“Go for it”

My Speech from the YENI Celebration of Success Event

On thursday 26th March, I had the honour of addressing the participants of this year’s Young Enterprise Northern Ireland Company & Team Programmes at Titanic Belfast. Having been in their exact position the year before I took it as an opportunity to share my experience of gaining summer internships and accelerating my learning in the real business world, despite the failures I had faced through the Company Programme.

“This time last year I was sitting where you are all now. I’d been through the ups and downs, the triumphs and the successes; I’d experienced those difficult meetings or those seemingly impossible obstacles. I’d been up all night learning my pitch for the judging round the previous week and today was the moment of truth — had we done enough to make it through to the final?

My company was called PRESCiENCE. It’s spelt pre-science — and that’s what everyone called it, which was a bit of a marketing oversight. From the offset my company programme experience presented many challenges much more testing than just the mispronunciation of our company name. To start with, our school didn’t even take part in the programme. In fact, they hadn’t done so for over 10 years. So from the first week of term I made it my mission to get Ballymena Academy back participating in the programme — I assembled a team, annoyed teachers and even made a “why we should do young enterprise” booklet for my headmaster. When he actually said yes, I realised that I had a lot of hard work ahead of me.

I proposed to my team that we should do something really out of the box and ambitious for our product. So we decided we were going to design, develop and sell on the Apple App Store a homework diary app. Little did I know then just how difficult a task this would actually be to complete. So many months of hard grind ensued: we had to re-do our graphics twice so that they met Apple standards; we had to sell all of our shares just to raise enough money to pay a developer because none of us knew how to code; and then we had to work out how to actually make money from the app. In the end, our product was a complete flop and we were £500 out of pocket. The app side of things was completely alien to all of us, but we had actually nailed the day to day business side of things by the end of the company programme: we knew how to organise meetings, record minutes, liaise with our advisors and surprisingly I learnt how to record all the finance stuff even though I am hopeless at maths. PRESCiENCE went on to win the innovation award and I was very fortunate to be chosen as a finalist for young entrepreneur of the future, but the team didn’t make it to the final and our app never made it to the app store.

So at the close of this event last year, it was the end of one journey but actually the start of a really exciting new one. Following the company programme I felt really confident in myself and knew I had a a whole list of relevant business skills and 6 months of actual experience to back them up — and it occurred to me I could actually go put them to use once the programme was over. So leaving this very event last year, I decided I’d focus on my school work and get my A-Levels out of the way, then just go for it. I hadn’t decided what “go for it” meant at this stage but I knew I wasn’t going to just do nothing with the experience I had gained through the company programme.

I started attending every business and technology conference and meetup that I could find happening in Belfast and would just go along, talk to people and tell them about my Company Programme experience. And at one of these events I just happened to be talking to this french man, Norbert Sagnard, for literally 5 minutes and I told him I was looking for some summer work. The next day he sent me an email to tell me that he was an investor in a number of tech startups in belfast and could I send him my CV. 2 days later I was walking out of an office in Belfast and I had landed a 3-day a week paid marketing internship in a tech startup called GoReport. It was incredible.

Following that things literally took off exponentially. I had planned on using my free 2 days in the week to work on my homework diary app and actually get it on the app market. But then an internship opportunity came up at the Northern Ireland Science Park and all of a sudden I was the CEO of Create:2014 and spent my remaining two days a week with 5 other young people planning a conference. Following Create:2014 I was asked to speak at the INVENT awards in October. There just happened to be a lady in the audience who worked for the BBC and in November I flew home to film 3 “Science Shorts” episodes as part of the BBC Northern Ireland Make it Digital campaign. The opportunities just seemed to be multiplying and although I spent much of my summer working — I enjoyed every single second of it. I had used my Company Programme experience to make my own opportunities and there is honestly nothing more rewarding than that.

So my advice to you all today is: enjoy the event today — because it’s a celebration of your success! But no matter who the winners are, you should all go home, take a look at what you have learnt and set yourself some goals. Perhaps use today as a networking opportunity — go annoy the important people in the room, have a chat with them, and start getting your name out there. Grow your network, talk to people, be pro-active and you can start making your own opportunities.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t let your journey end today. Not only have you taken part in one of the most valuable, enjoyable and enriching programmes for young people out there, but you also live in Northern Ireland and that puts you guys in a really unique position. There’s a tendency among people here to under value themselves, to be averse to risk and to conform to the status quo — well I say — be ridiculously ambitious. Take what you’ve learnt from the Company Programme and use it in real life. Just remember: today isn’t the end, it’s merely the beginning of an exhilarating and endlessly rewarding future.

Go for it — I can’t wait to see the amazing things each and every one of you go on to do.”

You can find out more about how to participate in the Young Enterprise Company Programme here: http://www.yeni.co.uk

If you’re feeling inspired the Northern Ireland Science Park have launched a new internship programme for Young Enterpreneurs to develop their ideas over summer with the help of some NI’s leading entrepreneurs. See: http://www.generationinnovation.co.uk/#getinvolved

Feedback, questions, ideas? Drop me a tweet — @SMcBride_NI

Sarah McBride