Drive and determination to run their own businesses has set a group of young, disadvantaged entrepreneurs on the road to an economic upturn for Wirral.
As the first graduates of the new Young Entrepreneurs Academy, 11 young people, all facing a multitude of personal barriers, have now achieved their business start-up goals – only a dream for them at the start of the project a year ago.
This new generation of business owners, spurred on by practical help and advice from existing business leaders and local entrepreneurs – those who have “been there and done it” to show them the realities of running a successful company – are today creating their own livelihoods in a variety of different business sectors.
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, an initiative of Merseyside Community Training, a not-for-profit social enterprise with headquarters in Birkenhead, has been piloted on Wirral and was set up when the region was beginning to count the cost of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of jobs being lost in a matter of months.
As well as turning business ambitions into reality, a major aim of the project is to help rebuild hard-hit communities on Wirral with a “back-to-work” focus where disadvantaged young people can become self-sufficient so that, once they become established, are able to employ others and begin to turn the wheels of the local economy.
The success of the initiative means that a second cohort of budding entrepreneurs will shortly begin the programme with a roll-out of the operation across the wider Liverpool City Region already in the pipeline.
Graduation certificates were presented by the Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside, Robert Owen, to the 11 new faces of entrepreneurship who are embarking on their start-ups of special effects make-up artistry, overnight mobile phone repairs, a beauty studio, a 3D visualisation company, online fast fashion, an aquatics and fish tank maintenance business and an ecologically-focused clothing exchange that prevents clothing from being sent to landfill. There’s also a web designer, personal trainer, climbing coach and an artisan jewellery designer.
After the ceremony, also attended by Wirral’s mayor and mayoress, Cllr and Mrs George Davies, Dionne Small, owner of the aquatics business, described how she was “seriously proud” of the achievements of herself and her fellow young entrepreneurs.
She said: “Growing up with severe mental health issues, especially anxiety, I couldn’t picture myself ever having the confidence to pitch anything to anyone, never mind my own business.
“I’ve now smashed every goal I’ve set for myself this year and, for the first time in my life, I can wholeheartedly say I look forward to what the future has in store as opposed to being terrified at the sheer thought of it.
“Many thanks to Merseyside Community Training for giving me the means, the skills and the confidence to hit targets I never thought were within my reach.”
The Young Entrepreneurs story began when Merseyside businesswoman Sandra Kirkham and Jonathan Quinn, managing director at Wirral-based innovations specialist Quinnovations, last year set their shared belief in motion to narrow the education and employment gaps between the region’s disadvantaged and better-off young people.
After successfully pitching their entrepreneurial ideas to Sandra and Jonathan, the first group of budding entrepreneurs put in 25 hours a week developing their businesses, working in a hands-on environment at Merseyside Community Training’s headquarters in Campbeltown Road, Birkenhead.
Knowledge sharing among them all was also an integral part of the programme, each contributing to the others’ skills with their own specialisms in IT, web design and marketing and, most importantly, planning what they could eventually “give back” to their local community – maybe by volunteering, charity fundraising or sharing work experiences.
Sandra Kirkham said, “Many of these amazing young people, who are now on a firm path to running their own businesses, come from second or third generation of unemployed and are setting off on a journey to bring about change in their local communities.
“They are showing that it’s not where you’re from but where you’re going that’s important. From day one of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, they have shown passion and commitment to their business start-up plans which will eventually lead to employment for others and a boost for the communities where they have been brought up and where they want to stay.”
Jonathan Quinn added, “Our mission at the very start of this project was to turn the passion and enthusiasm shown by our young people for their business ideas into reality.
“What we have seen is how they have grown in confidence and ability to totally believe in themselves – that they can succeed, not just as a business but as a force for good in their own communities.”
Main image: Young entrepreneurs pictured with the Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside, the mayor and mayoress of Wirral, Sandra Kirkham (extreme left) and Jonathan Quinn (fourth right)