'It’s changed how I feel about business'

13 Apr 2017
PL Enterprise Challenge, Sunderland AFC, Lily

Lily from Sunderland explains how PL Enterprise Challenge gave her new opportunities and friendships

By her own admission, Lily, a 15-year-old from Sunderland, had little experience of the business world last summer.

“I didn’t know much about it because we don’t do it at school and it’s not really mentioned,” she says.

In the autumn, she signed up for the Premier League Enterprise Challenge, run by Sunderland AFC’s Foundation of Light at her school, Shotton Hall Academy in County Durham.

Lily teamed up with three other girls from the school and formulated plans to meet the challeng of trying to increase their club’s international fanbase and income streams from the United States of America.

They competed against other local schools at the Stadium of Light, and won the right to represent Sunderland in the national play-off round at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium.

“I was proud to be representing the club that I support and go to watch every weekend,” says Lily.

“But I was shocked as well because the standard of the other groups was really good.

PL Enterprise Challenge, Sunderland
Shotton Hall Academy were the only all-female team in the Enterprise Challenge final

“Again, [the play-off] was just mesmerising. It felt really special getting a tour of the stadium as well, because I’d never been to Stoke until then.”

Lily and her colleagues emerged triumphant for a second time, as 30 teams nationwide were whittled down to the final six, with hers reaching the final.

“I cried firstly because we just weren’t expecting it,” says Lily. “The standard was even higher then.

“It’s been tough to develop our idea even more, to reach the standards of the final, but I’ve really enjoyed it.

“We stayed back after school two or three nights a week until 5 and 6 o’clock. We came in at half-term as well for two days for about six hours, so we put so much work into it.”

The eighth PL Enterprise Challenge final was held at the head offices of EY in London, where teams presented to a panel including entrepreneur Theo Paphitis and former Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux.

Premier League Enterprise Challenge, Sunderland AFC, play-offs
The Sunderland team qualified for the finals by winning a play-off at Stoke

The Pingle School, representing Derby County, were crowned champions but Lily feels she has gained experience in many ways from taking part.

“I’ve developed my confidence especially because, before, we’d never really done a presentation in front of judges and a crowd,” she says.

“I’ve learned how to write a pitch, come up with an idea and work with people as a team.

“Me and the girls knew each other before but we weren’t as close as we are now, which has been a really good thing because we’re such good friends now.

“It’s special because we’re the only all-girl group. Representing a football club and business, I’m proud of that – and the other girls are as well – because people do think it’s all about male domination.”

Lily and Sunderland talk to the PLEC judges
Lily and the team discuss their pitch with Theo Paphitis, left, and Graeme Le Saux

Lily will now consider going into business in future, and would encourage others to try the PL Enterprise Challenge.

“It will definitely be up there with the ideas and options of work, and what I want to do when I’m older,” she says.

“Having not known about business before this, and now knowing about it, it’s widened my opportunities.

“It’s definitely changed how I feel about business and what you can do.

“It’s not all about the football. It’s about coming up with ideas and having fun, most importantly. It’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

“Coming to London, getting to the final, that’s definitely been one of the best things. But our bond and friendship as a Sunderland group, that’s been amazing as well.” 

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