2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Shell's Livewire programme to support young people set up businesses. Established in Strathclyde during the recession of 1982, Shell Livewire has worked with over 9 million entrepreneurs between ages of 16 and 30 in 17 countries. Thirty years on from its inception, with a global recession impacting on the employment prospects of young people internationally, Shell Livewire's support is as important as ever.
Shell has a number of programmes that aim to support young people including their discussion forums and networks that provide free help and advice from members, business advisers and mentors, a library of free business resources, a yearly networking event which brings young people together to network and share ideas plus their monthly Grand Ideas awards that gives £1000 to up to four 16-30 year olds to start their business.
Knowing Shell Livewire's history and the support it gives to young people in the UK and worldwide, I was really pleased to be asked to be a judge to help shortlist the finalists for their Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2012.
Having read through the details of the businesses that I was asked to comment on I was struck, not only by the number of businesses that described themselves as social enterprises, but also the number of businesses who, although not specifically constituted as social enterprises, nevertheless suggested the businesses they had created had social aims and were socially responsible. Given the current recession and its links with what some have described as 'unethical' businesses practices, it is encouraging to know that the next generation of business owners places such an emphasis on social, environmental and ethical practices.
On November 14th I attended the awards ceremony in London and it struck me during the event how diverse the audience and those involved were. The judging panel consisted of four men and four women and, out of the eight finalists, two were women. The entrepreneurs and businesses in the final were:
Ben Allen – Oomph!
Dana Elemara – Arganic
Charlie Harry Francis – Lick Me I’m Delicious
Jide Johnson-Babatunde – Aniboxx
Jonathan May – Sponsorcraft
Jules Quinn – The *TeaShed
Nithin Thomas – SQR Systems
Sam Zawadzki – AdvancetoGO.com
The winner of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2012 was Ben Allen, from Oomph! (which stands for Our Organisation Makes People Happy!). In his business pitch, before the winner was announced, Ben suggested the aim of Oomph! is to 'change the care sector forever'. It is certainly a very timely concept. Oomph! offers fall-reduction exercise therapy, dance therapy and arts therapy sessions designed for older adults living in the care sector. The company works with 10,000-15,000 people monthly in over 400 locations. However, not only do Ben and his company provide services for this often neglected client group, he also employs young people as workshop leaders and facilitators, providing access to training and qualifications for many young people currently affected by the economic downturn and unable to find meaningful employment.
Overall, I found this a very positive event, not only because of the focus on young entrepreneurs but also because of the range of people and types of business that were showcased. I teach a module in social enterprise and one on gender and entrepreneurship and this event offered insights into these areas. I know that in my gender and entrepreneurship module, when we talk about research into gender stereotypes and entrepreneurship students often argue that things have moved on, that sex roles are not so firmly ingrained and that young people also care about social and environmental issues. Many suggest that these considerations would also influence their choice of employer and decisions about creating their own business. This event made me think that maybe times are changing and traditionally male-dominated workplaces and the potentially unethical ways of big businesses might start to be challenged by a new generation of entrepreneurs and graduates.
To commemorate 30 years of supporting young entrepreneurs, Shell Livewire published a report on November 15th called 'Everybody's Business' based on a survey of almost 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs. The report explores the motivations of aspiring entrepreneurs to start businesses, the nature of the businesses they have either started or intend to start, the personal attributes they believe are central to entrepreneurship, and the barriers they perceive to their business succeeding.