‘It’s not that there are no opportunities for young people out there – there are opportunities. But when young people get fed a stream of information by the media saying that there are no opportunities for them, they start to believe it. But this is an opportunity for anyone who’s considered entrepreneurism,’ says David Parker Radford, the Senior Operations Manager at Young Lives
The Young People’s Enterprise Centre (YPEC) was set up by Young Lives charity in April 2012 as a year-long pilot project to encourage young people to set up businesses in Peterborough, and ultimately to increase local employment, business diversity, skills and ambitions. After conducting research and talking to young people, Young Lives identified that a major barrier to potential young entrepreneurs setting up in business was a lack of confidence, knowledge and awareness about their future options and that a centre specialising in supporting young people was needed.
‘We’ve realised that a lot of young people’s businesses aren’t necessarily office – based, so we’re looking for more opportunities to work with the business community and offer different types of space and more suitable workshop based businesses…’
The first thing the centre provides is free office space for a year to help young people grow their business from concept to profitability. While this has proven to be invaluable to the 36 entrepreneurs in the pilot year, David reveals this is something they are hoping to expand in the future. ‘We’ve realised that a lot of young people’s businesses aren’t necessarily office – based, so we’re looking for more opportunities to work with the business community and offer different types of space and more suitable workshop based businesses. We’ve already branched into market trading, we did a popup shop for a week in conjunction with Somewhere_to (a national programme to help young people access space) which was really successful and many of our entrepreneurs were able to go and sell their products. Retail is a really popular area, so we want to be able to offer more of these kinds of experiences and opportunities as well as office based ones.’
Another integral part of the YPEC is the mentoring programme, which matches young people with a local business person to offer advice and skills in regular meetings every month or so, as well as inviting local business figures to come to the centre and give presentations, skills workshops and more. This obviously relies heavily on forging strong links with the Peterborough business community, which David admits is largely down to the work of project co-ordinater Alice Johnson. ‘Alice has done all the groundwork really. She’s been fantastic in going out networking at all the business networking events you can think of in Peterborough and spreading the word. And as a result we’ve already had lots of support from both small and big businesses, either financially or through their time, or actually donating things like desks and computers.’
‘I only wish more local businesses supported Young Lives in the development and mentoring of tomorrow’s leaders’
One of the major events the centre has established is the apprentice-style ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ competition, with Secret Millionaire Mike Greene playing the role of Alan Sugar and involvement from a number of other organisations including BGL, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough Regional College. Mike Greene said: ‘I was so pleased to be asked to help with the Young Lives, Young Entrepreneur competition. All too often young people are all tarnished with negative labels based on the minority of individuals that we read about in the press. I was incredibly impressed with the standard of entrants in the competition – they had energy, passion, ambition and drive as well as the intelligence and communicative skills that will, in my opinion, lead to many of them being successful in the coming years. Their passion re-ignited my belief that the UK is a fantastic breeding ground for leaders and entrepreneurs that can help to pull us out of the current struggling economy and pave the way for future growth – I only wish more local businesses supported Young Lives in the development and mentoring of tomorrow’s leaders.’
The pilot year has proved to be a huge success, with 17 businesses and 36 young entrepreneurs through the door – in addition to all the young people who have participated in the Young People’s Office (a stepping stone for those who aren’t quite ready to join YPEC). As a result, the centre is already looking forward, with plans to improve, expand and develop the concept further. One of the things they are hoping to do is set up a network of businesses that are interested in promoting entrepreneurism in young people. The YPEC has also just moved from its base in Orton to new premises at the Eco Innovation Centre, thanks to support from Opportunity Peterborough. David believes this will really help to expand the centre: ‘We’ll be smack bang in the heart of Peterborough, which will really give us much more visibility and presence to connect with young people.’