Following on from the success of the TICE Insight day, this Explore day saw Burnside Business & Enterprise College students experience a valuable day in the ever-expanding world of digital business. Over the course of just a few hours, the group were able to get fully involved in two key hubs of business acceleration for the North-East, both located right in the heart of the Newcastle city centre. Through a blend of individual and team qualities, and the support of reputable figures in the digital business world, these students really seized the opportunity to properly “Explore” this industry; in a scheme that we hope can help them develop into the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Kicking off the session at Campus North was our very own Enterprise Mentor, Lee Casey, who organised the day for the students. Throughout Lee’s presentation, the group identified and discussed the key areas of Creative Digital Enterprise, including businesses that incorporate the likes of theatre and the arts, tech, fashion and music. The students very quickly relaxed into their new surroundings, with the entire group contributing to the discussion throughout the morning.

On hand to help were the lovely Campus North staff, who took us on a detailed tour of the Campus facilities. Experts in promoting the thriving entrepreneurial community, Campus North offers a flexible, co-operative work space for a whole host of digital and tech businesses, and is recognised as the place to be for start-up and established digital enterprises alike. Our 15 students were really taken with the quirkiness of the Campus workspace, which carried a Google-like feel of laissez-faire homeliness- a great place to work, with a real sense of community.

Once back in the presentation suite, Lee tasked the group with their mission for the day: to work in teams to come up with an innovative idea for a digital business of their own. Starting out with a preliminary brainstorm, before narrowing their ideas down to just one, our teams had some truly brilliant business ideas: from fidget-bits that charge your smart phone, to an app that shows rendered 3D models of how you’d look in your new clothes, BEFORE you’ve even ordered them!

Popping in to inspire the teams with their entrepreneurial stories was creator of Fandangle Films, Peter Banks and Plan Digital’s Paul Lancaster. A graduate of the Ladders programme, Peter’s multi-skilled range as an editor, producer and occasional actor is something he’s been able to incorporate into Fandangle Films. Establishing his own film company has enabled Peter to work on his passion project, “Door To Door”, an original sitcom that Peter aims to one day make into a major TV series. A talented filmmaker with a bright future ahead of him, Peter’s story is one that our group of students can take real inspiration from for their own budding careers.

Known as the “Super Collaborator” of the North-East, Paul Lancaster then described his career path in digital enterprise, and explained the importance of building connections in an industry where who you know, can be just as crucial as what you know. To hear how even a small amount of networking can build great future contacts was great info. for the group to pick up, as Paul told of his rise into major influence in the wider Newcastle tech community. On top of sharing his experiences, Paul also recommended the group attend Newcastle Start Up Week in May, a 5 day event that gathers the regions entrepreneurs and encourages new businesses with a wealth of guidance, advice and invaluable networking opportunities.

With our time at Campus North all but over, we made our way down to the quayside, to pay a visit to Entrepreneurial Sparks. Known as one the world’s largest accelerators of start-up and scale-up businesses, Entrepreneurial Sparks offer free business support to up-and-coming enterprises. In 2016 alone, they created 3152 jobs in the UK, supporting 1736 companies, and best of all: creating a whopping 85% 1st year survival rate for their new supported enterprises. As if to demonstrate their exemplary ability to mentor and teach, Entrepreneurial Sparks staff led a Pitching Masterclass for our student teams, including live examples displayed by current, local SMEs. Why the demonstrations? Because less than 15 minutes later, our teams would be delivering a short pitch, explaining their business idea, the research to back it up, and why we should “invest” attention or capital in their product or service.

Having seen the experts at work, the teams were keen to get to it, and, after just a few minutes planning, were ready to present their pitches to the whole group. As stated by the mentors, pitching and any kind of public speaking can feel scary at first; however, practise is the best way to deal with those fears. Not to worry! Professional as you like, all our teams stood up one-by-one and pitched in front of the others, delivering confidently and precisely about just what made their product stand out from the crowd. What was particularly mentioned beforehand was the idea of a “hook”, a message or statement at the start of the pitch that would grab the audience’s attention. This was something our teams really followed through with, as all pitches were captivating and engaging from the start!

Massive thanks to all the staff at both Campus North and Entrepreneurial Sparks, who were kind enough to give their time to provide local college students with a superb insight into the world of digital business. To take an initial brainstorm of ideas, and turn that thought-shower into one innovative, new idea is a real challenge to take on, and all our teams did an amazing job. We look forward to next time now, where the groups will develop their ideas even further at the Glass Works in Sunderland!