Young dragons in the den
Thousands of 11- and 12-year-olds are coming to the RDS next week to showcase their entrepreneurial skills, writes Katherine Donnelly
Move over, dragons! There are some new kids on the entrepreneurial block ready to breathe fire down your necks.
Before the final school bell for 2017/18 rings, about 3,500 primary pupils are preparing to show the wider public the creative business skills they honed in the past year ,
And they are not simply showing off bright ideas, but money spinning enterprises that earned profits for the fifth and sixth class pupils involved.
This year, it is estimated that participants in the annual Junior Entrepreneur Programme (JEP) had combined sales worth about €220,000, yielding a net profit of €140,000 for the teams.
And, in an echo of the long-standing Young Scientist fair, pupils will showcase their projects at an exhibition in the RDS next Monday.
This year is the first time that the organisers have brought a selection of the entries to a national platform for the All-Ireland Showcase Day.
JEP started in 2010 and, since then, it has inspired and challenged 50,000 11- and 12-year-olds to come up with a winning business idea.
The programme has grown enormously in the past eight years, from about 500 pupils starting classroom businesses in 2010, to 12,000 in the current school year.
The programme is the brainchild of Jerry Kennelly, a Co Kerry photographer who displayed significant entrepreneurial flair himself, when he set up a royalty-free digital photo archive called Stockbyte, which he later sold to the multinational, Getty Images for €110m.
His latest venture is Tweak.com, an online service for small businesses, helping them to design their own marketing and advertising material. It underwrites JEP.
Kennelly says JEP is about children experiencing the joy of learning about entrepreneurship, conceiving an idea and bringing into reality with their own investment and reaping the rewards - all from the classroom.
In 2015, a European Commission report found that students participating in entrepreneurship education were more likely to start their own business, and their companies tended to be more innovative and more successful than those led by persons without entrepreneurship education backgrounds.
The report also found that entrepreneurship education alumni are at lower risk of being unemployed, and are more often in steady employment. Compared with their peers, they have better jobs and earn more money.
While entrepreneurship education is not formally on the primary school curriculum, its value in terms of the wide-ranging educational benefits it delivers is recognised and programmes such as JEP are encouraged.
Education Minister Richard Bruton's Action Plan for Education commits to the development of entrepreneurship education guidelines, and a National Entrepreneurial Award for primary and post-primary schools, to encourage the development of such skills.
Work is underway in the Department of Education on the entrepreneurship policy, with a view to publishing it in the autumn.
JEP develops skills such as literacy and numeracy, but also key competencies, including problem-solving, technology, communication, team building, confidence and creative thinking, all so important in today's world.
The programme runs on an all-Ireland basis and, in the Republic, it has been developed in collaboration with the primary teacher training college Mary Immaculate, in Limerick. In Northern Ireland, the materials have been reviewed by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.According to Kennelly, every step of the programme mirrors strands of the primary curriculum and the links are clearly set out in an accompanying guide for teachers.
JEP participants work in teams, allowing individual pupils to play to their strengths and take on roles in finance, marketing, design and production, or sales and storytelling.
The programme also connects pupils with their local community. JEP involves local entrepreneurs who come into the school and tell their story, and that of their business, to inspire pupils to take a leap.
JEP is already accepting applications for the next school year and the way it works is that pupils are introduced to the concept of entrepreneurship and identify entrepreneurs in their area.
The next step is for all the pupils to come up with ideas and, with some expert guidance, they narrow it down to one. The ideas are usually products, although, sometimes, it's a service. A local entrepreneur visits the class to offer some inspiration, following which the pupils get to work in groups of four or five to turn their idea into reality. That involves designing, producing, costing, creating and marketing.
To get a real understanding of risk and reward, pupils are given the chance to invest, about €5-€10, with a view to turning a profit that goes back to the class.
Kennelly says "they mimic what happens in the real world. There is a lot of thought and execution involved. They do things like market research and, if it's a product, they decide on colour, shape and size."
He says teachers may find themselves out of their comfort zone but that there is a good JEP support network.
Increasingly, parents are coming on board to help with projects. At the end of the day, he says, it lets children see what they like and don't like.
"Some will want to be entrepreneurs and others won't, but they all have a better understanding."
Next Monday's RDS showcase will also feature worskhops with some real life 'Dragons', such as Bobby Kerr and Alison Cowzer, from RTE's Dragons' Den, along with well-known business names, including fashion designers Louise Kennedy and Paul Galvin and food entrepreneur Peaches Kemp.
During the RDS event, a range of awards will be handed out to different schools.
The showcase is open to the public, but schools must register in advance.