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Yes they can

JA-YE Malta CEO Julian Azzopardi tells Veronica Stivala how the Young Enterprise programme has inspired some of Malta’s successful business owners and senior managers.

Have you ever heard of stress-free studying? You may have heard of DistractMe, an app that encourages students to make revision an integral part of their everyday use of phones, tablets and laptops. The app enables users to test themselves in an innovative way, doing away with the stress often associated with studying.

The app won Concentr8 – a Young Enterprise company made up of eight sixth form students from St Aloysius College – first place as Company of the Year at the Junior Achievement (Young Enterprise) awards last year.

This is just one example of the many success stories of young people being positively encouraged and pushed to become successful entrepreneurs, think creatively, and even just gain the experience of working together in a business team.

Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise (JA-YE) Europe is Europe’s largest provider of entrepreneurship education programmes. In 2013, it reached 3.2 million students in 39 countries. Funded by businesses, institutions, foundations and individuals, JA-YE brings the public and private sectors together to provide young people in primary and secondary schools and early university with experiences that promote the skills, understanding and perspective that they will need to succeed in a global economy.

JA-YE partners with schools and the business community. The programmes range from primary school through to university. In Malta, JA-YE Malta offers a number of programmes at different stages of the education system. At primary level, the Our Community programme encourages students aged seven to start under-standing how money within a community is distributed through business transactions, employment and taxation. It is also the youngsters’ first foray into understanding how various elements of a community are related and contribute to generating wealth and income for those who livein that community.

At the secondary level, three programmes are offered. The Europe My Business programme enables Form 1 and Form 2 students to start understanding the way supplies and products are sourced and distributed between various countries in Europe. Next is Enterprise in Action for Form 4 students and the Social and Innovation Challenge for Form 5 students. These two programmes enable students to engage with their peers in generating ideas for a business concept and solutions to a local issue in an innovative manner.

Our methodology brings to life what is being taught on paper

At post-secondary level JA-YE offers its flagship Company Programme that has been running successfully for over 25 years.

The Company Programme gives first year sixth form students the opportunity to start-up and manage a mini-company under the JA-YE name and engage directly with suppliers, investors and clients in the attempt to become the Company of the Year,” JA-YE Malta CEO Julian Azzopardi says.

The winners then compete in a European competition which Malta has already won four times and is superseded only by the five titles won by the UK.

Finally at tertiary level JA-YE has introduced the Start-Up Programme. This offers university students the opportunity to develop a business concept that will ultimately be in the running to win €15,000 in seed capital as well as professional mentoring to develop the concept into an actual business.

Learning about business in a fun way is key to JA-YE’s approach.

“JA-YE Malta focuses the delivery of its programmes on learning through play and learning by doing,” explains Azzopardi. This is a progression model that ensures the learning outcomes targeted in a first level programme are built upon as the students’ progress through the programmes offered.

“Our methodology brings to life what is being taught on paper through an experiential activity that is delivered by our business partners and volunteers. This brings the knowledge of the business world directly to the classroom.”

Furthermore, the programmes are based on developing skills that are relevant to the business world and labour market.

“We do this by assessing the students’ current skill set and enabling them to become aware of what they are capable of,” Azzopardi says.

“Throughout the years of JA-YE programme delivery, a number of youths that have gone through the rigorous process of running a mini-business in the Company Programme have become business owners today or are among the senior management echelon of the industry they have chosen,” Azzopardi says. These vary from IT companies and retail businesses to the hospitality industry and manufacturing.

This year’s projects vary from mobile apps to physical products which target health, the environment, nutrition, mobility and others providing practical products and services that facilitate life at home and for social occasions.

This year’s finals, which will be held on May 9 at the Portomaso Business Tower in St Julian’s, will offer the 13 remaining teams the last opportunity to convince the independent judging panel that they deserve to win the Company of the Year title.

Of course, there are challenges that young Maltese entrepreneurs face in setting up their own business. One of the main factors Azzopardi sees that hinders youth in taking the necessary steps towards starting a business is an understanding of risk and the fear of failure. This is what JA-YE works so hard on tackling.

“Through our programmes we try and instil confidence in the participants to take difficult decisions, discuss the results critically, and impart knowledge on how to turn failure into a positive learning experience and success.”

Apart from this there are still many bureaucratic hurdles. However, through their participation in JA-YE programmes, young entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to go through these steps under the guidance of JA-YE’s dedicated and experienced business advisors and mentors.

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