As we note elsewhere on this site, we are particularly keen on projects which involve trying out new ways of developing young people and those which concentrate on enterprise.
Occasionally a project comes along which combines both these features – one such is the Next Big Thing (NBT), a business development competition for 16-18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, which was first run by Chris Philp in 2009. We thought that this was such a good idea that we worked alongside Chris to establish, develop and nurture the NBT in Camden and Brent, where the NBT pilot has been run successfully for the last 3 years. The pilot phase was run in collaboration with MySi, which provides training programmes for young people to learn essential personal and business development skills, and supports them to create and own enterprises that deliver economic and social value for the long term.
Teams of 4-6 participants work with business mentors to develop a business idea over 8 weeks (2 hours per week). They then present their idea, “Dragon’s Den” style, to a panel of judges and the winning team is awarded £1,000 to start their business. All participants gain from the structured sessions, which cover a range of skills from budgeting to marketing; but importantly all gain in confidence, communication and life skills; many receive ongoing support from mentors to fulfil their potential.
Videos of the finals, which can be found here, show the excitement which is generated – not just for the participants, but also for the judges and mentors.
We have seen for ourselves the remarkable development in many of the young people who participate. One team from Crest Academy started the programme so shy that they were barely able to introduce themselves. By the end of the programme, they were able to present well and explain their business. They have continued to develop and now turn up at business meetings, full of confidence and ideas.
More important than our own observations is the feedback from school and participants. This has been consistently positive:
· A teacher from Crest Academy has told us that “the students have run with it, been determined, turned up every week, met with their mentors outside of school; it’s been phenomenal.”
· The participants report many benefits, including raised confidence and enhanced university applications.
We also encourage projects to seek robust independent assessments of their impact and NBT has taken this approach to heart. In 2012, NBT commissioned a report from Liverpool Hope University, funded by us. They reported that:
· It is clear that NBT is a stunning success in terms of how it is perceived by the students themselves.
· It has realised a significant creative potential for shaping young minds and hearts for recognising that their ideas and business thinking can make a real impact for them and society.
· To have achieved all that in such a brief period of time speaks volumes for the impressive way in which the programme has been established and the quality of mentors that it has been able to attract.
The Progress Foundation does not provide grants for more than 3 years. This is because we hope that our funding will allow new projects time to demonstrate that they work, allowing them to look for funding elsewhere. The feedback on NBT is, however, so powerful that, although our funding period (involving grants totalling £31,000) has come to an end, we are keen to help NBT move on to the next stage of its existence. As a result we are now assisting NBT to explore expanding its programme and to look for a wider funding base. Individual donors, including Chris Philp, have generously donated over £50,000 to the Progress Foundation to be used to support the development of NBT (now incorporated as a Community Interest Company). Donors have also committed time to NBT by being members of its Advisory Board. Two of trustees of the Progress Foundation are members and directors of NBT.