School pupils mean business at regional enterprise conference

Perse headteacher Ed Elliott with speaker entrepreneur Michael Bennett with students at the start of

Perse headteacher Ed Elliott with speaker entrepreneur Michael Bennett with students at the start of the conference. - Credit: Matthew Power

Pupils from up to 16 schools from across the region, including Saffron Walden County High and the Friends’ School, met award-winning business gurus this week to discover how to turn a great idea into a multi-million pound business.

More than 200 delegates aged 15-18 from schools in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Northamptonshire reviewed business plans to select the most promising and devised a strategy to grow the company, pitching their ideas to a panel of business judges.

The annual event is organised by The Perse School for schools across the region to learn about the possibilities of a career in business and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

Head of The Perse School, Ed Elliott, explained the aim of the event: “Striking out as an entrepreneur is not always top of mind for young people considering the merits of different professions. Yet it can be a great choice that provides personal satisfaction as well as an opportunity to create a responsible business that brings benefits to society.

“I’m delighted that so many respected business leaders have supported the event and helped us provide this opportunity for pupils from a wide range of schools to work and learn together.”

The experts who shared their insights into business success included Michael Bennett, founder of retail brand Oasis, Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company, and Ben Gamble part of a team who aim to build the world’s first augmented reality platform.

Setting out what students can learn from entrepreneurs, Mr Bennett said: “This is still a land of great opportunity but in order to succeed you need to be on top of your game whichever path of endeavour you choose. Learning from the experience of others, including discovering what makes the business world tick, can help young people leaving the structured environment of education cope with the new responsibility of creating their own discipline and structure, whether in business or the professions.”

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Advocating the benefits of entrepreneurship, Ms Deane said: “Running a business gives you the opportunity to create something - to work in a different way and to give your dreams a chance of becoming reality.

“It’s a challenge, seeing how good you can be, if your idea is good enough. It’s hard work and takes a lot of nerve but if you’re the right kind of person it can be the only way to go.”

Students pitched their ideas to a panel of business judges including Glenn Collinson, co-founder of CSR; Ramon Borrell, R&D director of Xaar; Sarah Evans, chair of Ipswich Building Society; and Richard Mason, CEO of the Cambridge-based biotech company XO1 Ltd.

Mr Collinson said: “Now in its ninth year, the Perse Enterprise Conference has once again succeeded brilliantly and has provided, this year, a platform for over 200 budding entrepreneurs from schools across the region to develop their skills in their journey to become the business leaders of the future.”

The schools involved were The Perse School, Netherhall, The Leys, Parkside Federation, Thetford Grammar School, Long Road Sixth Form College, The Friends’ School, Bancrofts, Saffron Walden County High, Uppingham, Prince William School Oundle, Longsands Academy, Oakham School, King’s School Peterborough, New Hall School and Sawston Village College.