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Friday 14 March 2014

'Winning Challenge semi-final means the world to us'

Premier League Enterprise Challenge final line-up completed after Sunderland semi-final

The line-up for this year’s Premier League Enterprise Challenge has been completed after teams representing Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Middlesbrough came through Thursday’s semi-final at the Stadium of Light.

Westhoughton High School (Bolton Wanderers), Consett Academy (Sunderland AFC) and Freebrough Academy (Middlesbrough) beat 11 other teams for the honour of travelling to London for the Enterprise Challenge final at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on 30 April.

The budding entrepreneurs have been working on business plans, financial forecasts and presentations since the 2013/14 competition was launched in November at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. The challenge, which this year focuses on trying to develop revenue streams from international markets – in particular Africa and the United States – and aims to engage ‘hard to reach’ students, culminates with an on-stage presentation to a panel of judges, who then quiz the teams on their proposals.

"I have never been so happy with myself and my team"
Katie Merritt

Sunderland’s team of Georgia Craggs, Ellie Pearson, Katie Merritt and Caitlin Stephenson were relative latecomers to the competition having had two weeks to prepare before winning their club heat. At the final, the judging panel, which included Phil Handley, managing director at Caterpillar, Peterlee, was impressed with the team's idea of a discount fly card for fans in the USA and Africa.

With such a short time to prepare their business case to reach the final was a pleasant surprise for the Consett Academy students.

"I am flabbergasted because we did not think we would come this far," said Katie Merritt, 14. "When they said our name, we did not believe it at first and then we started screaming with happiness. Our hands were shaking. I have never been so happy with myself and my team. It means the world to us. All the effort we have put in over the last few months has been worth it."

Their achievement is made all the more impressive by the fact that the members of 'Team Embrace' do not take business studies at school.

"The girls performed magnificently," said Consent Academy alternative curriculum co-ordinator Sharon Hopkins. "They sounded confident and they weren't fazed by the judges and the competition. All the skills we have been practising shone through and I am so, so pleased. 

"It's been an excellent challenge and I have seen the girls change during this competition.  They have learnt how to support eachother. They realised that if you want to achieve, you can't necessarily do it all on your own.  Before the semi-final there were so many members of staff coming up to say how proud of the team they were. They realised then how far they have come."

"This will be a massive confidence boost for every single one of these students"
Jane Torrance

Middlesbrough's team of Sam Taberner, Lewis Winspear, Jess Barker, Bethany Smith and Michael Algie were successful with their 'Twelfth Man Project', which involves twinning with four clubs and has the aim of facilitating community projects and club franchises.

"They have worked ridiculously hard," said Freebrough Academy director of business and enterprise Rachel Newton. "This has been combined with everything they do at school, they are in a double GCSE year now, and I am very proud.

"The change in the group from when they first got together to now, in their presentation and their enterprise skills, is just astronomical. The questioning was quite difficult and they were able to respond because they know their project so well. They wouldn't have been able to do that 13 weeks ago.

"For their future careers, this is unbelievable. These guys are going to do so well in their GCSEs but we know at our Academy that GCSEs aren't going to get them everywhere; they need a really good set of skills that are going to carry them through. I was so excited when these students came forward because they are now going to develop into such a great package for prospective employers."

The team representing Bolton, featuring Imergen Howarth, Scott Stenton, Rachel Connor, Joshua Ratcliff and Marelle Morley, based their proposal on the home towns of the club's first-team players Mohammed Kamara, Stewart Holden and Tim Ream and the development of a fan club app.

"This will be a massive confidence boost for every single one of these students," said a "thrilled" Westhoughton High School assistant head Jane Torrance. "I am sure that this will have a massively positive effect on their GCSEs next year.  It's all down to their hard work.

"It's a fantastic scheme and BIS is really proud to be supporting it "
Robert Canniff

"These young people are our foundation pathway students, which mean they are not the most academic students in school. The confidence they will have gained from this event, it has grown over the course of the enterprise competition and will stand them in good stead for their future aspirations. 

"I was quite emotional seeing them up on stage because before they presented in front of the Year 9s and school, one of the young people was in tears. The confidence level has moved on incredibly."

Robert Canniff, assistant director, enterprise and financial support at BIS, one of the three judges tasked with the difficult decision of choosing the three winners, paid tribute to the quality of the presentations.

"I found lots of enthusiasm and interest as well as great competitive spirit," Canniff said. "The scheme is about teaching and young people picking up skills they will need for life whichever job they go into. They will have learnt so much about supporting each other, team work and speaking in front of a large group of people. 

"The youngsters won't forget this day. It shows them what they are capable of. I am sure many will be surprised by the skills and what they have learnt through this competition.  This is a unique opportunity to reach thousands of youngsters who wouldn't normally be turned on by putting together a business proposition. It's a fantastic scheme and BIS is really proud to be supporting it."

Away from the competition, the youngsters enjoyed a tour of the stadium while they also met Sunderland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and winger Emanuele Giaccherini. The competitors also heard from first-team head coach Gus Poyet, who recorded a good-luck message for the event.

The Enterprise Challenge is the highlight of the Premier League Enterprise Academy (PLEA), which gives young people insight into the running of a professional football club, engaging them in the world of business. The PLEA is delivered in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills with 24 Premier League and Football League clubs involved in the initiative. Soon, 90,000 will have taken part in the programme since its inception in 2008.

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