Tens of thousands of school children a year are being inspired by Ben and Michael Dyer’s enterprise activities. In 2013, the cousins launched The Youth Enterprise Community Interest Company (CIC) with support from Staffordshire University and Lord Alan Sugar fronting their flagship event The National Enterprise Challenge. They now work with hundreds of schools around the country and more than 140,000 young people have taken part in their activities.
“When we were doing our top-up Business Management degrees at Staffordshire University we had an idea for a business,” Ben recalls. “Our idea was to motivate young people to get the most out of their years at school. We decided to run with it but we knew if we were going into the market we needed the x-factor for our business. We needed a celebrity endorsement – that would be our USP. Eventually Lord Sugar agreed to front The National Enterprise Challenge.”
Since the first year, when 11,000 young people from 58 schools took part, the Challenge has rapidly grown in popularity. Businessman and star of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, Theo Paphitis has since joined as an ambassador, with his stationery company now the headline sponsor of The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge. Theo has since become an Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University, in part due to his work with Ben and Michael.
The pair also continue to work with the University where, in 2008, they studied Foundation Degrees in Business Start-Up, before undertaking top-up Business Management undergraduate degrees in 2011. Their interest in business began beforehand, however, during their time at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College.
“Business was something we were both interested in since secondary school,” said Ben. “My teacher was very supportive and encouraged me to pursue my own business, which is why we chose the Foundation Degree.”
After a few years working in enterprise education – in companies and organisations that would eventually become competitors – Ben and Michael came up with the idea for The National Enterprise Challenge.
Michael said: “We wrote down everything we knew about the market place and brainstormed ideas. We then formalised our plans, and The National Enterprise Challenge was born. We wanted 50 schools to join us in our first year. We knew that reaching them, when teachers are so busy, was going to take an enormous effort, but it paid off.”
In 2017, The National Enterprise Challenge received backing from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), winning several contracts related to the National Collaborative Outreach Programme, which aims to increase the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education. As well as delivering engaging activities to young people around the UK, Ben and Michael are also now exploring potential to expand abroad.
“We go into schools and work with them to set up real life business challenges,” Michael explained. “One of those we’re running at the moment is with Alton Towers, with pupils coming up with ideas for a line of events to promote their new ride, Galactica. We’re also working closely with Ryman, with one of our activities around developing a smartphone app for the company.
“Last year’s Challenge saw over 30,000 young participants, with 1,200 people attending the Finals Day at Doncaster Racecourse. We’re now in our fourth year and we’re proud to have Ryman, Theo, Staffordshire University and OCR continuing their support. It’s set to be our biggest year yet and we’re still growing. The next phase could see us delivering our Challenge to school children in Europe or America.”