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The young entrepreneur who made it off the streets and into the boardroom

Luke Liddiard went from homeless teenager to company director in just nine months thanks to the Young Enterprise programme. He now divides his time between a new social enterprise and raising awareness on homelessness


Photograph: Camilla Greenwell for the Guardian

Lacking direction when you’re a teenager isn’t unusual. When I was growing up I didn’t know what options I had, but things became more complicated when I became homeless. I’m originally from the outskirts of London, but was forced to leave after experiencing a family breakdown at the same time that I was doing my GCSEs. I had to get out, so I decided to seek out my dad, even though I had never met him. I turned up on his doorstep in Norfolk with no idea what to expect.

After living with him for two months, I went back to Surrey and spent the next year moving around, even sleeping in a shed. I wound up in the Woking YMCA Hostel. There, my youth worker told me about the Young Enterprise company programme, which provided me the opportunity to set up and run my own business for a year.

I’d always been good with my hands and had some experience in landscape gardening, so I set up a company called Goodwood. We used offcuts from carpenters, sawmill waste cuts and old logs from landscape gardeners – reworking them as clocks, display cases and candle holders. It was a steep learning curve in the role of managing director, but it gave me focus. Two other young people worked with me, and helped to make Goodwood a success. In finding new opportunities for the wood, we found new opportunities for ourselves, and we were helping the environment, which I’m passionate about.

In August 2014, I won the first Young Enterprise National Journey Award and then became a Young Enterprise ambassador, helping young people develop their employability; I believe in the power of teaching young people business skills. I also give talks to young people who are homeless, sharing my story to inspire them.

As a Young Enterprise ambassador I attend events that provide vital networking experience, including one at Downing Street where I was honoured to give a speech to top CEOs.

At one awards ceremony I met Kevin Patrick, another young entrepreneur who runs a couple of successful textile companies. We are now working together to support other young entrepreneurs – specialising in those who want to keep their Young Enterprise companies going after they finish the scheme.

We want to help them with everything from branding to expanding their business. We’re already working with our first young entrepreneur, the youngest accredited barista in Europe, Ben Garnett, who is running his own coffee company at the age of 15.

I love helping other young people develop problem solving skills, resilience, communication skills and creativity: that’s how Kevin and I got into business!

I thought I could only use my hands to make money, but I’m capable of much more. No day is the same, and I relish the adventure. One day I’m working in a coffee shop, or wherever there’s Wi-Fi, the next I’ll be speaking to 400 people at an event. I spend lots of time in the gym because I take a holistic approach to business: if your health or personal life isn’t functioning well, your business suffers. I’m also training at my local gym with the professional boxer, Nick Webb, for a charity match in aid of Cancer Research UK.

My experience has made me realise that your past does not determine your future. I want to spread that message. When young people tell me they want to make a difference, I assure them they don’t have to be great to start with, they just have to get out there and take some action. I could have felt very sorry for myself, getting upset about the way my life was going. Instead, I used all the anger and pain and turned it into desire. If you have an idea, act on it. That’s what saved me.