The cutthroat world of business might not be the most welcoming environment for the fragile and developing mind of a minor. That, however, is exactly where hundreds of Gibraltar’s courageous young adults have cut their teeth voluntarily in the Young Enterprise Scheme, a programme that empowers Year 12 students to create their own product and market it in the real world. Although not quite ‘Dragon’s Den’, the training wheels are off and the window is wide open, both for opportunity and also for potential failure. Encouraging a culture of entrepreneurship in Gibraltar requires planting these priceless seeds of thought and genuine life lessons before youngsters are thrown into the deep end. There may be one winner at the end of the competition, but it is the concept of pushing the next generation to embrace critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship that is most central to the scheme. The students work together as equals. There is no ego, no hierarchy and people are valued for their individual skills. It is with these key elements in place that a group of youngsters can use the scheme as a platform to achieve their goals.
Last month was the official launch for this year’s crop to present the embryonic stages of their products and gauge any potential interest for investment. The Med Rowing Club’s first floor was packed to the brim with members of the local business community munching away on canapés and dishing out business cards as they passed the numerous booths displaying the innovative products on show. Every year, these bright individuals create their companies and come up with an array of inventions that capture the imagination. There, in the scheme’s third edition on the Rock, I met Javier Hunter, Sales and Marketing representative from Link+, one of this year’s Young Enterprise companies, where he very politely explained to me what he and his eight other friends had come up with. The product in question was a normal wristband with an added dimension, an electronic chip that stores information sent from your phone via an app. Although endless opportunities surround this technology, with merely a year to complete the project, the team decided to focus on helping paramedics in emergencies. The chip will contain the patient’s name, age, emergency contact details, allergies and other important information which can only be read by authorised personnel with scanners. I was dumbfounded as to how these whiz-kids had managed to fathom up such a helpful product that could potentially save many lives, so I decided to meet them for an interview.
I arrived as a fly on the wall to one of their meetings at Javier’s invite the following day. He was waiting for me outside Westside School, gripping at the straps of his satchel as if to prevent himself from bouncing with excitement while he chewed the ear off his team’s Managing Director, Henry Archer. Some new business strategy or marketing plan I thought as I cycled to a halt before them, abruptly ending their discussion. Not to worry, the ideas would soon fly across the table between the nine young entrepreneurs, with the tutors arbitrating minimally but effectively during the school’s lunch hour. The ambiance in the classroom seemed more akin to that of the daily boardroom encounters found across the Rock’s bustling business sector rather than a spoon-fed lesson. Their creative juices were flowing and everyone got involved without arguments or jumping over one another’s speech. When given the right tools and a limitless creative platform, young people can surprise you with the heights that they can reach. After all, Marc Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his dormitory at Harvard University at merely 20-years-of-age, “It’s a great challenge. In school, we are told what to do, but with Young Enterprise, we are encouraged to think for ourselves. Isn’t that what the real world is like?” said 17-year-old Henry on the different setting he experienced within the programme. “The teachers told us on the first day that they would not interfere unless they felt it was necessary. They have given us a few tips and provided us with some contacts which have been helpful, but we can see the difference to the classroom.”
Neil Victor, also a Link+ Sales and Marketing representative, has the scheme to thank for giving him a clearer perspective on his future, “I’ve always wanted to be an accountant, but I’ve also liked the idea of opening up my own business. Young Enterprise has changed my career focus and solidified my strong feelings to pursue the latter, starting locally but eventually, going global.”
The team have also had their setbacks. It’s not always plain sailing in the business world where rejection is a familiar foe. The team admitted it was a real eye-opener when scores of correspondences remained one-sided and they were forced to re-evaluate their focus, “We realised that we couldn’t just contact businesses digitally, we needed to meet people face to face.”
There was no outside influence when the students selected their team and were together for around three weeks prior to pitching their idea to their teachers, “The team was based on friendship and our own individual qualities that we bring towards the project. We have a great range of talents, from artistic design to proofreading, business know-how and finance, we feel like we have it all covered.”
The boys chirped unanimously when asked whether it was better to work in a mixed gender team, citing that it was a more realistic business setting with more options on the table, “You don’t get men separated from women in a normal workplace, we need to get used to working with girls, otherwise, we just see each other socially,” said Javier. “We don’t see ourselves as any better than one another. We all have our roles and work together towards our collective goal.”
The idea came to Henry when he noticed the electronic chips installed on the wristbands used for the Gibraltar Music festival. Music lovers would purchase credit from a store within the grounds and use it to buy drinks and food. This technology had been used in many festivals worldwide, but Henry decided to explore it further alongside Jamie Caruana, one of the more techy members of their team, and see what other potential uses it could offer up. The group of nine mixed students arranged an initial rendez-vous at Sacarello’s coffee house, where many high-level encounters take place locally. As his partners gathered round a somewhat secluded table, Henry proposed his idea and, to his relief, they wholeheartedly subscribed to his vision, “We’ve secured sponsorship from St John’s Ambulance and will collaborate with the Gibraltar Health Authority. We have already started drafting input sheets with the crucial first contact information a paramedic needs when treating a patient in an emergency,” said Henry. “It is like diagnosis on the spot in some cases. There could be some emergencies where the patient is unable to speak, so this chip could give the paramedics the vital information needed to save a life.”
It’s a complicated concept to develop, but it could be worthwhile and have a positive effect on Gibraltar. Although the aim of the scheme is to show entrepreneurial aptitude and create a product that will sell well, Link+ also has a function that could potentially help a lot of people. Young Enterprise has given these students the chance to shine their talents on an equal footing with those who harbour a lifetime’s worth of experience over them. Who knows what they’ll achieve when they reach their peak?
words | Mark Viales