Thursday 22 March 2018

It's 'Dragon's Den' in the classroom as school kids go into business

Even primary pupils can become mini-tycoons as they start businesses in schools. Kim Bielenberg reports

Game changers: Ailise Ryan (12) and David Fitzgerald (12), of Ardfert National School, with the board game created by their class during the Junior Entrepreneurs Programme
Game changers: Ailise Ryan (12) and David Fitzgerald (12), of Ardfert National School, with the board game created by their class during the Junior Entrepreneurs Programme
The Junior Entrepreneurs Programme was founded by Jerry Kennelly
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

He made his fortune building up his photographic business Stockbyte, but never even sat his Leaving Cert.

The Kerry tycoon Jerry Kennelly shows no sign of flagging in his campaign to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in Irish schools.

After selling Stockbyte for €110m, the former photographer organised the Young Entrepreneurs Programme for second-level pupils.

Now he is bringing the Dragon's Den approach to primary schools with the Junior Entrepreneurs Programme. He says it is currently available to 1,500 schools.

The programme involves an entire class setting up a business and selling a product. Pupils engage in brainstorming sessions in order to come up with ideas. These are assessed by local "dragons", a business is chosen, and the class works on the project.

So can teachers turn their pupils into the next Bill Gates?

Mr Kennelly believes that the fostering of an entrepreneurial spirit in education can play a role in the revival of our economy.

"We need to unlock the fear of failure and help people to go for it. Being an entrepreneur is about risk-taking, adventure, failing, being open to criticism and making sense of these experiences to get to a better way of living. Entrepreneurial activity is not just about maths, science and technology.

"It fits in with all subjects on the curriculum and can bring in PE, art, English, drama, and maths."

Mr Kennelly says: "There is much more to this than running your own lemonade stall. We need to teach children the benefits of working for themselves. That is something that is underrated."

This year's winners of the Junior Entrepreneurs Programme were the sixth-class children at Ardfert Central National School in Co Kerry.

After a number of business ideas were put forward and checked by local "dragons", the class came up with the idea of creating their own board game, 'King of the Kingdom'.

Depending where they land, players have to answer questions on subjects such as maths and history.

The class was divided up into teams to work on the business. They had to design the board, work out the finances, and have the game printed. There were teams involved in sales, marketing and public relations.

The students carried out their own market research to find a suitable price

One of the pupils, David Fitzgerald, who now attends Mercy Mounthawk Secondary School, says: "It was very enjoyable getting involved in the game – everything from advertising to public relations. I think it made me feel confident that I can run my own business."

Principal Betty Stack said: "The great thing about a programme like this is that it combines elements of many different subjects, including maths, history and geography.

"It totally fits in with the primary curriculum and encourages teamwork, because the whole class is involved," she adds.

Jerry Kennelly's Young Entrepreneur Programme for second-level students was founded in 2007 and more than 3,500 students have since taken part in it.

This year's award was won by 15-year-old Kaithlin Corcoran. Her fashion blog, High Street Couture, has attracted 39,000 views since its launch last October. On the blog, the student from Presentation Secondary School, Tralee, aims to show how to pull off a designer look with high-street clothes.

There are now a number of competitions aimed at school pupils who set up their own businesses.

The Student Enterprise Awards (, run by county and city enterprise boards, are also popular and attract over 12,000 entries every year.

Among the winners at this year's competition was Andrew Butler from CBS High School, Clonmel. He turned his fascination for raising chickens into a lucrative opportunity.

Andrew started selling eggs when he was only eight, and found that he was regularly being asked for advice. He decided to write a book on the subject.

He launched his Chook Books series with A Beginners' Guide To Keeping Chickens, and has followed that with a second volume, A Complete Guide to Chicken Breeds. Andrew sells the books on his website and through local shops.

One of last year's winners at the awards was Ciara Whooley, who has become one of Ireland's leading distributors of personalised baubles.

She designs and sells the decoration to customers in Ireland, Switzerland, the United States, Australia and Africa, under the Irish Baubles brand.

The student at St David's Secondary School in Greystones, produced the baubles for charities including Barretstown Castle, Down Syndrome Ireland and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, as well as selling to Irish people abroad.

Irish Independent

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