Business support organisation Elevator has worked with more than 1,000 pupils at 16 schools in the north-east and on Tayside this year.
Twelve of the schools are in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.
As part of the social enterprise’s commitment to nurturing the entrepreneurial leaders of the future, project manager Richard Cormack Corrigan delivers innovative, fun workshops to primary and secondary schools across Scotland.
The interactive lessons cover all the skills that modern business life demands – leadership, teamwork, branding, knowing your customer, entrepreneurship, marketing, advertising, market research, finance and innovation.
Mr Cormack Corrigan said: “Elevator has always had a commitment to promote enterprise in education, both as part of our corporate social responsibility and as we look to create the future leaders of today and tomorrow.
“We have a long-standing relationship with enterprise education charity Young Enterprise Scotland (YES), and over the years we have been the partner of choice to deliver the YES school programme in the areas of Scotland not normally serviced by YES staff, including Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, Perth and Kinross and Dundee and Angus.
“This year we have worked with the charity to successfully introduce our Ladder of Enterprise to offer an uninterrupted pathway for entrepreneurial young people. The model introduces levels of support at primary school right through to college and when young people first step out of the education system.
“We know that, for many young people, the traditional options when leaving secondary school are often either get a job or go onto further education – the ability to be able to offer a third option is priceless.”
He added: “Entrepreneurship is often an enticing option for those who don’t want to go down the more traditional route. Exposure to enterprise and entrepreneurship at an early age can open up real possibilities for young people.
“Not only can it help with school engagement levels as they’re exposed to topics that light their entrepreneurial fire, but supporting an entrepreneurial mindset helps them plan their subject choice and also gives them direction, structure and confidence to follow their dreams.”
Elevator workshops are currently embedded in the 2021-22 syllabus of several secondary schools in the region, targeting pupils in every year group.
Mr Cormack Corrigan said: “Schools are very much focused on the themes of employability skills which dovetails well with enterprise skills.
“They see the benefits of learning about failure as a positive means to an end, about resilience and its importance in overcoming failure, about being innovative and solving problems.
“All these are key entrepreneurial skills – and, more, and will be of great value to the young people both in employment and also in entrepreneurship. There really are no negatives to introducing entrepreneurship at a young age.”
For many young people, the traditional options when leaving secondary school are often either get a job or go onto further education – the ability to be able to offer a third option is priceless.”
Richard Cormack Corrigan, Elevator
Meanwhile, Elevator’s Accelerator programmes in Aberdeen have supported 58 founders across three cohorts between 2020 and 2021.
And the organisation’s Grey Matters scheme supported 21 founders between last November and February 2021.
Grey Matters has been helping to drive forward the future of energy in Scotland by supporting people who have been made redundant or are looking to change careers to launch businesses with high-growth potential.
Elevator has also launched its first Fraserburgh Accelerator, supporting 10 founders.
This programme differs slightly as it is not just focused on the participants but also on the area, its opportunities and challenges, and the impact which businesses and entrepreneurs can have on the economy and boosting their community.
Kirstie McLaughlin, operations manager for Business Gateway Aberdeen City & Shire, said it had supported more than 4,000 businesses in the area in the 12 months to March 2021 – 800 more than the year before due to Covid-19. The number of workshops also jumped – to 324 from 292 previously – as additional sessions were put on to help people during the pandemic.
One north-east entrepreneur with plans for a chain of shops across Scotland is full of praise for help received from Elevator.
Ramona Obafemi took part in an accelerator programme last year, just before she started Aberdeen-based online grocer Mad Potato in November.
The venture, which is focused on local products, offers delivery direct to the customer’s door to many parts of the north-east.
Mad Potato’s growth was bolstered by the support Ms Obafemi received from Elevator’s Business Gateway Aberdeen City & Shire service, allowing the firm to expand in May when it opened a shop in the city’s Great Western Road.
Ms Obafemi said: “Things have been better than expected at the new shop. There is a huge market online, but, when it comes to food and drink, I still think people want to see what they are getting.
“Down the line, I would like to open community shops right across Scotland.”
To bring her Mad Potato concept to life, Ms Obafemi joined Elevator’s Aberdeen Flagship Accelerator in September 2020.
She added: “I started the programme with just an idea, we didn’t even have a name. I just knew there were people out there who were struggling to source products from local suppliers and there were local suppliers who couldn’t reach their customers.
“I joined the programme to transform my idea into an actual viable business.”
Ms Obafemi, who previously ran the Highlander cafe bus at Aberdeen Beach, found the programme was the perfect platform to learn from others.
“My experience on the accelerator was extraordinary”, she said, adding: “It took my business thinking to another level.
“The programme really makes you drill down on every single aspect of your business to the finest detail.
“I even came up with the name Mad Potato after a group session with the other founders.
“The support throughout the programme from the staff, agitators and guest speakers was invaluable.
“I feel so grateful to have taken part in this accelerator and to have created such strong bonds, even though the programme was fully delivered online.”
Offering advice for anyone considering joining an accelerator, she said: “Dedicate as much time as you can – you get out of it what you put in. Develop connections with agitators and friendships with your fellow founders.
“It is not just about you and your business, it is about being part of something much greater than that and building your businesses together.”