Thursday 28 February 2013
Having won the prestigious Premier League Enterprise Challenge final at the end of last year one would have thought that the biggest test was over for the students from St Michael's RC School in Billingham.
But for the five 13 and 14-year-olds, who represented Middlesbrough FC and were the fourth school to be crowned Enterprise Challenge champions at the finals in London, presenting to the man who set the challenge and to the owner of the club they were telling what to do was even more nerve-wracking.
The five students had warmed up for their latest challenge with a trip to Number 10 Downing Street the previous day to visit Lord Young the Prime Minister adviser on enterprise, then had the privilege of opening trading on the London Stock Exchange the next morning.
"Part of me was thinking, 'Why haven’t we done such a thing ourselves?'"
With words of advice in their ears from Lord Young and having been at the hub of entrepreneurism they turned their focus on the task of repeating their winning presentation to Richard Scudamore, the Premier League Chief Executive, and Steve Gibson, the Middlesbrough owner at the Premier League offices.
“We were more nervous this time than in the final because we were presenting to the person who had set the challenge,” said team member Elish Chambers. “We were also presenting to the owner of the club we were giving advice about.
They need not have worried as Scudamore and Gibson were impressed with the standard of the pitch, which so impressed the panel of judges at the Westminster Conference Centre back in November.
"I was surprised by the quality of the presentation and part of me was thinking, 'Why haven’t we done such a thing ourselves?'" said Gibson. "To be taught by a group of 14-year-olds questions us but encourages them.
"When the person who set the questions told us he liked what we said, it gave us a massive confidence boost"
"It's important the club can get these kids' thinking going and open up avenues that they haven’t thought of. What came from their presentation was the confidence they can compete in an entrepreneurial role. As they said, they never considered themselves as entrepreneurs but they have done it, have won it, and the confidence is there to reinvent the wheel!”
Scudamore was similarly enthused with what he had witnessed.
"I was very impressed with the presentation," he said. "It was extremely professional and thorough; the way they had done their research was particularly impressive. They were both confident and enthusiastic and you could clearly tell that they’d enjoyed the experience immensely.
"Their ideas were as compelling as anything we have ever seen. They were so well thought-through that you could actually take them and fly with them at a club. They have set a high standard for the schools taking part in the next edition."
For the students, the reaction confirmed their confidence and eased their nerves. "We had always been nervous about the presentation and whether it answered the question," added Elish. "When we had the person who set the questions tell us he liked what we said, it gave us a massive confidence boost."
The team’s proposals had to meet the 2012 challenge, set by Scudamore, which aimed to improve the matchday experience for fans. Their fully costed ideas included a smartphone app to offer ticketless sales, an interactive stadium map and an option for pre-ordering club merchandise; hawker-style food and drink sellers as well as colour-coded walkways.
Asked if the winning team would be pitching the club's commercial department, Gibson said: "Definitely!"
Scudamore and Gibson were grilled by the team afterwards on the challenges they face in their work and the advice they would give on how to succeed in the world of business.
The St Michael’s team were one of the three schools selected from the second semi-final of the 2012 Enterprise Challenge at Newcastle United’s St James' Park in October. And in November they were crowned the winners after delivering their eight-minute pitch without the help of notes.
"This is tremendous and I just congratulate everybody in the Premier League who has put effort into it"
Their prize for winning the event was a trip to London, which began with a visit to Number 10 and a meeting with Lord Young, who was a member of the cabinet in the 1980s. As well as questioning the students on their project, Lord Young also took questions and gave advice to the youngsters on how to succeed in their own careers.
"Sowing the seeds this early can only be a good thing," he said. "Young people are naturally entrepreneurial and the more in school they start to think about what they will do later, the more they think about going to work for themselves or going to work for other people, the better it is going to be.
"I just think this is tremendous and I just congratulate everybody in the Premier League who has put effort into it."
The next morning, as a mark of their achievement of winning a competition that featured over 3,000 young people, the students also joined the list of dignitaries that include the Queen and Barack Obama who have had the honour of opening trading at the London Stock Exchange.
"We were delighted to welcome the winning team of the Premier League Academy Enterprise Challenge to open trading on London Stock Exchange," said Tim Wright, Chief of Staff, London Stock Exchange Group. "We are very supportive of all the work the Premier League Academy is doing facilitating better business education in schools, and in nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. No doubt they will be among the business stars of the future."
"The competition and the trip have been a big boost for the school"
The visit is the culmination of a memorable few months for the St Michael's team and the school’s Raising Achievement Co-ordinator Patricia Carroll believes the whole experience has played a significant part in their development both personally and academically.
"They have gained in confidence from their experiences here in London that they can achieve anything they set their minds to," she said. "They have had enormous privileges by winning this competition. No 10 was a one-off experience and it was amazing to have Lord Young sit at a table and listen to our students and give advice.
"Opening the Stock Exchange was amazing. That is another dream that you wouldn’t think they would achieve but here they are, 13 and 14-year-olds, doing it.
"The competition and the trip have been a big boost for the school. We can come down here to London and in a national competition. All the staff and students think it is an amazing achievement and our head teacher, Jo White, is very proud of what they have done."
The Enterprise Challenge, which was first run in 2009, aims to encourage and develop a variety of business skills including problem-solving, creativity, innovation, team-work and enterprise. Each of the 21 football clubs with a Premier League Enterprise Academy are invited to take part, with the clubs holding their own competition involving local schools. If you are interested in taking part in the Premier League Enterprise Academy and the Enterprise Challenge, please contact Sophie Hukin via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.