Unearthing the Business Gems of the Future

08/08/2016 15:53

It's a familiar story seemingly with only a dismal ending. A young man, suspended from school at the age of 14, spends two and a half years in prison from the age of 19. His life is in a negative spiral of crime, unemployment and hopelessness. But with the support of The Prince's Trust, he turns things around, sets up a business and sells it for many millions of pounds. It sounds like a Hollywood-inspired fairytale but this is what happened to Duane Jackson.

Of all the things The Prince's Trust does, probably what it is most famous for is helping young people like Duane to start a business. Since the Enterprise Programme was launched in 1983, we have helped youngsters aged 18-30 create well over 80,000 businesses. This is the facet of the Trust's work that got me engaged in the first instance 15 years ago with this special charity, and since last summer, I have been its Chairman.

At the end of June, we launched The Prince's Trust and NatWest Tomorrow's Business Awards, which have been inspired by our founder and president, The Prince of Wales. With these awards The Prince's Trust want to celebrate businesses set up with their support within the last ten years, and in particular, those that make a positive difference to the lives of the young people who set them up, the environment and sustainability or their community. We have already had an excellent response and the deadline for entries is 30 August.

Through encouraging young people to start a business, the Trust has transformed thousands of lives. Now in our fortieth year, we help 60,000 young people from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds every year to get into some form of employment, education or training. Three in four of the young people supported by The Trust achieve a positive outcome. Independent research published two weeks ago showed that we have contributed a staggering £1.4 billion in value to society over the last ten years.

The Trust provides three key ingredients to aspiring entrepreneurs. The first is training. Once a young person has been accepted onto an Enterprise course, they receive a four day workshop on the essentials of starting a business. This includes finance, marketing and other key topics.

The second key element is mentoring. Currently we have more than 2,300 active business mentors, part of an army of 6,000 volunteers who support the Trust. They include many successful and experienced business people who wish to put something back into society. By pairing each aspiring entrepreneur with someone who has experience in their chosen field, The Trust gives them access to money-can't-buy practical advice. From help crafting business plans, setting up finance systems and scrutinizing ideas, through to moral support and helping find solutions to unexpected challenges all entrepreneurs inevitably face, the mentors are there helping to guide their journey.

The third dimension is funding. The best business ideas, once they pass through a panel, receive a loan of up to £7,500 from us to kick-start their venture.

I recognize from my own experience of starting Travelex, the currency exchange business, from one small shop in 1976, how crucial each element is. Whilst my training had been from my previous work in the City, I had a number of informal mentors whose advice I greatly valued. A good business mentor is worth their weight in gold. They can often be pivotal to determining whether a smart business concept thrives when it reaches the rough and tumble of the marketplace. Crucially, a family friend lent me the money to start the business. It is often the adviser, funder or mentor who shows faith in a venture at an early stage, and gets it out of the invariably tumultuous start-up phase.

In my role as Chairman for The Prince's Trust, I have seen how that door can be even harder to open for disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. Often their upbringing or circumstances mean that they lack at least some, if not all, of the key skills employers are looking for. They are less likely to have the confidence and support to start their own business. A recent report showed that whereas the national self-employment rate stands at 10% of the working age population, in the most deprived areas, it is almost half at just 5.4%. The Trust, therefore, is helping to ensure that the entrepreneurial talents and energies of our young people can be expressed, and are not denied through lack of opportunity.

In our fortieth year, the Trust can be proud of the success of our Enterprise Programme. The businesses we help to set up have a high degree of stickability. An impressive 76% of them are still trading after two years, which is 10% higher than the national average. Rather than resting on our laurels, we want to look ahead at how much more there is to do. The Tomorrow's Business Awards is very much about the future, of both our young people and the entrepreneurial spirit of the country. Whenever I meet young people through the Trust, they impress me with their drive, determination and enthusiasm: it's up to us to ensure they get the support they need that takes them from good to great.

Were you helped to start your business by The Prince's Trust or do you know someone who was? Find out more about our Tomorrow's Business Awards and enter here

Lloyd Dorfman CBE is Chairman of the Prince's Trust.