He might only be 22, but Kieran Aitken has already inspired hundreds of students to successfully launch their own businesses 

 

SOCIAL entrepreneur Kieran Aitken didn’t particularly enjoy school. But now, every day is a school day: as the founder and managing director of the teenage incubator programme, Orbit Enterprise Education, ramps up the platform to help young people launch their own business.

At 22, his young shoulders carry far more experience that someone of his age would usually have and he tracks his own illustrious career to date like a seasoned entrepreneur on stage at a motivational business conference.

Indeed, Aitken credits businessman Sir Tom Hunter, chief executive of The Hunter Foundation and one of Scotland’s most highly regarded philanthropists and entrepreneurs, as a role model and mentor. Recalling their first meeting, he says: “I had the idea for Orbit and heard that Sir Tom was going to be visiting Boyd Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston,” he says.

“I’d taken the day off school and waited in the car park, then caught him as he came out – it was May 20, 2015, a date that will forever stick in my mind.”
Fortunately, Sir Tom took the time to chat to the ambitious young schoolboy.

“He was surprised but receptive, and I think he liked my spark and the fact I’d gone out to make something happen,” suggests Aitken.

Since launching Orbit Enterprise Education five years ago, the business has supported over 500 students aged between 16 and 19 to launch their own businesses- through what Aitken claims is one of the world’s first business incubator programmes for students.

Support has come from RBS and Entrepreneurial Spark among others. In 2017, he won £10,000 in the final of Scottish EDGE – the competition aimed at identifying and supporting Scotland’s up-and-coming, high-growth potential entrepreneurial talent.

From its early roots in Glasgow -with the first two intakes creating 13 new businesses with an annualised combined turnover of over £30,000 just four months after the programme’s launch- Orbit has established “chapters” in major cities across the UK, including Edinburgh, Birmingham, London and Manchester.

HeraldScotland:

Kieran Aitken dropped out of university to focus on building his own business empire

 

Orbit has decentralised its structure and now entrepreneurs based overseas can apply for a licence to run the programme. The organisation, meanwhile, has plans to open chapters in Australia, Canada and the USA by 2021.

The incubator programme is a powerful one, suggests Aitken. “We cover everything that you need to help you be successful in business,” he explains.

“From generating ideas, all the financial and legal stuff like tax and accounts to raising finance and sales and marketing – it’s very, very comprehensive.

“We provide mentoring and access to leading business figures, advice on how to scale up and grow a business, how to build and lead your team – everything that will help create the winning mindset and knowledge required to run a successful business.”

That said, no amount of teaching, coaching and mentoring can prepare a young person for the hard work and determination required in setting up and running a business. “I think some people have that entrepreneurial gene,” says Aitken, who launched his first business at the age of 15.

“From quite a young age I wanted to make money and at school I was selling ‘anything legal’ in the playground,” he continues. “I was never very academic at school but was an avid reader of business books and started a car and van detailing company with just £150. By the time I was 18 it was generating a healthy five-figure net profit annually.”

All the same, the Renfrewshire schoolboy went on to study business at the University of Strathclyde. 

“It wasn’t a case of not enjoying university, but I was still running my business and not devoting enough time to study so I dropped out in third year,” he says. “Continuing wouldn’t have been fair on my tutors or myself.”

Today, he explains, many of his “Orbiteers” have the same outlook in that they don’t necessarily feel that further education is the best career option for them. 

“A lot of young people don’t know what they want to do, but go to university without any clear goals,” says Aitken.

“School just doesn’t work for everyone and if there are problems at home or other issues then that can impact on their studies – and for others, the prospect of another three or four years of studying after leaving school isn’t attractive.

“A good brain and personal drive – and the determination to make your own path in life – can be worth much more than a degree,” he says.

“From coffee shops to online magazines, we’ve helped young people with bright ideas in many different business sectors launch their own companies with some achieving a five-figure income before their 18th birthday.”
But Aitken’s message to all young people starting out in business is to “not get carried away too soon”. 

“I moved too quickly on a flawed revenue model and didn’t plan very well,” he admits. “We bounced back and are much more careful now and take advice, but it taught me that you can’t run a business without making mistakes.

“When you do make a mistake, don’t give up – pick yourself back up, get on with it and you’ll come back stronger.”

Orbit’s three-month incubator programme, believes Aitken, is the “ultimate training experience for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow”.

To date, 500 new businesses have been created with Orbit’s support and on average there are 120 applications for every space available on the programme.

In addition to running Orbit Enterprise Education as a social enterprise, Kieran Aitken operates DripDrab, a tech business he launched last year that provides card payment processing to tradespeople and allows households across the UK to book a window cleaner at the click of a button.

The business is growing at pace and there are plans to expand the platform to incorporate additional services such as plumbing and dog walking. 

Find out more at www.orbit-incubator.com and www.dripdrab.com