As I write this, my first column for Real Business, I am sitting on a tiny propeller plane from Riga to Vilnius hoping my connecting flight to London won’t go without me. (Special mention must go to the inept fools at Ryanair who left me stranded in Latvia with no help on how to get home).
I have spent the last three days with my fabulous hosts in Riga at the Peaktime international business competition for under graduates. Now in its ninth year, I was unsure exactly what to expect. Keen to see how business and entrepreneurship was being promoted in the Baltics, I was intrigued to meet the participants.
Based at the Stockholm School of Economics (the Swedes funded the joint Swedish/Latvian venture back in 1994), I was greeted warmly by the organisers (Sauliusz, Rusmans, Danielus and the team) who, to my surprise, were only second year students themselves.
I had been under the impression I was dealing with lecturers, not teenagers!
The five day event involves 20 teams of four from around the world, as far flung as Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore with a heavy Baltic and European contingent. Each team had to win a competition in their own country to make the final in Riga.
I was asked to open the event with a "guest lecture" about my experiences of running a business at a young age. The reaction was superb – a lively, highly intelligent group who asked insightful questions in the Q&A.
This was the most I have ever enjoyed giving a speech – and I speak in public a lot.
The energy and passion for business in the room was immense. What impressed me even more than the excellent participants was the way the event was organised and run.
Six young people took this project from start to finish whilst working around their own degrees AND running a small, successful, award winning advertising business from their university campus.
They raised over £20,000 in funds through pledges and sponsors, marketed to universities worldwide and convinced the teams to spend huge sums to get to Latvia.
Over the two days I was there they ran exactly to time and managed the incredible feat, through two hours of ice-breaking activities, of getting 80 people from different countries who’d never met to become the best of friends.
Everyone was clearly enjoying the occasion. Not least when each team’s two minute introduction videos were played, they cheered and clapped like they’d just seen a sensational Oscar winning performance.
If my short time there is anything to go by, the Baltic states have some real winners in the making at SSE, not to mention each of the countries represented.
For my last night the current organisers (they do one year only) and their predecessors took me to "The French Bar", their favourite haunt. They really proved SSE’s motto of "work hard, play hard"! They insisted I drink at least 12 of their favourite Apple Pie shots and I was feeling somewhat delicate five hours later when I had to leave for my non-existent flight.
Their mission, I was told, was to get me drunk as a thank you for speaking earlier in the day. They succeeded.
Thankfully no Real Business snappers were there to catch me in the moment – I know they would have loved that!
It was the perfect cap to a perfect trip – i was surrounded by happy, intelligent, driven, focussed, innovative people – some as young as 18 – who I’m absolutely certain will go on to experience huge success in the future.
Peaktime epitomises entrepreneurship and everything it stands for.
There was just one question on my mind as I left – where was the UK team?