Pupils' entrepreneurial spirit shines through

Everybody knows the format of TV’s The Apprentice and the propensity for self-destruction of its instantaneous start-ups. Less well documented are the ups and downs experienced by UCS’s own budding entrepreneurs as they participate in the longer-form Young Enterprise competition.

Young Enterprise is a business education organisation that equips young people with work skills, knowledge and confidence, and each year a UCS contingent enters the Company Programme section of its portfolio. The programme comprises eight key milestones encompassing: starting up a company, creating its board of directors, generating the idea, business planning, launching, running the enterprise, winding up and, finally, looking back and next steps.

Prefacing each is an instructive online workshop delivered by Young Enterprise. The timeline is flexible but the pace and pulse quicken in March when local showcases take place for the competing companies. The winners proceed to regional finals and, if successful, the national final. In UCS’s case, the journey began last September when nine Year 12 (or Transitus) students came through an initial selection process to qualify to represent the school under the direction of Karolina Cieslak, course co-ordinator at UCS.

One of the appointed candidates, Ben, described that first hurdle: “Once I heard about Young Enterprise, I was immediately interested because I never knew such a competition existed. It was by no means easy to get selected and the work we put into our initial presentation should have served as a warning about the workload to come! However, we were a small group with a shared entrepreneurial spirit.”

Indeed, the new company decided upon sustainable handmade candles as their product and named themselves ‘Candle-it’ (subtitled: shining a light on sustainability). To be authentically sustainable, they formed a partnership with the Patty & Bun burger chain to upcycle used bottles, a procedure that involved cutting and sanding the bottles and pouring in hot wax.

The collective commitment to Candle-it over the next seven months was considerable: weekly meetings with Ms Cieslak and a volunteer from the business world, meetings outside school to create the product, deadlines for real-life company admin and product approval, compiling and sending over a final presentation as well as finance sheets for the presentation.

According to Ben, Candle-it’s sales director, the process entailed thrills and unfortunate spills. “We met up most weekends and although it was a lot of work, we were motivated by the common goal of making our idea a reality. Nobody anticipated the amount of time it would take to make the candles, let alone sell them. At times we struggled in the face of broken glass bottles and the trial and error process of choosing scents – harder than you’d think! – but we got so much out of the process: teamwork and management skills being the biggest takeaway.”

The candles first saw the light of day when they went on sale at the school musical in November, before the team took their product to Portobello Road Market in preparation for their Central and North London Showcase event in late March. Held at The Strand, this was where Candle-it’s labours bore fruit. The UCS team lifted two awards at the climax to the Showcase, for Sustainability and Second Best Company. “We were so proud of achieving a sustainability award, and the bags of candle wax and wicks lying around our homes will bring us fond memories for years,” said Ben.

Indeed, this was the glorious juncture where the journey ended for UCS’s Year 12 entrepreneurs. With summer exams looming, their tickets to the later stages of the competition would remain unstamped. However, they left the Young Enterprise process as award winners and empowered by practical business acumen and key skills.

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