As someone who has proved to have an eagle eye for promising business plans, Real Business was eager to find out how Dragons’ Den investor and serial entrepreneur Peter Jones goes about his decision-making process.
The businessman is about to embark on the third outing of his Tycoon in Schools programme, which aims to “put enterprise at the heart of the education system”.
A thousand or so students have been selected to take part and are set to receive funding and help with business ideas. We asked him about the process, what is wrong about the system and get advice on learning from the younger generation.
(1) Why do you think it is important to encourage enterprise in schools?
Encouraging enterprise in schools is crucial to the continued success of Britain, because today’s young people hold the future in the palm of their hands. They play an absolutely vital role in creating a great future for our country and therefore getting them thinking about business from as young an age as possible is extremely important.
Enterprise education equips young people with the business and entrepreneurial skills they need to be able to succeed in the real world of work. It prepares students for the workplace and can narrow the gap between young people’s abilities and employers’ needs that is all too often highlighted.
That is why, three years ago, I set up Tycoon In Schools. The national enterprise competition gives pupils the chance to start their own business and see how much money they can make. Trading for this year’s competition kicked off this week and I am looking forward to watching these business ideas get off the ground and grow over the next seven weeks.
Getting involved in business gives students commercial experiences that will be beneficial in their career further down the line – whether they take a job or make a job – they will be armed with confidence, innovative thinking and ambition to achieve.
(2) What is wrong with the current approach?
I believe that enterprise is as important to a student’s education as core subjects such as maths, English or science. My mission is to put enterprise at the heart of the education system and, nearly a decade ago, I started campaigning to secure a place for enterprise within the National Curriculum.
We have come a long way since then, and enterprise initiatives like Tycoon in Schools are reaching thousands of young people, but there is still more to be done to encourage students have the confidence to choose their own path.
(3) How will these efforts help with producing business leaders of the future?
Instilling this entrepreneurial spirit in children will prepare them for the ever-changing workplace and to be innovative and confident business leaders of the future.
Through a “learning by doing” approach, students will gain commercial skills from a young age that will put them head and shoulders above their peers and give them the exact qualities they need to lead in business and enterprise.
I really champion the idea that entrepreneurship should be a route that our future leaders consider. The pupils that get involved with Tycoon in Schools are able to see the scope of options that lie ahead of them broaden, and that there is the possibility of making a job, rather than just taking a job, once they have finished their education.
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(4) What do you like to see from business plans, whether put together by children or adults?
First and foremost, I like to see a great idea thought up by a team who has the drive and passion to succeed.
There are two other things that are vital when trying to be successful with a new business idea – money and research. Firstly, always be aware of where your money is and what it’s doing. Secondly, a great business plan will always be supported by research. If a team has done their research, the idea will be insured against a lot of pitfalls.
It is never too early to see a great business plan come to life. Over 1,000 young people have set up businesses as part of this year’s Tycoon in Schools competition, with ideas ranging from chalk and cork boards and customised BMX bicycles, to recycling everyday objects into beautiful gifts.
These students have worked hard over the past few weeks in putting their innovative ideas to paper, conducting research and being passionate about their business. I am excited to see how these all prosper over the coming weeks.
(5) Are we moving towards a more entrepreneurial culture in the UK?
Over recent years, I have been proud to watch the UK become an enterprise nation. Just this year, we have seen over 500,000 small businesses in the UK launch and it’s great to see so many budding entrepreneurs taking the leap.
Britain’s young entrepreneurs and small business owners are at the helm with regards to pulling the country out of the economic stagnation it has been in for the last few years. By instilling an entrepreneurial mind-set in our young people through enterprise education, we can ensure that we are continuing to drive this agenda and future proofing our economy. On top of that we will help reduce the number of business failures, as a lot of businesses don’t succeed because they have no idea of how to run a business.
(6) What do you think is still holding back businesses from achieving their full potential?
Something that is highlighted consistently by small businesses and big corporations alike is access to the right talent to drive their organisation forward. All too often we are hearing that young people are unprepared for the workplace and this is holding businesses back from reaching their full potential.
The way that young people are educated can play a role towards closing this damaging skills gap. In 2009, I set up the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, which provides fast-track business skills and hands on experience for students through work placements.
I am a firm believer of this ‘learning by doing’ approach, as it ensures that students are well prepared for their future work, whatever it may be.
(7) What do you think SME leaders can learn from how children go about putting together business ideas?
What I am constantly blown away by is the talent and ambition of this country’s young people – I believe that our small business leaders really do have the opportunity to learn a lot from the younger generation.
I have found that young people can bring a lot more to a business that more experienced employees might not offer. They have the ability to come up with creative ideas and concepts that adults might typically dismiss as impossible, and can be imaginative without skepticism and restraint.
At the Peter Jones Foundation, we encourage young people to think big and visualise their success. We have found that our students have a fearless approach to life, and therefore to business – this is something else that our small business leaders could learn from.
Successful entrepreneurs have two fantastic qualities: a great vision and sheer perseverance. These qualities need to run in the veins of both our current and upcoming young business leaders – and they can certainly learn from each other when embarking on the journey to success.
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