From education to employment

The Edge Challenge

Starting a business from scratch is challenging enough but add in the additional obstacle of youth and it can be hard to be taken seriously. Lack of experience and lack of contacts can make the likelihood of success seem remote.

However, with an increasing focus on skills in Further Education, young people are developing the personal and practical skills necessary to start out alone and turn a ‘big idea’ into reality. And of course young people bring special qualities to the table – energy, optimism and enthusiasm, which are invaluable in the early stages of a business.
So how can FE colleges support aspiring young entrepreneurs? By knowing how to guide students towards appropriate channels of support and funding streams, and by providing the encouragement they need to succeed.

There are many different funding schemes in place already to help young people with a solid business idea such as Start Up Loans and Entrepreneurial Spark. There are also competitions which require budding entrepreneurs to submit an innovative and viable business idea, and provide the opportunity for them to assess and evaluate every aspect of their business venture.

The Edge Challenge is a competition to identify the UK’s brightest young entrepreneurs and give them a helping hand to kick-start their business idea. Run by independent educational charity, the Edge Foundation, together with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and the Gazelle Colleges Group, the Challenge offers individuals the chance to win up to £3000 and teams of five people or less the chance to win up to £4000 to develop their start-up. The winners will also receive six months of mentoring from a leading business person. The challenge is open to past and present students of any FE or Sixth Form college, aged between 16 & 25 and who have taken (or are undertaking) a course of technical, practical or vocational education.

The Edge Challenge has helped turn big ideas into reality. Jack Crofts, a 17-year-old student at the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy in Sheffield, used his runner-up prize money last year to kick-start his business, a completely unique idea to bring the luxurious Vicuña wool to the UK. Less than a year on he has secured suppliers in South America, manufacturers in the UK and is getting ready to sell his first batch of ‘Vicuña Royal’ products.

18-year-old David Humpston from Amersham won the Edge Challenge last year and attributes part of his success to the educators at his college who were keen to equip students with the skills to run their own businesses. David’s idea was to create a video production company for leisure experiences. It would offer customers (at kart tracks and supercar experiences for example) the opportunity to capture and share memorable experiences with friends. His company Viewpoint Videos is almost a year old and has recently signed its first partnership with Capital Karts, the UK’s longest indoor track.

A real passion for your area of interest is essential to the success of a start-up and former Solihull College student Katie Buckingham used her Edge Challenge winnings from 2013 to invest in a start-up driven from her childhood experiences. Having suffered with anxiety as a young child, she developed a passion for tackling mental health issues, and aged 19 she set up a company providing training to businesses and organisations to help them support employees with mental health issues. Altruist UK now delivers training to well-known businesses and Katie has been nominated for a Woman of the Year Award for her exemplary work in the mental health sector.

The Edge Challenges’ past winners have all highlighted the importance of finding a mentor. It is without doubt one of the most invaluable resources for a budding entrepreneur to have access to someone who has experienced the ups and downs of business success and can provide knowledgeable insight into the complexities of the market. The Edge Challenge provides this vital opportunity with shortlisted entrants invited to London to pitch their business idea to a panel of experts, and finalists attending The Skills Show at the NEC in Birmingham in November to showcase their ideas to leading business minds.

We hear so much in the news these days about the UK skills gap with employers crying out for skilled workers. And yet one in six of all our 19-24 year olds are classed as NEET – not in education, employment or training. As educators we have the tools to ensure that young people have the skills they need to secure employment. And for those with the passion and drive to start-up alone, we need to be there to give them the confidence and support to follow their dreams and succeed in the future.

To enter the Edge Challenge, please register at The closing date for entries is Friday 17th July.

David Harbourne is acting CEO of Edge, the independent education charity dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

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