There’s no such thing as a bad idea!
Anthony Gerrard is a Scottish Fellow looking to find aspiring entrepreneurs for his project, ‘Bad Idea’.
How do we encourage more young people into self-employment and entrepreneurship? That was the question posed by Glasgow City Council in January 2012. Why? Only 29% of employers will recruit a young person from education, and nearly one in every four 16 to 24 year olds are now classed as not in education, employment or training. The so-called “Lost Generation”.
To combat this, the authority brought together a range of partners in the city to explore new ideas to connect with the most disengaged generation of young people there has ever been. The group included representatives from economic, business and regeneration departments, along with established youth enterprise charities, support agencies and local initiatives. I was invited as a token gesture to say that they had spoken with a ‘young’ entrepreneur, having started my first company the year before.
We spent a great deal of time discussing the support that is available in the city, which there is certainly no shortage of. A recent study found over 100 active business support services throughout Scotland, 49 in Glasgow alone. What I attempted to address was that the group were failing to address the point before providing business support. That nurturing entrepreneurial spirit is a necessity to give young people options, particularly for those who can’t go on to further or higher education. But then who was I to tell them how to do it?
Coming from a broken home and growing up in poverty, I had a unique insight into many of the obstacles facing young people in society today. I was forced into homelessness at 18, and have had no support from any family since. I managed to get myself out of that situation and went on to enjoy success as a Marketing and Promotions Manager in the events industry for 4 years, managing a team of 18 throughout Scotland. However, still convinced of this linear life track: go to school, work hard, get a degree and you’ll be successful…I decided to return to education. Studying Accountancy and Law at college, then university. How false that idea is today. After leaving education in 2010, when unemployment was really starting to bite following the crash, I struggled to find work. Unable to survive on benefits, I decided to take action and start my own business. Having no experience of starting a company, I became very active in the business support network, and to date have been a client of 27 different agencies. So I felt, out of everyone in that room, I was probably best placed to find a solution. And I did.
I wanted to bring equality to entrepreneurial ambition for marginalised groups, especially disadvantaged young people. To do this, we need to start believing that there is no such thing as a Bad Idea. As FRSA Sir Ken Robinson famously stated in his now legendary TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity: “We need to celebrate the gift of the human imagination.” We all have an imagination, and young people have an exceptional capacity for divergent thinking, the ability to see multiple answers, not just one. So we all have ideas, and what we need to do is nurture those ideas.
The problem with the existing provision for business support is it is firmly stuck in the 20th century principles that no longer apply to the modern environment, the new business paradigm. Writing a business plan, wearing a suit, and getting a loan from your local bank manager is a thing of the past. We must free ourselves from the tyranny of the status quo!
So how does Bad Idea work? Using 21st century principles, tools, and techniques, we support young people to focus on what they can do, not what they cant. We remove academic assessment from creative flair. We use visual design tools and keep the process highly practical. Over 2012 I developed a series of 4 workshops that take a raw idea, contextualize it into a business ‘story’, communicate that story, build and grow the audience for that story, then finally engage and mobilise that audience to help make the idea happen. Model, Pitch, Network, Make. Simple. We deliver this through our flagship Youth Enterprise Competition for secondary school pupils. Although the methodology is very simple, the programme was developed with support from world-leading academics in enterprise, learning, and digital education.
“This is the future of entrepreneurial education, and a significant development for the future of business in Scotland. The educational thinking of the project is highly sophisticated yet brilliantly simple.” Professor Vic Lally
Nothing we use has been designed for young people, but we’ve found a way to make it so accessible and so inclusive that even pupils who have Assisted Support for Learning (ASL) needs have been able to engage in the same process along with pupils from both state and independent education. We’ve brought equality to entrepreneurial ambition.
We’ve recently completed our pilot phase, having worked with over 200 secondary school pupils. Our greatest success has been connecting with the most disadvantaged young people in Scottish society. Now, with the support of the Scottish Government and The RSA’s Catalyst fund, we are scaling our programme into the 7 cities of Scotland.
What we have learned is that being entrepreneurial does not have to mean being an entrepreneur. The personal development of the young participants has been incredible. Patricia Gibson, a teacher at Drumchapel High School, noted that the pupils had “found their voice for the first time” and Jackie Gallagher at St. Roch’s High School said our work had been “life changing”.
And having an entrepreneurial spirit really can be. I embody the Bad Idea message. For someone like me, with my background, to create something from just a (bad) idea in my head that now changes lives, is such a rewarding experience. But it is the honour of being invited into such a prestigious organization such as The RSA that really drives it home. Jamie Cooke and the team in Scotland have welcomed me in with open arms, and connected me with inspirational Fellows such as Tanya Hine OBE and John Naylor. I also had the privilege of dining with Nobel Laureate Economist, Professor Joseph Stiglitz thanks to the Angus Millar Lectures 2014.
Not bad for a boy from the wrong part of Glasgow.
How can you get involved?
We want as many people to find their entrepreneurial spirit as possible. This needs a great deal of support, both financially (keep an eye on the RSA Kickstarter page for instructions on how to donate) but as importantly with networks and mentorship for those aspiring entrepreneurs. There are many ways in which you can get involved and I welcome you to offer your suggestions…remember, there’s no such thing as a Bad Idea!
Get in touch with Anthony