I rise to talk about the work I have been doing to try to encourage more people to take up being young entrepreneurs. When I went to university, I was one of 350 students at Oxford Brookes university studying business, but I was the only one who went on to set up my own business. With entrepreneurial flair, risk-taking and perhaps a touch of madness being drummed out of everybody else as they went on to their very successful corporate careers, I went off to set up my own business.
When I visit local schools and colleges and talk predominantly to business students asking whether they would consider setting up their own business, all their hands go up, probably inspired by TV programmes such as “The Apprentice” and “Dragon’s Den”,
which generate lots of excitement. I then ask, “How many of you will actually set up your own business?” Suddenly the hands go down and tumbleweed floats past. I ask them why. I would normally expect them to say that the reason is access to finance, but it is not that—it is simply that they do not know how to do it. They are looking for mentors, opportunities and a set career path. If someone is applying to go to university, they fill in the UCAS forms and secure their grades. If they are applying for an apprenticeship or a job in the local economy, they send in their CV, yet there is not such clear guidance on setting up one’s own business.
To deal with that issue, I, one of the chief fundraisers at Prospect hospice, Amy Falconer, and Andrew Paterson, a lecturer at one of my local colleges, Swindon college, allocated £10 to seven teams and set them the task of trading at Blunsdon market. It is a challenging trading environment; an indoor market that is not at capacity and has limited footfall. I secured mentors from Smiths News, Nouble Furniture, Asda and Barclays to come along to support those teams to formulate ideas and to choose the products and services that they would offer.
We made sure that the teams understood that their stall would be simply a wooden trestle table that would need dressing up, but that, if they spent too much money dressing it up, they would not make any money. They needed to promote themselves. They competed against existing traders and the other teams. They also looked at promotion to ensure that they did not rely just on the footfall, on what turned out to be an exceptionally cold and wet Wednesday in the market, and got friends and family along. They also were told that they would have to stand on their feet all day, that being in retail is a real challenge, that customers would haggle and that they would have to do mental arithmetic and ensure that they had sufficient change.
When we got to the market, the seven teams set up. All seven managed to trade extremely well and to make a profit. In fact, the teams managed to raise £838.70 for the hospice. On a very quiet and cold day, that was an incredibly impressive performance. At last Friday’s presentation event, I saw how much they had changed from when they first decided to take up the challenge.
I want to highlight two of the teams. Art Creations focused on providing henna tattoos. My mother, who is a 72-year-old councillor, and my wife were covered with henna tattoos after visiting that stand. Art Creations managed to make over £100. The Double Trouble team was run by Jessica and Kay, who set up a 1950s cake stall. They were dressed in 1950s clothing. They sold hand-made bags and all the cakes were home-made. There was 1950s music playing. They gave incredible customer service. That team got over £100 as well.
The key point for those two teams is that they have been invited to return to Blunsdon market in the summer holidays. Those students are all sixth formers considering their career options. They can come back for six weeks to see whether their ideas can work beyond a day and whether they can work for themselves. They will be working with Forward Swindon and In Swindon, two of the organisations charged with re-energising our town centre using Government money to boost the high street. Those teams have both been offered opportunities to take advantage of the provision for pop-up shops; they will probably be the first teams to benefit from that. All things being equal and working in the real commercial world, they will have the opportunity to consider that as a career. That career path has been laid out for them.
With all these students, if they step up, volunteer and succeed, I will do all I can to get the mentors in place to support them. We all have the opportunity to support keen, young and enthusiastic people. They will be the next generation of wealth creators providing employment. We MPs will, I am sure, be queuing up to cut the ribbon and taste the fantastic cakes that they will have at their opening ceremony.