To mark Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 14–18), we take a look at the impact that the InspiresMe programme is having on London’s next generation of budding business innovators.

76 per cent. According to a survey of 16- to 18-year-olds who took part in Workspace’s annual InspiresMe Week internship programme earlier this year, that’s the number of respondents who would consider starting their own business.

It’s fantastic news for London’s economic future, as well as a sign that InspiresMe Week is achieving its goal of encouraging business innovation in the next generation. Most importantly, it’s testament to the efforts and the generosity of the many Workspace New and Growing Companies and startups who have committed to passing on their valuable business experience and skills, in order to give London’s would-be entrepreneurs a genuine head start in their careers.

Run in conjunction with the Mayor of London and Business in the Community (BITC), InspiresMe Week takes place in February each year. The 2016 event saw 71 students, from 19 schools across London, taking up four-day work placements with Workspace firms; interns also attended an Enterprise Challenge and Celebration Event on the fifth day, during which they were able to put everything they’d learnt into practice.

Working in school-based teams (with the support of volunteer mentors) they were tasked with coming up with a business scheme that would tackle the problem of homelessness, and then presenting their ideas to a panel of experts. The winning team – from St Marylebone School – seriously impressed with their innovative plan to build coffee shops-cum-living-pods.

An amazing week, I can’t think of any improvements above and beyond all the expectations I had!

Feedback from a very happy InspiresMe Week 2016 student

How companies like yours make a difference

It’s clear that students relished the opportunity to get “stuck in” at the fast-moving businesses at which they were based. Sufyaan El-Garni interned at media agency Spoke, at Workspace’s Vox Studios, and loved the fact that “every day there was something different for me to do. One morning I had to go out and get a newspaper and try to find a possible client, then come up with ideas on how we could improve their website. It was interesting to get an overview of how the business worked; I found it really valuable.” The programme didn’t end there; Thomas Harvey, Spoke’s co-founder, later visited Sufyaan’s school to deliver a talk on risk-taking when starting an enterprise. “We got to chat afterwards, and we’re still in contact,” Sufyaan adds.

InspiresMe Week had “a big impact on students in terms of their understanding of enterprise and entrepreneurial skills”, according to Abdel Ydri, Head of Work Related Learning Manager at St Augustine’s CE High School in Kilburn. “They were appreciative of the opportunity and felt the real-life business situations allowed them to learn vital skills and get inspired by experts in the field. It’s really opened up their horizons and helped them make informed choices when it comes career planning.”

Helping the entrepreneurs of the future

Feedback from February’s event has been hugely positive; when asked to rate the experience out of 10, students gave an average score of 8.9. 92 per cent of students felt that it helped them improve on some of the weaknesses they felt they had, while 80 per cent said it had helped them decide what they wanted to do in the future. There were also plenty of positive statements about personal growth, with students reporting, “I learnt to feel comfortable in a different environment”, “It gave me the confidence to approach new people and have conversations without feeling scared or judged”, “I learnt to be independent” and “I now know how to divide my time”.

“The thing I learnt about how a business works is how different people specialising in different areas work together to make an end product,” says Malalay Mahmood, who interned at headhunting company MoveMeOn. “What I found most valuable was being able to interview each member of the business and find out their job role, educational background and how they got to their position. It did inspire me; I’ve always been interested in business studies and one day I’d like to create a unique business for which there’s a gap in the market.”

Fellow student Rawan Jichy feels her work placement at marketing agency Talisman Solutions has “put into perspective how a business functions and what I would need to emulate in order to have a successful business in the future”. In particular, her internship highlighted the importance of good communication. “I’ve learnt that sending emails and holding meetings is vital,” Rawan says, “and also, being able to manage your time effectively is key. Prioritising is what is important and what can wait will allow deadlines to be met.”

Benefits to your business

It’s not just students who benefit from InspiresMe Week – the programme offers a wealth of opportunities to the businesses who take part, too, whether they want to find out what makes Generation Z tick, boost training and mentoring skills within their own organisation or, as Workspace’s Head of Corporate Communications Clare Dundas puts it, “take advantage of the energy, and the vibrant and fresh contribution that young people bring.” This year, four companies were so impressed with their interns that they invited them back for further work placements. Many others firms offered students further advice, or help with UCAS applications. “Our businesses like being involved in the community and playing a wider role,” explains Clare. But it can be personal, too. As one participating Workspace mentor expressed it in the feedback survey: “We do what we love here, and I believe that young people should follow their dreams and be encouraged to do the same.”

Would you like to provide a work placement for a student during InspiresMe Week 2017 or simply provide a day of mentoring support? Your business can inspire entrepreneurship this Global Entrepreneurship Week and encourage young people to develop the professional skills they need to enjoy a great career. If you’re interested in signing up, click here.