October 30, 2013 5:12 pm

Entrepreneurs given a business plan

When asked about their career ambitions, one in four UK secondary school pupils say they want to run their own company.

KPMG, the consultancy firm, questioned nearly 300 pupils in the UK aged between 14 and 16, asking about their plans, and found 70 per cent had already decided on a career, with a quarter seeking to go it alone and start a business.

The strong wave of entrepreneurial spirit uncovered by the survey raises questions as to how it can be developed, and one pioneering new international college for young entrepreneurs might be demonstrating one way in which it can be done.

The DO School aims to set young people on the path to running their own sustainable businesses as well as providing job opportunities in their home communities.

Based in Hamburg, it offers budding young entrepreneurs the chance to develop their ideas.

The importance to employers of such entrepreneurially minded youngsters is stressed by Robert Bolton, partner and co-lead of KPMG’s global centre of excellence in HR.

He says: “In order to attract and retain some of the most talented and ambitious youngsters, employers must harness this entrepreneurial impulse by financially rewarding new ideas and explicitly recognising it from a performance management perspective.”

Florian Hoffmann, co-founder of the DO School, sees an entrepreneur as someone who “sees an opportunity and takes the risk to act upon it”, and views his school as a vehicle for nurturing the skills they need.

He says: “We support social entrepreneurs – individuals who identify a problem in their society, reframe it as an opportunity for action and implement a solution in the form of a business, non-profit, artistic venture or campaign.”

Sixty students are selected each year on the strength of their idea and their passion for developing a business, rather than on their academic qualifications alone.

The young people are often sponsored by their government, a charity or philanthropists. There are plans to open further DO Schools in New York and London.

The DO School, a not-for-profit establishment, is supported by the United Nations and other organisations and individuals, such as the Newman’s Own Foundation, actor Paul Newman’s philanthropic body; George Soros, the financier; and H&M, the clothing retailer.

Mr Hoffmann explains: “The time when higher education aimed solely at the transfer of knowledge is over. We want to support young adults to find the motivation and skills to take action and create change.

“Our fellows come from around the world, with very different socio-
economic and educational backgrounds – but they are all motivated and passionate to become positive leaders in their societies.”

Students embark on a one-year programme comprising 10 weeks on campus and 10 months in their home country. During the first phase, they are taught how to embark on their own venture, learning from established business leaders and working on a group challenge to create a service, product or campaign, turning an idea into reality and a business plan.

Over the following 10 months, the students start up their venture based on their business plan. They are supported by an online programme and mentors. Instructors include Dr Scilla Elworthy, founder of the Oxford Research Group and a former adviser to Dr Desmond Tutu, businessman Sir Richard Branson, musician Peter Gabriel and former footballer Jens Lehmann, who kept goal for Arsenal and the German national team.

The programme, which has just gone officially live, was tested for three years in co-operation with experienced entrepreneurs, academics and artists and each year 5,000 applications were received. Each selected student receives a fellowship covering tuition for the year.

The application process is lengthy, consisting of six essays submitted in writing, video or artwork, and interviews for the shortlist of 100.

Liza Mamaliga is a DO School student from Moldova. Her rural area faces high unemployment but she has converted her parents’ beehives into a profitable business that creates jobs. She built her own honey brand, Dulce Plai, in 2012 and she is now making it a wholly organic business and expanding into international markets.

Other DO School fellows include Jacob Opara from Kenya who completed a degree in biomechanical and processing engineering. His mission is to establish a technology centre in his home community to promote computer literacy.

Richard Aballa from Uganda attended business school before organising an emergency relief project for internally displaced peoples and victims of violence. His plan is to help young Ugandan farmers make their growing more profitable.

On the need to teach entrepreneurship, Mr Hoffmann says: “People are not born entrepreneurs – they need to reflect on what they’re passionate about and align their passions with something tangible. A lot of higher education is admirable but it does not equip young people with the tools they need to develop their own start-up.”

He says specific business school models for entrepreneurs can be too niche and that as the labour market has become so unpredictable, something different is needed – an approach that encompasses critical thinking and creativity as well as inter-cultural qualities.

“In my experience, students provide a great answer to the ‘why?’ element of a challenge, but they then give a mediocre answer to the ‘what?’ part, and really need our help on the ‘how?’ section to develop their ideas.

“We must remember that 50 per cent of the world’s population is now under 30,” he adds, “and that if the world is to innovate further, we have to give these young people a skill and not just rely on the transfer of knowledge. Our student group is very diverse as the students apply from 100 different countries – and diversity brings innovation.”

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