A Parent’s View: Company Programme
[Paul Lowenstein QC]
On the evening of 6 July this year I experienced a series of increasingly thrilling emotions as I watched my teenage son, Jonah, and his schoolboy team giving their all presenting to an audience of 450 in the main theatre of the British Film Institute on the South Bank in London. This was the Young Enterprise UK Company of the Year Awards and the boys and their innovative waterproof notebook product ‘VenturePad’ were up against 13 outstandingly impressive teams from other schools. The tension was unbearable as we went through the final rounds, with fabulous on-stage presentations and invisible but nonetheless nerve-wracking behind-the-scenes judging and interviews. Late in the evening we learned that VenturePad had won the overall competition; the end of a journey started almost a year earlier by some 22,000 students from all-over the UK.
[VenturePad – winning team at the UK Company Programme final]
As the boys celebrated and looked forward to their principal prize, the chance to compete a week later in the European finals, I took a moment to look back over the year and to consider my son’s involvement in the competition from the perspective of a parent.
To my mind, the greatest thing that my boy will take away will be the experience of having to work for many months with his peers. Late-night Skype calls, near-daily meetings at school, weekend expeditions to trade fairs, planning, designing, directing, execution: all had to be managed and agreed upon. The boys learned where one another’s strengths lay and rapidly became prepared to give and to accept decisions and direction without the involvement of a supervising adult. As problems emerged, the team worked their own solutions in a truly collaborative manner. They learned to allocate responsibility according to innate skill-sets. We were regularly entertained with on-line conference calls where issues were thrashed out. Occasionally, a final decision had to be made by the team leaders.
I was impressed, also, by the determination of the team to develop the VenturePad product to the point where it was not only attractive within the terms of the competition, but became a truly viable commercial proposition. I saw as many as 10 or 12 designs, each taking into account whatever the boys had learned about the strengths and weaknesses of the last iteration. Several prototypes were produced and refined. The team understood that to succeed they were required to continually innovate.
Branding, marketing and advertising was an important part of the project. As a parent, I was delighted to watch the team harness their understanding of digital and social media to powerful effect: a great website, excellent social media and clever graphics all harnessed to drive sales. All those hours glued to iPhone screens had not been wasted.
But they were not satisfied recycling standard formats. Instead, they pushed the boundaries by, for example, making their own slick short film which became part of their online offering as well as part of the backdrop to their stage presentations. They used live digital media as a strong differentiator in the public competitions. No PowerPoint for them. Instead they used professional quality fluid digital presentation software to drive the message.
Interestingly, though, to me as a parent they seemed to understand that customers are likely to engage best with real people. So their presentations were done in jeans and simple white T-shirts, with the use of energy and humour as the primary way of engaging with the audience. Similarly, their trade stand was deceptively simple, with its centre-piece of the all-weather notebook displayed at the bottom of a glass bowl of water.
Fierce determination, a belief that they could and would solve any problem, the camaraderie of a journey taken together and the thrill of competing (and, of course, of winning) were essential hallmarks of the VenturePad year that I was so proud to witness.