Entrepreneurial role models are sharing the secrets of their success with those in further education thanks to a new project from Young Enterprise Scotland


It’s been an extraordinarily tough year for most businesses. However, If you think that the current Covid-19 pandemic has put younger people off the idea of becoming entrepreneurs, you would be wrong.

According to a recent survey by the finance company SME Loans, no less than 63 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland dream of taking up self-employment, powered by the desire to be their own bosses, make money, have flexibility, and work from home.

It’s a trend welcomed by Young Enterprise Scotland, the registered charity that works to inspire and equip young people to learn and to succeed. It offers support from primary school level through to university and beyond.

The organisation has just relaunched its Bridge 2 Business programme. This is now available to all of Scotland’s further education colleges and offers youngsters the opportunity to engage with, and be inspired by, local entrepreneurial role models.

The programme also helps them to connect with Scottish start-up business networks and provides grants to allow them to test out their business ideas.
“We’re all about creating better futures for young people”, explains Geoff Leask, Young Enterprise Scotland’s Chief Executive. “We promote enterprise, entrepreneurship and learning by doing.”

He is not surprised that ambitions of self-employment remain strong despite the damage caused to businesses and the economy by Covid. 

“There’s no ceiling on the ambition of young people,” he says. “They have aspirations towards a very bright future. There’s a huge responsibility on those of us who are further down that path to make sure that we provide real support and opportunities.”

An integral part of this, he believes, is leveraging connections to others who have already taken practical steps along the path to enterprise. “It’s about linking students with real-life role models – local heroes –who are not too far travelled on their own journeys.

“It doesn’t have to be someone who is a high-powered entrepreneur, but rather someone who is relevant to the young people themselves.”

Leask rejects the notion that students might benefit more from connecting with seasoned enterprise practitioners who have years of knowledge and experience at the sharp end.

“With our local heroes, the journey with its highs and its lows is still fresh in their memory. It’s about recognising that everyone on that pathway makes a mistake somewhere,” he points out.

“What matters is how quickly you can react to that mistake, adapt what you’re doing and change direction. A lot of businesses were born out of the adversity of 2008, and through adversity comes creativity and innovation.

“What we are doing is about inspiring, connecting and supporting young people through to business. That’s where these role models come into play.”
The Bridge 2 Business programme is a successful tool allowing young people to focus on developing their potential outside the arena of academic achievement.

“It was born in 2013 and based on a report carried out by students themselves for the Carnegie UK Trust,” says Leask.

“The key findings were that they wanted more contextualisation of enterprise activity within their further education learning along with connectivity to real-life role models.”

The initiative works particularly well in areas where there is deemed to be little in the way of economic or employment opportunity. 

“That’s in places like community campuses, where we can really engage with young people. 

“They may be struggling to find the next step in their journey. The Bridge 2 Business programme gives them the opportunity to focus on developing their potential outside of the academic arena.”


Right, successful video blogger Molly McFarlane was a participant in the Bridges 2 Business scheme


Also important, Leask believes, is that Young Enterprise Scotland is itself an organisation that backs entrepreneurship and is passionate about providing the assistance required.

“Our team likes to walk the walk of enterprise. Originally we worked with 10 colleges across Scotland but following the pandemic, we’re now offering our support to all of them,” he explains.

“We’ve now got an online offering and can bring  partners to colleges that they may not previously have had access to. We’re also able to use private sector resources – for example, there’s a collaboration with RBS called Female Boss to try to leverage more girls into business.

“We also had a wonderful campaign last year with Scottish Enterprise which operated under its Unlocking Ambition programme. 

“We had 72 applications from students for internships with 30 entrepreneurial companies.”

Young Enterprise Scotland’s work in schools is also critical. “As the leading enterprise engagement organisation for education in Scotland, we work with thousands of young people in the classrooms.”

At the other end of the learning scale it also has links with Converge, the programme that brings together academic entrepreneurs from every university in Scotland, providing guidance, a support network and intensive business training.

“So we’re able to nurture young people right along the journey and show them that there are other organisations out there that can help them. We don’t have a business start-up function, but there are other agencies out there that can help with that. So there’s a continuum of support.”

Leask says that his organisation does not itself teach enterprise. “Quite often we’ll actually avoid the word ‘entrepreneur’ because people have a view of it and sometimes that view isn’t positive.

“What we do is to get the young people engaged in activities – it might be that they are set a challenge to design a product and work out how much it will cost to develop or sell and how they then take it to market. 

“They also analyse how to pitch for investment and work out if it has been successful. 

It’s really enterprise by stealth. When they realise what they’ve achieved, a lightbulb goes on in their heads and they realise they’ve just been running a business.”

He adds: “I’m massively optimistic. I’m blessed with a fantastic team and I have huge faith in our young people. We have to keep the lights on for them and create the sparks of creativity they need to secure their futures.”