Control Shift: The Rise of Young Entrepreneurs
15 December 2011
At a time when youth unemployment and NEETs are at the forefront of the political agenda, we felt it was important to put young people at the centre of the conversation about their futures. So, over recent months, as part of our Control Shift campaign backed by Sir Richard Branson, we have been gathering Virgin Media Pioneers' opinions on the barriers to youth entrepreneurship and how to overcome them…
I am fortunate to work with 1800 aspiring entrepreneurs on the Virgin Media Pioneers programme, all of whom are full of drive, passion, a commitment to succeed and the desire to support each other whilst they build their businesses. The Pioneers paint a very different picture to the image of disenfranchised, disillusioned and disconnected youth that dominates the news headlines. For example, one of them, Zoe Jackson, has just won a Woman of the Future Award - a great achievement.
As part of the Control Shift campaign, Pioneers told us how important it is to inspire young people while they are at school; of the need to ensure that teachers and careers advisers have the knowledge and skills to promote entrepreneurial career paths; and how useful they would find mentoring from people with a similar background to them.
The overarching message is clear – Pioneers want Government and big business to do more to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. Representatives have already met with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and a large group of their peers across Britain have also fed into the conversation. Working alongside experts in the enterprise sector, they have developed a set of actionable proposals that appears in the final report. And as a result of the Control Shift campaign, I'm pleased to say the first meeting of a fledgling enterprise community steering group is now in the diary.
It is clear that many young, aspiring entrepreneurs have the great ideas, drive and passion they need to succeed, but frequently find their paths are blocked by business practices that can discourage their growth. Large companies should take a look at their procurement processes and, where possible, consider opening them up, enabling small businesses access to their supply chain. Getting that first large company on their client list can be a major stepping-stone for young businesses. Businesses can also help by working with local schools to support teachers and careers advisers; making staff available as mentors; and providing useful and equally accessible work experience.
We should re-think the way society invests in young people. If a young person can write a compelling business plan rather than a UCAS form, why shouldn't they also be eligible for investment at favorable rates? With University fees now costing more than ever, three-year academic courses can't continue to be the only option for ambitious school leavers. As one Pioneer pointed out, it is bizarre that they can get a loan to do a two-year degree in enterprise, but can't get a loan to start their own business. The Pioneers' ideas about the creation of a Youth Investment Fund to replace the Student Loans Company provide a lot of food for thought.
The one thing that binds all these inspiring Virgin Media Pioneers together is their drive and enthusiasm. They understand that, ultimately, it is up to the individual to identify their goals and go for them – to be brave, take risks and grab opportunities.
But they need us - Government and business - to make it as easy as we can for them to do so. And through Control Shift, they have told us how.