Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis and entrepreneur Amber Atherton are backing the Ryman National Enterprise Challenge’s mission to expose 500,000 kids to business skills by 2020. Co-founder Ben Dyer explains the idea behind the inter-school competition.
Experts in delivering business skills, cousins Ben and Michael Dyer have experienced the highs and lows of enterprise. Born and raised on a tough housing estate in Stoke-On-Trent where, according to the cousins, “the status quo was largely unquestioned,” their own desire to get ahead is now, in turn, helping youngsters to see the opportunity to do the same.
Having experienced bankruptcy after an initial business idea failed, it was while working to complete their business foundation degrees that the pair found themselves discussing how ill-prepared students were to move into business after their studies.
What started as a bit of lighthearted banter inspired Ben and Michael to think about how they could make a difference to help young people entering the workforce to learn the skills they would need. Brainstorming some ideas, the cousins decided to launch a competition, open to all secondary schools, to encourage kids to come up with great business ideas and solutions.
“Our parents thought we were mad,” recalls Ben Dyer. “We talked to industry contacts to try and get a figurehead to back our competition and eventually Lord Sugar got involved – in fact we used a start-up loan to pay him.
“We needed to deliver 50 enterprise workshops in schools in six months to hit our own business plan. We used social media to find an office – a room in a youth club for £20 a week – and with four of us we called every school in the country, until we signed up 58 schools in just under six months.”
Fast-forward two years, and the National Enterprise Challenge has the backing of Ryman, along with owner Theo Paphitis, and in year two involved 110 schools with 30,000 students participating.
The competition final took place at Alton Towers, which also backs the challenge. “Theo has been instrumental in the competition’s success,” adds Dyer. “He really gets the concept and has petitioned for some time for children to be better taught business skills at school. After all, these are the skills you need for life.
“This year we aim to reach 200 schools and each time we are amazed at the ideas and level of sophistication of entries. This year we challenged the older kids to develop an attraction for Alton Towers – we had kids dressed up in costumes, some developed an advertising campaign, and others produced a full-scale model. They were amazing and not at all daunted by pitching to Theo Paphitis.
“What’s exciting is that we’re starting to see the success stories following through. A girl from the first year of the competition suffered with terrible confidence but is now in the RAF and says that participating in the challenge completely changed her outlook and attitude.”
With millennial entrepreneur Amber Atherton, whose own company, My Flash Trash, is already valued at £3.5m, now onboard with the Ryman National Enterprise Challenge, the competition looks set to develop a whole new generation of business owners.
“Theo set up his first tuck shop business at school,” says Dyer, “and this year one of the challenges is to develop the ultimate school-based business. We’ve had ministerial interest in the past, but we really are looking to get some government backing and support for the challenge, as it has so much potential to transform the lives of so many young people in the years ahead.”
To find out more about the Ryman National Enterprise Challenge, visit nationalenterprisechallenge.com