
That is really the role of the Education Group within FEO. We are not there to support fledgling or growing business but rather to ‘spark’ the initial idea that there is an alternative to getting a job and running your own business might just be the right path for students with the drive and ambition to succeed.
Launching a business is often not seen as a viable path for young people starting out in life but in truth there are a lot of advantages to starting a business early in life:
- Lots of energy and drive.
- More used to learning new skills and knowledge.
- Less dependencies (and therefore less perceived risk).
- Hope and belief in the future.
But how do you generate that initial spark that might lead to the entrepreneurs of the future?
That is where the FEO Masterclasses come in. The format is that a group of FEO members spend a day at a school working with students. The students are broken into groups to work on a business idea that they will develop through the day building up to a presentation to be made in front of the other students and FEO members.
To aid them, FEO members deliver short presentation focused on key areas for business including:
This is also supplemented with an Entrepreneurial talk where an FEO member shares their story to kick the day off.
Between each section, the students get time to work of their idea and build the concepts covered in the section into their final presentation.
After the lunch break, each group presents their business idea complete with visual aids and details regarding the aspects of business covered in the day. The FEO members grade each idea (Dragons Den style) based on the overall concept, presentation as well as the main four areas covered in the presentation (Attitude, Money, People & Marketing). The top three teams are awarded 3rd, 2nd and 1st place based on accumulative score across the FEO members.
I have been involved with the Masterclasses for around three years now and during that time, the format and content has constantly evolved through a process of feedback and review. It is fair to say that the early Masterclasses were possible a little too ‘business heavy’ with content developed as if it was a business presentation. Over the years, these have evolved to be far more interactive and relevant to the students with a greater emphasis on engagement – after all the point is to generate a spark of enthusiasm for business, not bore them to death with a P&L!
The Masterclass at Beverley Grammar was the last one in planned in this academic year and involved around 60 boys (it is a boy’s school) from years 9 and 10. The school had pre-assigned them to groups, so we were ready to launch straight into the Entrepreneurial talk with Danny Johnson (DJ Sportz Ltd). Danny runs a sports coaching business as well as training and managing Hull City FC Women’s team. His story is very inspiring, and he was able to connect to the students on many levels as football was obviously a popular topic around the room. Danny is also an ex-pupil of the school which added an extra dimension to the talk.
After Danny’s inspirational words, the students were give just 15 minutes to come up with a business idea and name – a big ask! FEO members moved around the groups offer aid but to be honest, the students had plenty of great ideas and didn’t need much help at this stage.
Next up was Attitude presented by Sue Altass who is a good choice as she has tonnes of it! Attitude is key to almost everything on life, but it is a difficult thing to convey in a 15 minute presentation but Sue did a great job.
As is the format for the day, the students were given time between the sections to work on their presentations and build the knowledge into their own projects.
Then it was Tony Dickens turn to present People. Tony runs several businesses including a training business and it showed in his presentation! His dry delivery and self-effacing style had both students and FEO members in stitches at times. People is another important aspect that is difficult to put across in a short time but by engaging with the students and FEO with some gentle banter, Tony managed it with ease.
Next was probably the most difficult but also most important session of the day, Money presented by Chris Goodman. I have presented this section myself several times and know just how hard it is to take a dry subject like finance and make it interesting for students, but Chris did a great job and you could tell by looking around the room that the students were playing close attention. One of the key criteria the judges look for when grading the teams is some attempt to understand the financial mechanics of their proposed business. It doesn’t have to be that realistic (it is OK to say they will get a £2m loan from the bank to start their widget factory) as long as they are realistic about what the money will be spent on, how much they will sell their goods / service for and whether they will make a profit! Chis has a background in accounts and runs a motor finance business so is well placed to deliver the subject, engaging the students is much harder but Chris managed it well.
After a short break to work on their presentations again, it was my turn to deliver the Marketing section. This was the first time I had delivered Marketing although it is probably the area closest to what I do work. As with all the FEO members, my primary goal was to engage the students with the subject matter, so I tried to make the delivery as fast paced and relevant as possible with topics as wide ranging as Harvey Weinstein to low calorie ice cream. I always try to stick to things the students will relate to using brands they know (Apple, Spotify, Amazon etc) and situations they will encounter (like launches of products they know). The interaction with the students went well with lots of questions, and I think (well hope) they found it useful.
With all the sessions out of the way, it was time for the students to get to work with their presentations. FEO members David Robinson, Jam Brumby and Kerry Mountain along with everyone who had presented proceeded to help the groups with their business development but as before, the students didn’t need a great deal of helps or encouragement, just seemed focused on what they needed to do!
With lunch out of the way (good old-fashioned school dinner), it was time for final preparations and then the presentations.
This the part of the day I look forward to the most. It is great to see the creative ideas the students come up with and the innovative ways they run their businesses. I have to say that the standard was unusually high with just about every member of every team contributing and some great business ideas. It is often easy to forget just how difficult it is to stand up in front of a large group and present an idea, but the students of Beverley Grammar did a great job with clear presentations, colourful visual aid and in one memorable presentation some freestyle rapping!
As with all competitions, there had to be a winner and the first-place prize went to a team that proposed a small sports shop specialising in using technology to help people visualise the products they were purchasing. Other ideas that struck me as good was the water bottle that measure hydration levels and the electric shopping trolley that followed you around.
All in all, the Beverley Grammar Masterclass was a great way to round of this academic year and I look forward to starting the program again in September with more opportunities to help the entrepreneurs of the future.