The Monday Feature: The Young Apprentices

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A Leeds project which helps youngsters start their own business is paying dividends. Neil Hudson reports

IT sounds like the sort of challenge Lord Alan Sugar might come up with for the BBC show The Apprentice but students from Leeds are showing they’ve got what it takes to make itd in the world of business.

Dozens of schoolchildren have been taking part in this year’s LEAP project - formerly the Leeds Enterprise Advisory Programme - which encourages them to set up their own business and then market and sell products to the public.

The project is now in its 9th year and has seen over 4,000 children pass through its ranks. This year, some 16 schools and 300 children are taking part, forming companies from bakeries to stationers and bath bombs to smartphone covers.

Last week, just eight stalls took over the Merrion Centre, selling to the public, generating £9,000.

Natasha Garitis, ‘Tash’ to her friends, is a co-founder of Made With Love, a start-up which blends two modern trends - our penchant for vintage and scented candles, also selling cards and candy canes.

They started the business by selling cakes, from which they made £30. They used that money to buy pop and sweets, which they sold, making a profit of £127, which they used to kickstart their candle and card making business.

The 17-year-old chemistry student has also made all the candles by hand, putting them into tins and sourcing vintage cups from charity shops to act as holders.

She said: “It is similar to The Apprentice but at the of the day you’re not on TV and you’re not getting fired, we started this up for fun. My parents were really proud of it, it’s something you can only learn by doing and from that point of view.”

Business partner Pevan Kaur, 16, who is also starting her A-levels and made 200 cards by hand to sell on their stall, said: “I’ve enjoyed it overall but some parts have been really hard, for example getting everyone to meetings on time is difficult and the financial side of things is also quite hard.”

There are rules which govern how the businesses can operate. The business must contain between five and eight people, with those investing a maximum of £20 each in the business, although they are allowed to ‘sell shares’ to raise a further £400 from family, friends and other contacts.

Julie Brownrigg began her career as a chemistry teacher and retired after 40 years in education as assistant head at Allerton High School and was one of the founders of LEAP, formerly the Leeds Enterprise Advisory Programme.

She explained how the project came about, adding it was in part a response to a CBI report bemoaning the lack of practical skills among many of Britain’s school leavers.

“The aim was to develop students’ learning in terms of working more on solving problems, thinking creatively and also managing money and demonstrating leadership. There are all the things the CBI said school leavers were lacking.

“We know from our own experience students often feel vulnerable when they go into the world of work because they work in a completely different way at school, which is all about passing exams, so in the main it’s down to the individual rather than working in a team, which is really important when it comes to the workplace.

“LEAP runs over the academic year but we aim to avoid the busy exam period. Basically, students get to set up their own company, raise capital and then choose and market a product. They have to write the business plan, which is a competition in its own right, they also have to market the product.

“We can always get students academic qualifications but they are much more than that and they need more than that. Academic qualifications are vital but they also need other skills.

The school she worked at was involved in a national programme to provide such skills but after some time they opted to leave the scheme, after realising they were practically running it themselves and paying for the privilege.

The idea was thrashed out over “cups of coffee, tomatoes and cheese biscuits”, according to Julie - they later secured the backing of the owners of the Merrion Centre.

Their biggest costs are public liability insurance and developing their website.

“It’s all done on a voluntary basis, it’s nice to be able to give something back, we have a lot of fun working with the youngsters, they come up with some great ideas. We had one group who shrank crisp packets to make into fridge magnets, others flavouring jams and chutneys, another made wine racks from vinyl records and one group even ended getting onto [online beauty store] ASOS, which is practically unheard of.”

Edward Ziff, chairman and chief executive of the Merrion Centre and Town Centre Securities passionately believes in helping develop entrepreneurial skills in young people. His son Jacob and daughter Charlotte-Daisy have previously been students involved in LEAP. The Merrion Centre is the only shopping centre to sponsor LEAP, hosting two trade fairs throughout the year, offering seminars and senior members of TCS staff as mentors to the students involved.

Edward said: “It’s phenomenal how many students are involved this year and amazing to see the amount of hard work and determination that has gone into each and every businesses. We awarded ‘Made with Love’ the title of ‘Best Trade Stand’ because it really stood out from the rest and had a point of difference, it was organised meticulously, they knew their product inside out and had outstanding interpersonal, sales skills, I was personally very impressed with their cross selling, I bought much more than I intended to.”