Speaking to the Telegraph, Sir Richard Branson says that the sooner young people start learning about entrepreneurship the better, as the skills that can be gained are manifold
What does it feel like to own a business? Have they all been a success? What does it feel like to own an island?
There are, I imagine, few people who could take on the latter question with any degree of knowledge; yet, sitting in front of a room full of primary school entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson seemed happy to take on the challenge.
It’s great, he said, adding: “a business is simply coming up with an idea to improve other people’s lives and, hopefully, when you have done that, more money will come in than goes out.”
Regarding Necker Island in the Caribbean, he told the children that while he had fallen in love with the beauty and remoteness of the place, the island he was currently on was “pretty good too.”
Sir Richard, speaking at the Ham Yard Hotel in London’s Piccadilly, was today celebrating the success of the Fiver Challenge.
Launched earlier in the year, the challenge pledged £5 to primary school pupils for one month; encouraging them to find creative ways to make a profit and engage with their local community.
Run by education charity, Young Enterprise, and supported by Virgin Money and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the challenge – in its inaugural year – saw over 30,000 children take part from over 500 different schools.
This year’s winners included Leanne’s Silhouette Studio, devised by pupils from Richard Whittington Primary in Hertfordshire, and Bits & Bobs from Grasby All Saints CofE Primary in Lincolnshire, which sells handmade and sewn gifts.
Following new plans set out in June to introduce schoolchildren as young as five to key business concepts, Lord Young of Graffham commented on the challenge, saying: “The purpose of the Fiver Challenge is to give children a taste of what the entrepreneurial life is like.”
However, opponents of the idea have previously voiced concerns about introducing children to such career and money focused concepts at such a young age.
Speaking to the Telegraph after the event, Sir Richard pointed out that many of the great entrepreneurs in the world started at a young age:
“I don’t think that Britain has been very good at getting young people to understand what enterprise is,” he said. “I started when I was 10 years old, growing Christmas trees.
“I working out that, by the time I left school, these trees would be fully grown and I’d be able to make lots of money and, therefore, retire at 18. Unfortunately, the rabbits ate them all.
“Then I tried budgerigars, because I’d heard that budgerigars reproduce really quickly; unfortunately, the rats got in and ate them too.
“Starting young is good, you can either learn through failing, like I did, or you can learn by being successful.”
Soft skills such as grit, determination and resilience are often cited as key benefits of studying entrepreneurship from a young age, skills that are also regularly cited as missing in school leavers by employers.
But Sir Richard also pointed out that getting practical experience now and gaining a greater appreciation of what £5 can do, could mean that children are propelled to do bigger and more exciting things as time goes by.
“I started Virgin with less than £5,” he said, “with just enough coins to work in the school phone box to sell enough advertising for my magazine [titled Student].
“I was quite motivated I suppose. The Vietnam War was going on and I wanted to start a magazine to campaign against it. I had to become an entrepreneur by default for the magazine to survive.”
Speaking about the exam focused nature of secondary school – a focus that motivated Sir Richard to write on GCSE results day that “ exam results aren’t everything ” – he highlighted why it’s important for children to recognise that multiple routes lay ahead of them.
“If you want to become an entrepreneur or business person, the sooner you get on and do it, the better,” he said. “The best way of learning is being out in the jungle and getting on with it.”
“For other professions, admittedly, you do need a formal education. I’m dyslexic and I didn’t know the difference between net and gross until I was 50 years old and, yet, I have the biggest group of private companies in Europe.
“As long as you can add up, maybe multiply and maybe subtract, you can get on and do the job.”
While applications for the next Fiver Challenge won’t open until next March, Sir Richard hopes that many thousands more schoolchildren will take part in the future.
“Maybe the loans could increase as pupils progress through education,” he said. “We lobbied the government to give bigger loans to 18 year olds with business ideas, instead of university loans – and over the last two years these have been introduced via Virgin StartUp Loans.”
“Progressing from a Fiver to £20,000, there’s no reason these students shouldn’t build the next Google, or the next Microsoft, or the next Virgin.
“It will be great to see whether these initiatives make a difference in the long run.”
The Fiver Challenge, run by Young Enterprise, pledges primary school pupils with £5, and they have one month to set up mini businesses and make a profit. They can keep their profit – donate to charity or keep for themselves. They pay back the £5 pledge plus a 50p legacy donation. Applications for the next round open in March 2015 .