Stuart Anderson, Director of Shell Livewire, one of the UKs largest entrepreneur support organisations that helps 16-30 year olds to start and develop their own business (www.shell-livewire.org). The progamme is funded by Shell and managed by The PNE Group in Newcastle.
Question: How many awards does Shell-LiveWIRE make to entrepreneurs every year?
Shell LiveWIRE makes around 50 x £1000 Grand Ideas Awards each year, and this year we have been given further funds by the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship so we will make an extra award of £1000 each month from them. So this year we’ll end up giving out up to 60 awards or 5 per month. We also have our Shell LiveWIRE young Entrepreneur of the year Award, which has been running for nearly 30 years with a top prize of £10,000. The annual award has been running since Shell LiveWIRE was created in 1982 and many well known faces of businesses in the UK have appeared in the final!
Question: Why is your focus on entrepreneurs from 16-30?
Traditionally the programme was started to combat the problem of youth unemployment and back then, starting a business was not something young people were encouraged to do as much as today. Shell LiveWIRE was set up to help address that problem. Clearly these days things have changed, but as young people are the future of any economy it is still vital to encourage budding entrepreneurs to follow through their ideas and give them as much support as possible. There is also a need to address graduate unemployment and entrepreneurship as a real alternative to employment- hence our links with NCGE.
There are now a number of organisations who specifically help young people start business, but Shell LiveWIRE is one of the longest established. We have a really fantastic alumni of well known entrepreneurs who have either been finalists or won our annual award. We use a model that then uses the winners of our awards to help encourage the next wave of young entrepreneurs, so ‘keeping it real’ and showing people that you don’t have to necessarily be a multi millionaire to be successful. In fact in 2007 we carried out some research that showed that young people starting a business now were not hardnosed entrepreneurs of the 80s, but they wanted to create dynamic teams and have fun whilst running a business- money is not the only object!
Question: Those who have won your awards say that while the £1,000 is handy, the PR your company does for the winners is even more more useful. Can you describe some of those benefits?
We have had many examples where PR helps the winners of the award get some much needed publicity, and over the years we know that appearing in both local and national press is vital to get the exposure to make your business a success. For example, many of the Grand Ideas Award winners get a write up in the local press, and instantly people can see the business is a great idea, award winning and interesting. These businesses may not get the exposure they deserve without our help. One of my favourites recently was a company called Drink tea, Eat Biscuits. They are graphic designers based in Bristol who used the award to cover their car in vinyl with biscuits all over it- a great marketing ploy! This was featured in the local paper and there is even a website you can play a game with the car on at www.biscuitcar.com!
Quite often the finalists in our annual awards comment that although they apply for the £10,000 award when they first enter the competition, it is the judging process and PR generated that also makes a big difference to the business. For example 2007 finalists Lucy Cohen and Sophie Hughes with their company Mazuma Money were featured in the Sun newspaper business section. This was the first time they then broke into the national market and were able to operate on a UK level rather than just local.
Question: Your Business Kit is a remarkable resource for new business owners. Can you walk us through some of your favorite aspects of the kit and the resources it provides?
The ‘My Business Kit’ area of the site provides people with an area with which to access all the main tools to help them get started with their business ideas. There are some tried and tested PDFs to download- such as ‘Writing your first business plan’. These are being updated this year, but have been tried and tested around the world in other countries which run a Shell LiveWIRE programme.
One of my favourite features here is the area to watch the ‘Elevator Pitches’ of the shortlisted entrants to our monthly Grand Ideas Awards to win £1000 for their business. You can watch all 8 pitches and then vote on who you think should get the funding. Also in this area- you can keep track on what is happening around the site, for example on our discussion forum, as well as see content you have tagged in sections such as the business library which might be useful. You can even see other entrepreneurs near you that have registered on the site under the ‘suggested contact’ section. If you wish you can then contact them through our entrepreneurs social network.
Question: Some of the elevator pitches on your website are quite remarkable. Do you have some favorites you’d like to point people at? Is there are page that has a list of all the pitches for the folks you’ve given awards to?
Every month we get the videos there is always a great mix of people pitching for the award. Some people get the message across with animation, and some people just do a piece to camera. It often depends on what the business is! One of my favourite videos was from Daniel Sutherland who had a new idea for a new baby bottle design- you can see it at http://www.shell-livewire.org/video-lounge/?category=awards where all of the winners videos are. Another great one is from Squid London, they explain what they want to do really well in the clip.
Question: Where do you get your funding from? Do you have sponsors you’d like to talk about?
The programme is one of Shell Social Investment programmes so they support it. We also get funding from other partners on occasions- such as NCGE funding one of the Grand Ideas Awards each month for this year.
Question: Finally, what compelled you to start LiveWIRE? Was there a particular opportunity or entrepreneur that just made you think “Wow, I have to help projects and people like this?” Or was there some other inciting event?
Shell LiveWIRE was started in 1982 in Glasgow to help combat youth unemployment in that area. Since then the programme has not only expanded to cover the whole of the UK, but also to cover over 20 countries internationally. Each programme around the globe focuses on young entrepreneurs and is unique to the area it operates taking in the different cultures etc.
It is all based on the ethos that young people are the future of any economy. A vibrant economy is dependent on small businesses to drive things along so enthusing young people to start businesses in any country around the globe is so important.