Wednesday 21 February 2018

Dragons breathe life into 5th class trade ideas

BizWorld Ireland hopes to inspire entrepeneurial skills in primary students

Eve Ni Dhonnaile, Siobhán Ni Ghliasáin and Dearbhla Ní Chatháin from 5th class in Gaelscoil na Camóige, Clondalkin, pitch their product in the BizWorld Dragons' Den Photo: Naoise Culhane.
Eve Ni Dhonnaile, Siobhán Ni Ghliasáin and Dearbhla Ní Chatháin from 5th class in Gaelscoil na Camóige, Clondalkin, pitch their product in the BizWorld Dragons' Den Photo: Naoise Culhane.

Meadhbh McGrath

Entrepreneurship is not on the primary curriculum but the word keeps popping up in initiatives offered to schools. With the Government's recently launched National Skills Strategy 2025, highlighting the importance of developing entrepreneurial skills in the education system, we are likely to hear it a lot more.

Some schools have attempted to integrate business into their curriculum, such as Mount Anville Junior School, south Dublin, where fifth class students recently completed a two-day Digital Entrepreneurship workshop in which they were tasked with designing, producing and selling a video game.

Over 400 primary classes throughout Ireland are participating in the 2015-2016 Junior Entrepreneur Programme.

BizWorld is another initiattive, offering two-day workshops during which a tutor visits, usually fifth class, and guides them through the entrepreneurial cycle from company formation to market research to pitching for investment.

Inspired by an American programme of the same name, Fiona McKeon established the Irish branch in 2011. Fiona, who received her teacher training from the Froebel College of Education, says: "I think it's a great opportunity to give children a taste of something that is never mentioned in primary school."

The workshops are led by education students from Mary Immaculate College, Hibernia College and the Froebel Department at Maynooth University, where the BizWorld programme is an elective module on the B.Ed course.

This year, they are partnering with Bank of Ireland, and will be training over 100 staff members as BizWorld tutors to broaden their reach across the country.

"To date, we've been in 11 counties and impacted on over 26,000 students, but this year we want to roll it out further to every county," says Fiona.

Students are divided into groups of six, and must apply for one of the roles in the company: as well as the managing director, there are directors of finance, production, design, sales and marketing. They fill out a form stating their suitable skills and talents, and at a company meeting, they decide as a group how to allocate each of the positions.

After the students produce an idea for their business, they conduct market research by surveying fourth class students.

The groups then prepare a poster, television ad and a short presentation to market their business. Depending on the tools available at the school, the marketing materials can be digitally produced with PowerPoint or Prezi presentations.

The second day begins with a Dragons' Den-style pitch, where the groups must negotiate funding with a member of the local business community who acts as a 'dragon'.

"The dragon is trying to get as many shares in the company as possible, and some people think negotiating with 11-year-olds is easy, I can tell you it's not too easy!" says Fiona.

"We've even had an instance where one of our groups said, "We're getting nowhere, we're walking out!' It's great fun."

The fourth class students are also involved in the launch event, when each group tries to persuade the younger pupils to buy shares in their company. Fiona believes this is important because by allowing the children to choose a company to invest in, it gives them a glimpse into the business world too.

Fiona emphasises that the workshops offer a realistic insight: "We actually expect them to step up and take it seriously.

"In one of the workshops, the children said 'We didn't feel patronised,' and that's nice. Another comment came back saying, 'We really liked when the dragon gave us feedback because he told us the truth and didn't just say we were good.'"

BizWorld visited Scoil Mhuire, Broadford, Co Limerick, in November. Principal Nora Collins says that when she heard about the workshops, she was immediately impressed.

"I liked that it gave the children the opportunity to work in teams and that they each had a role, because that allows everybody to shine. They became aware of the dynamics within a team and the kind of skills people have.

"Communication is a very important skill for life, so it's important for them to learn to pitch to the dragons and to negotiate with others."

Some of the business ideas students pitched during the workshop included a high-vis jacket for dogs, cycling lessons for young children, and a cabinet for storing sports gear.

Ms Collins says it's "hugely important" for workshops like BizWorld to foster entrepreneurship and creativity from an early age.

"It was demanding, but there was a great sense of satisfaction, and you could see that an interest had been generated.

"Since BizWorld visited us, I think the children are better at working together. They have become more confident and better at listening to others and negotiating."

At the end of each workshop, the class nominate one group to represent the school at the national BizWorld competition, the Biz Factor. There will be eight finalists.

"Some people say to me, 'You're teaching entrepreneurship to primary students?' and I say, no, we're just taking the lid off the box," says Fiona.

"Children at that age are so spontaneous and creative. They'll take risks, they'll jump up and have a go at anything. We're giving children a platform to showcase that creativity."

'Pitching was nerve-wracking at the start'

Hannah Cremin (11) is a fifth class student in Scoil Mhuire, Co Limerick.

When BizWorld visited her class last November, she worked with her group to design, produce and market coasters made from recycled CDs.

As director of sales for the company, Hannah says: "I had to make the pitch to the dragons. It was kind of nerve-wracking at the start, because we didn't know much about business, but as it went on it got more exciting."

She says she enjoyed the workshop so much that she is hoping to study business in secondary school.

"I really like business, and I like pitching as well. I learned that when you're going in to pitch to the dragons, you should never say how much money you really want. You should start by asking for less and work your way up, instead of starting at the top and working your way down."

Irish Independent

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