To date, the school curriculum doesn't major on teaching kids what it takes to be an entrepreneur. One man is out to change all that.
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Julian Hall is passionate about teaching young people the basics of commerce and enterprise in a fun, engaging way. His business, UltraKids, is on a mission to get youngsters - 2,500 of them and counting - thinking about their potential from an early age.
What's the business in a nutshell?
UltraKids teach entrepreneurship to kids aged 7-to-18 years old. We run our programmes in school, after school and at weekend clubs. We help kids to do the thing they love and to make money from it, or consider it as a future employment option.
Why did you start it?
Ninety per cent of adult-run start-ups fail and I believe it's because the concept of business and entrepreneurship was introduced too late in life. We now know that entrepreneurship can be taught, and just like with any other topic or skill, kids are like sponges and have the ability to pick things up quickly.
That said, I still wasn't exactly sure where the demand was, until a school contacted me asking whether we had programmes in place for the academic term. So, we went away and developed it and started delivering into education. Parents then asked if we had extra-curricular clubs, so we developed a pilot and ran with it to this day.
How has it grown?
The idea started with me, I had met with a school to run the pilot on our launch day which was 27th January 2015. We started with three teachers in one location and over the next 12 months grew into 8 locations with 15 teachers in total.
We have taught over 2,500 kids in schools and clubs so far and aim to triple that number this year. We are also about to get our first franchisee on board and hope to scale throughout the country using that model.
Tell us about the market conditions
The market for entrepreneurial education is very young. Young entrants like us can really benefit from innovating, focusing on the needs of the children, schools and parents. Ironically it's about doing what we teach!
Julian's team has taught more than 2,500 in schools across the UK
What's the biggest challenge?
Keeping up with demand has been our biggest challenge. We have enquiries from all over the world for our programme but we're still a small company. So, planning and thinking big is essential. Growing a team in response to demand is also a challenge, but we've been quite lucky to have some amazing people on board.
How do you spread the word?
I wear a cape and superhero outfit! That usually grabs the attention of children and teachers. We use superheroes as a metaphor to explain that everyone is 'super' and entrepreneurship can be used as vehicle to develop your super powers. I started wearing tees and hoodies with the logo on and everyone from kids to adults wanted them.
So we started selling merchandise, which wasn't the plan, but it's a great marketing strategy and everyone loves the branding. Lastly, we use our students as 'poster kids' for our programme. Many have won awards, become popular YouTubers and started kid businesses; there's no better marketing than that for us.
What makes business hard - and what makes it fun?
The hardest thing has to be staying focused with an idea that can go in so many directions. Every time I speak to someone they have another 'good idea' for the business. As excited as it is to get with the new shiny idea, growth can only come from focusing on the core activities of the business.
The feedback we get from parents and teachers makes what we do extremely fulfilling. For me personally, having the chance to make education entrepreneurial is a lot of fun. Applying a new level of creativity to such an important area of children's development is both exciting and fun.
What would you change about doing business in the UK?
The educational system is very slow to respond to change. It’s also quite disconnected from the other areas of a child’s life and even though willing, teachers are extremely overworked given the importance of the work that they do. It boils down to economics and so long as teachers are paid lower down that economic scale, we’ll have an inadequate system.
Teachers themselves I believe, are doing an amazing job, but the system, with the red tape and the archaic way that the infrastructure responds to the changing demands of children and young people needs revisiting.
What is your biggest mistake?
Not believing in myself enough. Most entrepreneurs believe that market forces, competition or funding etc are their biggest obstacles or are responsible for their biggest mistakes. I disagree. Yes, those things have an impact of course, but the belief you have in yourself, the power of you trumps them all.
I realised that people around me believed in me more than I did. It made me sit back and consider whether I was thinking too small and if I was, why? I came to the realisation that for lots of reasons I had to believe in myself ‘more’ than I did.
Much of that comes from the network you surround yourself with and how badly you want to achieve.
Not all superheroes wear capes, but this one does
Why is your business different to the rest?
The heart of the business start-up community hold onto the mantra that the starting point of success is doing what you love. That concept has yet to be the starting point of education and how careers advice is approached. We’re the first to connect this start-up concept with education by telling kids that they can make money by doing what they love.
We wrap the rest of the learning around that central idea because kids are intrinsically motivated by their passion. More practically, we’re the only company who deliver extra-curricular clubs after school and at the weekend teaching entrepreneurship.
How do you motivate your team?
We just completed our teaching training last week in fact, and as part of that, staff development is very important to us. Bearing in mind we teach entrepreneurship, which covers everything from profit and loss to growth mindset, we keep our staff up to date with the ideas and concepts for each aspect of our programme.
We teach kids the most current ideas surrounding the topics of business and entrepreneurship, which means our teachers need to do the same. We’re quite lucky that by default our concept is unique and timely so people have been coming to us asking how they can help or get involved.
My personal network is very important to me, and my team can benefit from those in it. So, in real terms it means that if one of my team need advice, guidance, training or an open door into a particular industry, chances are I can provide that opportunity through my network.
How you rate the government's commitment to businesses?
50/50. When the support is available it’s great, but these programmes of support tend to be short lived. That said, I don’t think entrepreneurs and business people should wait for government support. The government need the support of entrepreneurs to make the right decisions in the business sector and how to usher in the next generation of entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs don't wait for government to help them
What's your advice to people starting a business?
#1 - Do what you love!
Business is full of ups and downs. If you’re not passionate about the business you’re doing, when the downs come along you’ll give up or move onto the next ‘big idea’ and repeat the cycle.
If you love it, not only will you retain your own sanity but commercially you’ll want to make whatever product or service you’re developing great. People love great; no one goes out to buy a mediocre product or service.
#2 - Get a mentor or coach!
You’re going to make mistakes, which is fine however, in order to fail fast and be able to recover from those mistakes, chances are you’ll need to take advice from someone who’s done it before.
I would advise a mentor from the industry you’re operating in and a business coach who has practical experience, not a weekend coaching certificate.
#3 - Build a team!
Entrepreneurs are usually multi talented. For this reason they tend to start by doing everything in their business.
However, at some point, usually more quickly than they realise, they’ll spread themselves thin, start doing things badly and drop the ball on important aspects of their business. I always say that entrepreneurs should only do the thing that only they can do. Everything else should be delegated or outsourced.