I was raised in a pretty old fashioned type of family. My dad was a civil servant while my mum stayed at home. Setting up a business was not something people from families like mine did, and in fact the thought never even occurred to me as a child.
My dad used to encourage me to be a teacher or get a job at a bank, since according to him that was an “ideal job for a woman”. The general expectation was that I would get a job, get married, have a child and then become a stay-at-home mum.
I was determined not to fit in that mould, but I had no idea what I would do. I liked science and IT and when I finished secondary school I chose a Sixth Form which had an excellent Maths and IT programme. At the time I had the vague idea that perhaps I would become an engineer, or something as “unfeminine” as possible.
A couple of weeks into Sixth Form a friend of mine asked me if I was interested in joining a Young Enterprise company. I was intrigued. Start a company? It sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try. And try it I did, only to discover a totally unexpected and all-consuming passion for entrepreneurship.
The company we set up became something of an obsession for me. I thought about it night and day and drove the team to the limits of their endurance. I cannot for the life of me understand why they put up with me, but luckily our friendship survived the turmoil of teenage entrepreneurial fervour and a many of them remain friends to this day.
This was 25 years ago so it could very well be that the programme has changed nowadays, but when I took part we got to go through the whole process of setting up a company. We had to find investors, set up a management structure (I was elected General Manager!), identify a product, manufacture it, market it, sell it, take part in a trade fair and hopefully make a profit. We also had to present our company and our achievements to a panel of judges in front of an audience. Once the year was up we then had to wind down the company and repay our investors, distributing any profits we had made.
By the end of the year I did not have the slightest doubt in my mind. I was going to be an entrepreneur and set up a company. I had no idea what the company would do, but set up a company I would!
The Young Enterprise Company Programme had a profound impact on my life and on the life of over a million young people who like me were given the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship first hand. Over a period of a year I learnt invaluable business and interpersonal skills that prepared me for the realities of setting up a company- something that I did in earnest 7 years later.
After completing the YE programme my life plans changed. I went on to read for a Business and Computing degree, merging my love of technology with my passion for entrepreneurship, and after that I read for a Masters degree in Marketing. This laid the foundation on which I built a web development company once I completed my studies.
I cannot speak highly enough of this excellent programme and the work this charity does to help young people. Nowadays the organisation has grown and supports young people from the ages of 4 to 25, empowering them to build important personal and business skills.
If you are a Young Enterprise alumnus, or if you are a believer in empowering young people, I urge you to visit their site and to consider making a donation. The work they do is well worth our support.