When students stood up on the stage and proposed a scheme to make work experience part of the national curriculum and thus compulsory for all school goers, Daisy Greenaway, Senior Policy Officer at the Greater London Authority (GLA), and one of the brains behind InspiresMe Week, must have sighed with relief. 'More experience leads to more jobs leads to more money,' the students said. Couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Now in its fifth year, InspiresMe Week is an annual event founded by Workspace and the GLA and run by Business in the Community (BITC). It aims to give students work experience in growing businesses, whether large or small, mostly based at Workspace.
The work experience week culminates with a day at City Hall. This year, the format was slightly different. The morning consisted of creativity exercises with mentors, as well as a talk by John Kitchen, head of sales at the online publisher Lad Bible – which at 22 million has well over double the amount of Facebook followers than the Daily Mail. He talked to the students about the importance of video content and social media – as if they didn’t know – and gave them a few pointers for the video task that afternoon.
In the afternoon teams of students, alongside mentors, had to think up and present ideas, using a two-minute video, on a given theme. This year, the challenge was to think up a social enterprise that would make London a better place.
For a whole day, the students worked on ideas supported by an inspiring range of mentors from Eman Kotab, founder of the ballet pump brand Butterfly Twists, to Christina Stone, head of client relations at the ethical car service Green Tomato Cars.
The judges, who comprised the former Apprentice winner and motivational speaker Tim Campbell, BITC chief executive Amanda Mackenzie, and John Montague, the managing director of the social investment arm of The Big Issue, wanted to see ideas that would make London a better place but also make money while doing so.
Many of the ideas put forward by the budding entrepreneurs were really timely. One of the finalists, Real Talk, wanted to promote digital-free spaces and 'encourage offline activities' with an app. This would give people 'more time to make a difference'. Crucially, they'd thought of a revenue stream: events companies could market their offerings on it.
The proposal for Cooking Cultures was an event-based business that travelled from school to school, teaching people how to cook and helping people learn about different cultures through food. They'd thought of everything: excess food would be taken to local homeless shelters and schools would have to pay for students to attend, subsidised by funding from local councils.
iSmile, the winning team, wanted to tackle the capital's mental health problems. Their app and helpline would provide resources and information to those with mental health issues. They even considered an artificial intelligence helpline for those who were a little bit shy. They'd generate money through advertising and promoted posts.
John Montague summed up the creativity and forward-thinking of the day: 'Some really important issues have come out of today: community cohesion, community activity, mental health... It would be a shame if people don't come out of this week and don't carry it forward. Remember you don't need huge organisations behind you.'
The InspiresMe scheme is more than one nail-biting afternoon. For a week 79 students took on work in 55 organisations, which ranged from the international structural engineering consulting firm Thornton Tomasetti at Exmouth House to the Pill Box-based film company Sparks, which trains children and businesses to make movies.
Students were lucky enough to get behind the scenes at online storage company LOVESPACE, the film studio Golden Path Productions, the branding agency Spoke, specialist innovation company Good Innovation as well as many other inspiring businesses. It’s a wonderful introduction to business and entrepreneurship in the capital.
It's all part of showing students that they don't have to limit themselves to traditional career progression in order to make a difference. And rather than fixating on a career path, students would do better accumulating vital skills like communication, research abilities and a strong backbone to cope with rejection. Ivana Ojukwu, tech entrepreneur and CEO at the startup fashion market place See Fashion, summed up the benefits of transferrable skills in her keynote speech: 'And I thought I was going to be a lawyer!'
And that’s it: opening up opportunities for young people and equipping them with the skills they need to do whatever they choose is one of the most important ways we can make London better.
InspiresMe Week is not only a great experience for the students, but also an invaluable insight for businesses into the thinking of the next generation of entrepreneurs. If you’re a company that would like to get involved in next year’s programme, please click here for more information.