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Why These Young Entrepreneurs Would Not Have Made It Without Their Mentors

01/07/2015 11:24 BST | Updated 30/06/2016 10:59 BST

I have dedicated the last decade of my working life to helping young people take risks and seize opportunities. And yet, when my daughter decided to leave university early because she wanted to pursue her own path, I thought it was a very bad idea.

As it turned out, I was wrong - she knew exactly what she wanted to do and luckily she ignored me. She quit university and secured a job in a small business specialising in her passion, food. It was a very entrepreneurial act on her part.

How many parents prepare their children to be entrepreneurs? My guess is few do. Yet young people need support in order to succeed.

Last week I was invited to speak at the Impulsa Forum in Girona, Spain, in the presence of His Majesty the King of Spain and more than 1000 participants. The event, organized by Fundació Princesa de Girona, focused on helping to build a future for youth, by strengthening their skills, talent and entrepreneurial abilities. So I told the stories of these young entrepreneurs: Judith Mendoza from Peru, Gorka Llort, David Valle and Judith Vila from Spain and Viola Lam from Hong Kong.

Andrew Devenport - Cerimònia de lliurament dels Premis FPdGi 2015 from Fundació Princesa de Girona on Vimeo.

Judith Mendoza lives in the town of Maras, in the Cusco region of Peru. In Maras, there are almost 5000 salt wells and each family in the community has certain rights to exploit them. Tourists visit Maras on their way to Cusco and Judith realised they would buy salt from her if she could improve the product.

Gorka is passionate about advertising, social media and travel. He started entering and winning big brand online promotion competitions. At the same time he also noticed that very few small companies who used e-commerce focused on marketing.

Together with David and Judith, Gorka launched La Promoteca, a platform that uses competitions to carry out brand promotions for mostly small companies. Their business took off and their early success quickly brought upon many challenges.

Viola comes from Hong Kong and out of love for mathematics she became a part-time teacher at age 16. To help the children she taught she started to develop a unique teaching method in mathematics using images. Her students began to learn quicker and were happier. Soon she was tutoring over 200 children, she was working 24/7 and knew had to change her approach to cope with the workload.

These are young people in three very different places, all seeing entrepreneurial opportunity. But they all had something in common - a mentor.

Judith Mendoza decided to change a traditional activity into a business. After several mistakes, Judith attended a free training workshop on how to run a business by an organisation called Colectivo Integral de Desarrollo (CID) that also found Judith a volunteer business mentor who understood tourism. Meeting 2-3 times a week, her mentor helped Judith design and present her products. CID helped her formalise her business, get the certification and develop the product range.

Judith opened several stores, raising the incomes of many in her community. Her family's income has grown over 100 times. Recently Judith won a national innovation competition which will greatly improve the quality of her production.

Gorka, David and Judith Vila used La Promoteca to promote brands, especially small brands, through competitions. None of them knew how to run the business, but were absolutely passionate about what they were doing.

Then they heard about CP'AC, a founding partner of Youth Business Spain, which offered free support services for their business and most valuably connected them with a volunteer business mentor - Jordi. Jordi's biggest impact was through his experience and frankness- he helped Gorka, David and Judith mature as entrepreneurs and grow the business in a sustainable way.

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Viola was teaching 200 children a week and was getting overwhelmed. So she changed her approach. She split her business in three parts: on-line learning at home for her pupils, practice at an educational centre and parental monitoring.

Youth Business Hong Kong provided Viola with a low cost loan to equip the centre and set up an internal management system and encouraged her to participate in a free tradeshow which got her some media coverage. Youth Business Hong Kong also matched her with a volunteer business mentor.

Viola's mentor challenged her to think big. Today Viola is applying for a patent and developing a franchise model which will expand her business in China. In 2015 Viola won Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the global Young Entrepreneur Awards, supported by Barclays.

Mentoring plays a very important role in the journeys of these young entrepreneurs. It helps build an entrepreneur's confidence to deal with the inevitable business challenges as they come along. As a result, young entrepreneurs are more successful and much faster. It is the best form of collateral.

If you asked Judith, Gorka and Viola, they would all advise: if you want to help young entrepreneurs, become a volunteer mentor. And although the mentors of these entrepreneurs happen to be successful in business themselves, this is neither a pre-requisite nor necessarily sufficient condition. A good mentor is someone who listens, someone who enables the young entrepreneur to develop at the same time their business does, and there are as many ways to do that as there are young entrepreneurs.

YBI mentors love their work, the valuable support they give is returned for many with a greater self-knowledge, reflections on their own work, connecting with young people and a strong sense of giving to society.

So whether you are thinking about starting your own business, already started a business or trying to grow your business, here are some parting words of advice your mentor might give you, neatly summed up by that great Briton, Sir Winston Churchill:

'Never, never, never give up!'

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