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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 11:50 GMT
Make your mark with a tenner
Stephanie Flanders
By Stephanie Flanders
Economics Editor, BBC Newsnight

All you need to grow a nation of entrepreneurs is a sackful of tenners. Or so Oli Barrett seems to believe.

Make your mark with a tenner

He's the one who thought it was a good idea to lend 10,000 school children 10 for a month and see if they could make a profit.

Yes, some of them might use it to buy sweets (or drugs). But given the chance to keep any profits - and maybe even win a prize - the vast majority are going to do all they can to earn a healthy return. Or so Oli says.

Newsnight started out sceptical (don't we always?) But after spending a few hours with the wannabe entrepreneurs at Manchester Academy and Claremont Fan Court School in Esher we decided there wasn't much risk of the pupils running off with all the cash.

Even for a teenager, the prospect of an easy 10 isn't nearly as attractive as that of 100.

On the board

At Manchester Academy Yahui Zhang is the brains of the team we spoke to - a year 11 student who arrived here with no English three years ago and is now what you might call formidable.

Ways some students plan to make their mark with a tenner

On hearing about the scheme she immediately decided she needed (a) more starting capital and (b) more staff.

She recruited fellow students - with their tenners - to provide the capital and a small army of (largely Chinese) junior kids to provide the staff.

Her co-investors Jamie, Marcelle and Yidan got seats on the board of Cathay Craftz in return for their investment (they already have business cards).

But you sense it's only a matter of time before she stages a boardroom putsch and regains control.

As her teacher, Jane Delfino, told us: "Yahui is a driven woman".

First pitch

Newsnight went with Cathay Kraftz when they made their first pitch for business at Sweet Mandarin, a new restaurant in the centre of Manchester.

Zoe and Rachel at their computer
Zoe and Rachel plan to make their mark through e-bay
Within 30 minutes they had a 50 contract for Valentine's Day decorations to be delivered at the end of the week.

So they've already made a 10 profit on the initial 40 stake; but Yahui would be disappointed if they don't make 500.

If you put 10 in the FTSE for a month you could expect to make 6.5p.

Social entrepreneurs

Yahui is unusual. Scary, even. But every team we spoke to expected to make a profit.

We need to foster a climate that's less risk averse and forgiving of start-ups that fail
Rebecca Harding, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor
Whether they're selling sweets or manicures, holding a concert or providing a cab service, most seemed to think it would be easy to make 50 and probably a lot more.

And if they weren't going to make money for themselves, they expected to earn a "social" return for their communities.

Encouraging this kind of social entrepreneurship is part of the scheme: the 50 teams who have the greatest social impact could win an extra 1000 each. (The 50 most profitable teams win recognition but no extra cash).

Prejudice

If you find all this enthusiasm surprising, then Oli Barratt thinks that says more about you than it does about the state of British youth.

Hairdressing
Just one of the highlights in a scheme that's gone nationwide
"This project is bringing out an extraordinary amount of age-ism," he told me.

"Imagine if you had a similar scheme to lend tenners to pensioners, and people said 'oh, don't you think they'll just spend it all on pet food and baked beans?' - there'd be uproar. The degree of prejudice is amazing."

The money for Make Your Mark With a Tenner came from Andrew Reynolds, self-made businessman and founder of the Entrepreneur Channel.

The kids don't have to give the money back, but each of the 117 schools taking part has to return at least 60% of the cash to qualify next year.

The only rules are your teacher has to approve your idea and you can't do anything illegal or harmful to others.

An entrepreneurship gene?

You don't have to have a dim view of young people to have questions about all this.

HOW FAR WILL A TENNER GO?
10 in the UK Equities (FTSE Allshare) based on 10 year average would give you 6.5p over the month
10 in US Equities (S&P 500) based on 10 year average would give you 7p over the month (currency neutral)
10 in the bank based on the current rate of interest (5.25%) would give you 4.3p over the month
10 in hedge funds based on 10 year average (Credit Suisse Tremont Hedge Fund Index) would give you 8.7p over the month (currency neutral)
For starters, is a simple 10 investment really going to turn a wannabe factory drone into Alan Sugar?

Interestingly, none of the teachers or business experts we spoke to claimed it would.

Along with the sense of humour gene and the psychopath gene it seems there's an entrepreneurship gene: a great business mind is born, not bought.

But, say the proselytisers, as a nation we can still do more to nurture the ones we've got.

"Culture is crucial", says Rebecca Harding, who directs the UK's Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a massive annual survey of the state of entrepreneurship.

"In our 2006 survey more than half of British working age people said they had the skills and knowledge to set up a company and that there were good business opportunities available where they live.

"That's a slightly higher percentage than in the US, and much higher than on the Continent. But a many as 36% said that fear of failure would prevent them from doing it - more than double the percentage in the US.

"That tells you we need to foster a climate that's less risk averse and forgiving of start-ups that fail."

All part of a day's coursework

We'll find out in a few weeks whether Make Your Mark with a Tenner has smoked out the Larry Page and Sergey Brins of tomorrow.

But in a world where the job for life is supposedly dead - and where we're all being told to be self-starters whether we've got the entrepreneurial gene or not - it is difficult to argue that this modest exercise in self-starting is going to do these children any harm.

Indeed, the best argument against the scheme maybe that it is only encouraging children to do what they were doing already.

Many of the children we spoke to - and not only the ones taking Business Studies - had started a business before as part of their regular coursework.

And others were planning to make money using practical skills they learned in school: manicures for those specialising in Beauty Therapy, dog walking for the Animal Care students, and cake stalls in the case of Food.

We may not turn a nation of shopkeepers into a nation of Richard Bransons, but it won't be for lack of trying by the very business-like curriculum-writers for Britain's schools.


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