Anne Ravanona describes how she brought an entrepreneurship workshop back to her primary school and inspired 11-year-olds to explore business.
“Hands up: How many of you want to study business when you go to secondary school?” we asked the class of 26 bright-eyed 11-year-old pupils from Ms Mackle’s fifth class at St Mochta’s National School in Dublin, on day one of our two-day BizWorld Ireland workshop.
Only four hands went up (three boys, one girl). I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The global statistics of the latest 2016/2017 GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) Report were playing out right in front of us, where “only six women, on average, were engaged in early-stage entrepreneurship for every 10 male entrepreneurs”.
All the more reason initiatives such as BizWorld Ireland are so necessary.
I am an entrepreneur myself and a passionate women’s advocate, helping female founders take their first steps to get investor-ready and grow in confidence when looking for funding through Global Invest Her, as well as supporting many initiatives to get more girls into STEM and entrepreneurship.
For one week in March, I was given the opportunity to create magic and ignite entrepreneurship with 11-year-old pupils back at my primary school in Dublin, thanks to Fiona McKeon, CEO of BizWorld Ireland, and Seán Fay, a wonderful entrepreneur and investor himself, whom I met at a tech conference at the end of 2016.
When Fay asked me if I’d like to go back to my old school to teach pupils about entrepreneurship, I automatically assumed he was talking about my secondary school. Actually, part of the BizWorld magic is starting even younger, getting 11-year-olds to create companies, do market research and pitch to their 10-year-old peers. I was hooked!
When I Fiona McKeon, our kindred spirits stepped into an even higher gear. I asked her why she set up the Irish entity of BizWorld (part of the BizWorld franchise), which was born from her frustration as a teenager at not having the option of studying business, because of the way her school was in a streamed system. A seasoned primary-school teacher, teacher trainer and education expert herself, she took advantage of a career break to get this started and has never looked back.
How BizWorld works
Over two days, the bright and well-mannered pupils of Ms Mackle’s fifth class at my old alma mater, St Mochta’s National School, Dublin, created four innovative companies and took their first steps in the world of business and entrepreneurship. McKeon deftly introduced basic business concepts and terms to the children and, within an hour, they were starting on their journey as first-time entrepreneurs.
What sets this programme apart from other similar initiatives is that it has been designed by a primary-school teacher who understands the pupil’s rhythms as well as the teacher’s and curriculum constraints. That’s why it’s always delivered by BizWorld tutors and not the teachers themselves.
The other outstanding differentiator was the totally hands-off approach the tutors took towards the pupils. McKeon and I gently guided them through the well-structured programme, and the children did all of it themselves without us intervening in how they made decisions, worked together and pitched. Allowing them the space to really experiment was fantastic and they let their imaginations and creativity run wild!
Day one: Setting up companies and becoming directors
In the morning, the children learned about the different types of businesses, key terms and the all-important profit equation: revenue + expenses = profit.
They then each applied for and decided who should be director of what (product, creation, sales, marketing, finance etc) and set about deciding what problem they wanted to solve. Then they created and registered their companies, created business plans and got their bank loan.
The afternoon was about getting down to the business of estimating their costs and doing market research with fourth-class students, before diving into the cool stuff of creating their pitches, posters and other comms tools. They also got some homework to do on their projects. The classroom was buzzing that afternoon as we left them to create their masterpieces.
The birth of four companies and 26 entrepreneurs
I couldn’t wait to see what the four teams would come up with. The companies and problems they solved were so innovative.
- Xtend invented shoes that grow with your feet (“it feels better”) and even planned an app to allow you to customise them.
- Cloudz designed the most comfortable pillow that “feels like heaven” to ensure you have a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed.
- Gamer Goggles invented special goggles for playing your video games so you can “play more games and your eyes won’t strain”.
- Ironators designed a cool machine to iron and fold your clothes automatically for “less stress, more success”.
Day two: Pitching dragons and curious 10-year-olds
Teacher, Ms Mackle, had carefully prepared the children for what to expect by showing them a few episodes of Dragons’ Den during break-times beforehand, yet, as in real life, watching TV and thinking you are ready is very different from actually doing the work – which our four teams of budding entrepreneurs quickly learned and embraced.
When we arrived back on the morning of day two, I couldn’t wait to see the pitches. McKeon and Ms Mackle helped them practise their pitches and get ready and soon, it was time for each team to pitch to our very own dragon, Seán Fay.
What can I say other than that the four teams were fantastic! They shared their pitched and PowerPoints, did live ads that they acted out themselves, showed off their fabulous posters and business cards, and deftly answered all of the investor’s questions.
Then came crunch time: negotiating the investment! Needless to say, all four teams got their investment, after some deft negotiation on the part of the young entrepreneurs, and Fay gladly handed over the ‘bizbucks’.
That was only the warm-up
Each team then went back to their classroom to pitch in front of 28 smart and challenging fourth-class pupils from Ms Ahern’s class. The questions came fast and hard, as their peers didn’t miss an opportunity to ‘grill’ their older classmates.
I really was impressed by the quality of the questions and, above all, watching the pitching teams deftly answer any question that came their way, which took thinking on your feet to a whole new level.
But it wasn’t over yet! Each 10-year-old had 10 bizbucks to invest in their favourite company, so each company had to convince their peers to invest. The room was alight with fun-filled frenzy as all involved revelled in their newly found investor/negotiator shoes.
Once the fourth-class students returned to the rest of their day, our budding entrepreneurs settled down to finish their accounts, count their investment and how much equity they had given up, and see which company had been most profitable.
During my two days at St Mochta’s, I had the wonderful opportunity to see two of my teachers from when I was a pupil – Mr Morgan, who taught me in third class, and Mr McClelland, who I had for second and fifth class, kindly came out of his retirement to come and visit me at the school. I had come full circle, nearly 30 years later.
The memory of these two very special days will stay with me forever. What a gift.
Before we left at the end of day two, we asked again: “How many pupils would like to take business as a subject in secondary school?” 20 out of 26 hands went up this time, so at least we ignited a spark of curiosity.
The future looks very bright indeed!
If you want to bring BizWorld Ireland to your school, please contact Fiona McKeon at BizWorld Ireland.
Female founders, investors and those who support them are welcome to join the first InvestHer Dublin Meetup on 4 July. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.
Anne Ravanona will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to join us from 6 to 8 July in Dublin.