Young entrepreneurs from a school in a disadvantaged area of West Yorkshire have got the backing of Prince Andrew and Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones.
Pupils from Westborough High School in Dewsbury have devised a business which leases out cheap laptops for classmates without computers at home.
The teenagers had brought their winning pitch, from the Tycoon in Schools project, to Buckingham Palace.
The Duke of York commended the scheme’s mix of business and ethics.
‘Learn about failure’
He said it showed the entrepreneurialism that could happen if young people were able to stop fearing failure.
“There is a need for “de-risking” the mind,” said Prince Andrew, who said pupils needed to be able take risks with business ideas and be allowed to fail in a safe environment.
“One of the things I was taught when I was at school was that the best way of being successful is to fail,” he said.
“If you can learn about failure, but do it in a way that’s a safe environment… you learn what not to do next time.”
The project by pupils at Westborough High School was a response to discovering that more than 200 students in the school did not have any access to computers at home – even though they were vital for homework and revision.
The pupils’ business plan for a “level playing field” has been to refurbish old laptops and to lease them to pupils for a few pounds a week.
The self-help idea, presented under the chandeliers and oil paintings of Buckingham Palace, won a £1,000 prize in a competition for primary and secondary school entrepreneurs in which more than 2,000 young people took part.
Prince Andrew said that the youngsters had found the key to a good business idea, in tackling a practical problem on their doorstep.
Mr Jones, star of the Dragon’s Den television series, said these young people had the hunger to succeed and the edge to “beat the competition”.
But he said that there was too little emphasis on entrepreneurialism in schools.
“We’re still closing our eyes to it,” he said – and he said successive governments had failed to “smell the coffee” on the economic urgency.
“We need job creation, we need people to stimulate that, we need great ideas. But we’re not going to get that unless we give people experience of running a business,” said Mr Jones.
He said it remained an “old staid British style” and “incredibly archaic” to assume that talented young people should go straight to university after school.
But Mr Jones, as the face of entrepreneurialism, also has to face a deluge of pitches from the public, both plausible and implausible.
He says he gets 400 to 500 pitches per week – and even when he has been in a restaurant with his family he has had would-be business partners waiting to pounce on him with an idea.
Prince Andrew said that there was no such thing as a “terrible idea” – it was sometimes a case of having to “pivot” it in a different direction.
But Mr Jones said he had seen some ideas that were less than impressive – including “knee roller skates”.
It was “very niche and pretty stupid”, he said.
“I thought he was going to say this was a bit of a joke, but when he was completely deadpan serious, I started to get concerned.”