November 09, 2010
How do you persuade young people that enterprise is not only exciting, but is an opportunity open to everyone? A team of young inventors from one school learned by teaching themselves to bring a new product to market, and as a result they won a trip to New York to present their idea to executives from the online giant Google.
The four 13-year-olds from Queensbury school near Bradford were quizzed about their business plan and gained tips from executives in an international setting after entering the Big Deal Enterprise Competition, run by the University of York as part of its widening access programme. The idea is to fire students' imaginations as they study enterprise education for key stage 4.
Invention and business are often best learned hands-on. "They did the bulk of the work themselves and, at that age, learning the basics of marketing research and the strengths and weaknesses of a business plan is such a valuable experience for their future education," says their business studies teacher and entrepreneurship coordinator, Rahila Hussein.
Queensbury earned a satisfactory rating from Ofsted just this term, after struggling for two years to emerge from special measures. The school is in a largely working-class, rural area five miles from Bradford.
"Team Dynamic" won their prize for the best original idea and business plan. "It was a huge, but very valuable, leap for them to be plunged into a corporate office in New York and to present to a panel of executives – who took them seriously and peppered them with questions," says Hussein. The team were the youngest entrants out of 300 in the competition, which is normally aimed at gifted children in years 9 and 10, especially those from disadvantaged areas. Their idea of a designer armchair for young children was deemed the most imaginative and backed by the most solid business plan.
The five Google executives in New York challenged the boys on their marketing, product research and financing work for the project and gave them an insight into corporate life.
Thomas Bingham, Priyan Mistry, Declan O'Reilly and Javier Segado Marsh – operating as Team Dynamic – talked from cue cards and gave a PowerPoint presentation. "The presentation was better than I've seen from some seasoned corporate executives who have offered their company for acquisition," says Scott Spencer, Google group product manager.
"They told us the basics of the product, how they reached their pricing and how they would position it in the market. Some bosses of small companies drift into rambling about the history of the enterprise, while these lads stuck clearly to the relevant points."
The team's product idea was for a mini armchair shaped like a teddy bear and featuring modern child essentials – speakers in its ears linked to an iPod dock in the back of its head, feet that double as slippers, cup-holders for hands and a secret compartment in the toes. "To hide things from your nosy little sister," team member Javier pointed out, deadpan, raising a smile from the Google team.
They worked on the project for three months, with guidance from an assigned business mentor in London and many after-school sessions and busy lunch hours with their business studies teacher. "It taught me about deadlines and being more disciplined in a team," said Thomas.
After the boys finished their presentation, they were given a tour of the enormous Google offices, where employees get around on trendy scooters.
What was the most surprising thing they learned about the modern IT company version of corporate America? "We were wearing ties, but the executives were wearing jeans and T-shirts," says Javier.