The Manchester Enterprise Academy opened with great fanfare on Monday this week. The second in Peter Jones’ planned national roll-out. "We want to have them in nine regions across the UK within ten years," he says. "And we’re right on target."
The academies are all part of Peter Jones’ plan to kickstart entrepreneurship in Britain’s young people. "Anyone who says that entrepreneurs are born not made is naive," he says. "And I’ve heard some pretty important people making that statement.
"The fact is," he continues. "Entrepreneurship is not in the blood. That’s a complete fallacy. The reason people say that we’re born with it is because these people have grown up in families where they’ve seen their mother or father running businesses or being entrepreneurial. This makes it very likely they’ll follow in their footsteps. But this doesn’t mean for one minute that other people can’t do it."
Jones has put his money where his mouth is, investing £4m of his own funds into the scheme. "There’s a huge skills gap in the country," he says. "We’ll be educating over 30,000 young people in Britain’s only enterprise curriculum."
Teaching body Excel has already rated the National Enterprise curriculum the best in the UK. "Having people like Mike Clare from Dreams coming in and talking about business is incredible,’ says Jones. "He recently sold his business for over £100m. And he bought the house I wanted, which I’m less pleased about."
The first crop of students has already graduated and Peter Jones has been extremely impressed with the young entrepreneurs’ progress. Take one student: Fiona. "When she joined the academy, she was softly spoken – not scared but reserved," says Jones. "She had a lot to learn. Within six months, we were at a function full of very influential business people. They were there to vote on the students’ business ideas. She went straight up to Andrew Pepper, the CEO of Hilco, and pitched him her boating business concept. In two minutes, she told him how there was a gap in market for people who wanted to actually learn how to sail a yacht, rather than just sit and drink champagne.
"It was the most fantastic elevator pitch," continues Jones. "She asked for his business card and used great closing techniques to set up a time for a follow-up meeting there and then. It was just great. A few months before, she would never have done that."
And was it the Dragon’s influence that honed Fiona’s entrepreneurial skills? "I am teaching, yes," he says. "But I’m terrible at it. They either don’t get my jokes or they take me too seriously!
"But it’s great to see people change and improve," he says. "If I had my way, I would start kids learning about enterprise at the age of seven. Why aren’t there any kids’ books about business? You know: Little Johnny starts an ice cream business…"Real Business suggests that Peter Jones write these books himself but he’s already got his hands full teaching his seven-year-old daughter the basics of business. "She can’t quite read a P&L statement yet," he laughs. "But if you give her the piece of paper and ask her which number’s most important, she’ll point to the bottom right hand corner. That’s good enough for me!"
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