Many entrepreneurs will say that it's not coming up with an idea that's difficult, it's working out how to implement it which is tough.
Good ideas were not in short supply on the final day of Inspiresme Week, a work experience initiative run by Workspace, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Business in the Community (BITC). It was a moment for all the young candidates to work in teams to come up with an idea for a social enterprise and present it to a panel of judges at the end of the day.
The winners came up with Podspace: a brilliant idea to design and build 'pods' in green spaces across London, which would serve as temporary accommodation for the homeless during the night and transform into a cafe for the local community, run by the homeless during the day. It's a pressing concern. There are 8,000 people sleeping rough in the streets each year and life expectancy is halved among the homeless.
Tom and Bleona, two students from St Marylebone High School in the winning team, had actually spent their Inspiresme Week in Workspace's headquarters. They told me their idea had come about from seeing people sleeping rough on their way to and from school. 'Young people are unaware about how people get in that situation. It's such a negative problem. People don't want to talk about it but we want to de-stigmatise it'. As part of the prize, they were invited back by the GLA and BITC to work through their idea with the help of experts, mentors and business advisors.
It was clear that they'd have to consider and deal with many of the same issues that start-ups and New and Growing Companies face in setting up their businesses.
Additional students from St Marylebone High School joined the 'fantastic four' - as they called themselves jokingly - to develop and hone the original concept for the winners' week. The goal was to produce a rough plan, under the supervision of Daisy Greenaway, Senior Policy Offer for Youth at the GLA, that they could develop during the year to see if it could actually be implemented.
The students spent the week talking to representatives at the homeless charity, Cardinal Hume Centre, and at the women's hostel, the Marylebone Project, as well as members of the housing department at the GLA and business advisors from Barclays and Lloyds. It was clear that they'd have to consider and deal with many of the same issues that start-ups and New and Growing Companies face in setting up their businesses.
They'd have to find out about their potential clients, think about possible sources of funding, make sure they weren't providing a service that existed already, learn how to draw up a provisional business plan and develop the right branding and marketing strategy. It would also be a chance to test, develop and adapt their idea - or 'pivot' in start-up terminology.
The week taught the students a lot about the complexities of their idea. For one, they would have to work out exactly who their 'customer' (and cafe staff) was. Was it someone who had recently been made homeless? Or was it someone who was looking for a bridge between the hostel and reinserting themselves back into society. How could they make sure their staff didn't have alcohol or addiction issues? The week also made them think about what could be their - again, start-up speak - minimum viable product. Was it a pod? Was it simply a cafe, without sleeping quarters? Or was it a portable cafe that could be taken to festivals, parks and other public spaces and gatherings?
Mentors were overwhelmingly positive about the chance to inspire 'such bright young minds.'
Mentors were overwhelmingly positive about the chance to inspire 'such bright young minds.' The students were similarly positive about the experience which taught them, as one put it, about 'the challenges of setting up any new business and how to pitch an innovative idea.'
London needs young minds who care about the future of the capital and its inhabitants. And it's safe to say that the students were even more enthused by their challenge at the end of the week.
‘Everyone is quite passionate about it. We’ve been to the shelters and heard stories. We always knew about homelessness but were a bit naive as to how bad it really is. After talking to people at the hostels we understand it and really want to change it.’
We'll carry on reporting on how their idea is developing so please stay tuned.