Young Enterprise – When Students Become Successful Entrepreneurs

August 18, 2014

Young Enterprise – When Students become successful Young Entrepreneurs

Anna Kohler – Young Enterprise Switzerland
Young people aged 16 to 20 establish and run a real company for one year. They learn how the business world works and get insight into the role that is played by entrepreneurship in our society. The Company Program of Young Enterprise Switzerland (YES) offers this unique opportunity every year to more than 700 students from grammar schools, commercial colleges and training colleges.
Even though these young entrepreneurs are all still attending school, this does not spare them any of the trouble that other entrepreneurs have to go through when deciding to start a new company. Just as in real start-ups, the students are asked to perform all tasks required to do successful business. They develop a business idea, optimise the production process and sell their products profitably on the market. Each young entrepreneur takes on a function and lives this out for real during the project year. Products are developed in order to survive on the market, supported by appropriate marketing activities. This enables the students to put their theoretical knowledge into practice. Gapping the bridge between theoretical school and the real world is one of the primary objectives of the organisation Young Enterprise Switzerland.
The non-profit organisation which develops and supports practice-oriented business training programmes for students interlinks the economy and schools. The association was founded in 2006 as a result of the merger of the previously independent organisations Junior Achievement Switzerland and Young Enterprise Switzerland. The Company Programme was first run in Switzerland back in 1999 and the first volunteer placements took place in 2003.
The focus lies on young people, who are enabled to develop an understanding for social and economic relationships, to act entrepreneurially, and to become persuasive as individuals. The programmes prepare students to become responsibly-minded in order for them to find their way in the global economy. Young Enterprise Switzerland offers 3 programmes for different age groups: two volunteering programmes at elementary level and secondary level I and the Company Programme for high school. The volunteering programmes involve experienced representatives from the business world who visit school classes and lead some lessons. In a fun and playful way and with the use of examples appropriate to the participants’ age they deal with important topics such as the system of community, credit financing and applying for jobs. In the Company Programme, students find out directly what it means to undertake business activities by setting up and running a mini-company themselves over the course of one year.
“We learnt to communicate with business partners and customers with much more self-confidence. Many public appearances helped that we can now present with much more security before an audience.” Young Enterprise Switzerland Alumni
To help the students and assure that they profit as much as possible from their entrepreneurial year, Young Enterprise Switzerland has established a tight supporting structure during the Company Programme project year. The young entrepreneurs receive support from honorary consultants (business mentors), their teachers, and Young Enterprise Switzerland. At the beginning of the year, two workshops are organized for every participating team. They learn about entrepreneurial basics as well as fair marketing and sales techniques. In addition to that, every team is allocated a personal programme manager at Young Enterprise Switzerland, so that a direct contact is guaranteed at all times. Through regular interviews with the teams and feedbacks, Young Enterprise Switzerland assures that the individual help is provided when needed and problems are being detected at an early stage.
The entrepreneurial year can be divided into several phases:

  • Development of a business idea and mobilising participation capital (max. CHF 3,000)
  • Workshops (Entrepreneurial Basics and Fair Marketing & Sales)
  • Reporting: business plan and annual report
  • Regional and National Trade Fairs
  • National Competition

Through its unique structure, the programme offers the possibility to test the limits, tolerates mistakes, and hence is an excellent learning-by-doing experience. Aimed at gapping the bridge between theory and reality, the programme not only helps students to learn about entrepreneurship but also fosters their personal development. As studies show, students ranked the overall impact of the programme highest with regards to their individual skills, mainly initiative, self-confidence, teamwork, sense of responsibility and organising talent. At this age, these soft skills are a highly valuable asset for the participants. For most students, this project is the first time that they are required to really work in a team over a longer period and take over responsibility for a task assigned to them.
Through the mandatory trade fair participation for all teams, they also learn to present themselves to a wide audience and to sell a product convincingly. Each year, Young Enterprise Switzerland observes the incredible increase in self-confidence and skill that the young students achieve through the programme.
“During this business year, we collected many impressions, tested our limits, became more team-oriented and could count on each other completely. What couldn’t be done by someone alone was achieved together! This way, we grew together as the best team.” – Young Enterprise Switzerland Alumni
Every year, more and more students want to make this unique experience as a young entrepreneur: Starting from 12 teams at the beginning of the Company Programme 15 years ago, there are now more than 160 participating enterprises in Switzerland in the current school year 2013/2014!
This unbelievable growth shows how much the programme is appreciated by the participating schools. However, for Young Enterprise Switzerland this also means providing additional support for the teams and higher administration costs. The main target is to maintain the high quality of the programme (Young Enterprise Switzerland was awarded Model Organization by our European head organisation JA-YE Europe three times). Therefore, Young Enterprise Switzerland is currently only able to allow more teams to participate if their expenses are covered.
This year, too, more than 700 motivated students want to launch a real enterprise in their economics classes and make their first experiences in the real economic world, where they can transfer their theoretical knowledge to a practical project. With a patronage for young entrepreneurs over CHF 3`500 you can help those students to join the Company Programme. The participating students profit from:

  • Personal support through a Programme Manager
  • 2 Workshops with inputs for “Entrepreneurial basics” and “Fair Marketing”
  • Participation at up to 3 public fairs organised by Young Enterprise Switzerland
  • A project folder as a companion through the year
  • Several further benefits such as accounting software, webhosting, etc.

By taking over a patronage for one team, you receive:

  • Mentioning on our Young Enterprise Switzerland website and at the National Finale at the end of the project year
  • A personal invitation to the National Finale
  • A final report after the project year
  • The offer to enjoy the creativity and professionalism of a TOP 8 Young Enterprise Switzerland-enterprise through a presentation at your own business event

The current network of participating schools includes several International Schools, including Berne, Basel, Zurich and Geneva. Among the teams from these schools are BulletBattery which produces USB electronic device chargers, TOTEM that sells beanies and shirts in an original design, and Soaper, a team that creates soap dispensers out of special glass bottles. Together with many other high schools and commercial colleges in all of Switzerland, this programme has been spreading out very quickly. We are happy to see that also the quality of the enterprises has increased considerably over the same time.
This also holds true for the current project year, which is drawing to a close already. On June 6th and 7th, the National Finale will take place in Zurich Main Station. Only the best 25 teams of the year are allowed to compete for the title “Best Company of the Year 2014”. Furthermore, together with partner companies, special awards are being granted for outstanding achievements in specific areas such as marketing, sustainability or innovation.
Young Enterprise Switzerland is looking forward to two days full of entrepreneurship and creativity. On both days, the teams will organize a public fair, where all the products are on exhibition. On Saturday, June 7th, there will also be stage presentation, where each team will present itself in 5 minutes. In addition to the competition, there is also an interesting programme with several events that all deal with entrepreneurship. If you would like to experience the spirit of Young Enterprise Switzerland and see the professionalism and creativity of the student teams, you are warmly invited to the National Competition!
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