THE North-East's wealthiest millionaires have already proved that age is no barrier to entrepreneurship. Duncan Bannatyne started his first serious venture in his 20s, while call centre tycoon Chey Garland was a similar age when she established a debt collection agency in Middlesbrough... and just look at them now.
Serial entrepreneur Bannatyne has gone on to make millions from a business empire spanning care homes and leisure operations, while Garland has transformed the international call centre firm into one of Tees Valley’s biggest employers with 3,000 staff.
They didn’t limit their horizons - and neither do the entrepreneurs steaming up behind them.
Yarm’s Sarah McConnell is a firm believer in the mantra If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
The 19-year-old, who established beauty salon Re:nu in Yarm in November, claims the credit crunch is no barrier for bright young things.
"Too many people stick in the same job when they aren’t happy," she said. "If you believe in yourself, you can go far.
"Some people think I’m mad starting this business, especially with the credit crunch, but I’m determined to succeed."
Sarah’s not the only one to plough her own furrow. With full-time job prospects shrinking and universities under pressure to scale back on intakes this year, many of her peers are thinking seriously along the same lines.
Initiatives such as Redcar and Cleveland College’s award winning Ride the Wave programme, now in its fifth year, which saw a around 350 students pitch business ideas to a panel of local bosses in November, is seeing a spike in interest.
The students’ blue sky development ‘companies’ were not expected to come up with commercially viable projects, rather demonstrate the attributes of entrepreneurship - thinking out of the box, the ability to present ideas persuasively, and the humility and agility needed to overcome problems.
College Principal Gary Groom says: "What’s important for us is that students coming out of the college will be seen by employers as having something special about them. They are coming to them with an outlook that’s much more business orientated. For the students taking part in the Ride the Wave events, their confidence goes through the roof, and even if they don’t do it immediately, who knows if in five to 10 years’ time they may decide ‘I can start a business’."
Some already have. One group who took part in last year’s event was among three to benefit from £10,000 in funding to commercialise their ideas and is now in the final stages of launching a beach football game. Enterprise is no longer an academic exercise at Redcar and Cleveland," says Mr Groom.
Statistically, the North-east boasts a pathetic record in entrepreneurship compared to other areas of the UK, most likely instilled by generations of dependency on ‘cradle-to-grave’ industries like steel, coal and chemicals. But in the Tees Valley alone in 2007 the number of VAT-registered businesses rose by 6.2% on the previous year, compared with just a 2.9% increase nationally.
Stephen Green of the Entrepreneur’s Forum says there still needs to be a step-change in attitudes to put the North-east in the vanguard of the baby business boom as well as a concerted effort to release enterprise from the shackles of fear and failure.
"Failure is not a dirty word," says Stephen. "Entrepreneurs see it as a minor setback."
The Forum - one of many North-east organisations to receive public money to encourage bright young things - brings together like-minded business virgins and experienced mentors.
It has already launched the young entrepreneurs social networking site http://ifwecanyoucantalk and recently led the first Cloud 9 summit for baby Bannatynes.
This attracted a staggering 1,300 young hotshots to Rainton, in County Durham, to network and share ideas.
Green says the event was another step towards "bringing on the next generation of entrepreneurs".
"Our aim is to get more young people in the region to do something for themselves and in doing so, create indigenous wealth for the region," he says.
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