A drive for entrepreneurship

Bernard Agius, business and innovation development manager, MCA.

Bernard Agius, business and innovation development manager, MCA.

Thursday, November 19 was no ordinary school day for 150 Form 5 students from 40 schools across Malta and Gozo. These students were the guests of honour at Budding Rockstars, an event that was aimed at igniting an entrepreneurship spark among the participants. Held at the Intercontinental Hotel, St Julian’s, the event was organised by the Malta Communications Authority in collaboration with the Edward de Bono Institute, Directorate for Educational Services, Catholic Education Secretariat, Takeoff Business Incubator, MITA Innovation Hub, Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Malta, BeSmartOnline and Culture Directorate.

The event consisted of a mix of discussion panels, presentations and interactive workshops, which stimulated creative thinking that led to some very interesting business ideas, in a short span of time. Ian Busuttil Naudi, popular television presenter and technology enthusiast, compered the event and also moderated the first panel discussion.

The first discussion panel featured three successful Maltese business leaders who shared their experiences on how it all started for them. Participants were provided with an interesting insight into the humble beginnings of 6PM Holdings plc, Webgenix Limited and Alert Group.

Kicking off the debate, Ivan Bartolo, founder of 6PM, emphasised the importance of passion and the need to put your heart behind your business. Bernard Schembri from Webgenix Limited shared his experience of growing an online business,, explaining how the pursuit of fun and his inquisitive and curious nature were the key drivers behind its growth. Claudine Cassar, Alert Group executive chairwoman, emphasised that drive and passion are what matter most. Citing Richard Branson, she stressed the need to get on board the opportunity bus and putting in the dose of energy required to make a business a success.

Following the discussion panel, Elisa Calleja from Otus took centre stage and shared her experience at MITA’s Innovation Hub working on the Majjistral Park app. Emphasising that one cannot learn everything from school, Calleja urged participants to reach out for the apples in the trees, rather than wait for them to fall. Alex Borg from MITA followed Calleja’s presentation with an overview of the Innovation Hub’s supporting role for start-ups, and how the hub contributes towards solving public service issues while offering a learning experience to its developers.

A second discussion panel followed and was moderated by Leonie Baldacchino. This session – Getting Down To Business – focused on the next steps and how budding rockstars can make their own success story. Kicking off the discussion, Bernard Agius, MCA business and innovation development manager, explained how the authority has also evolved with the times and has set up a whole new function that looks beyond technology and infrastructure but uses these to engender innovation and subsequent economic growth.

Nick Tonna, BMIT Limited chief commercial officer, explained the drive behind wanting to set up one’s own business as opposed to settling as someone else’s employee. While stressing that there’s nothing wrong in being an employee, Tonna linked entrepreneurship to a spirit that keeps you alive and allows you to do your own thing.

Emma Xuereb from Orange, a Junior Achievement Young Enterprise company, described her personal experience as hard work, yet also fun and rewarding particularly when you can witness your idea grow into something real. Closing off the round of comments, Anton Bartolo from Takeoff explained how entrepreneurship is in some ways a double-edged sword, where on one hand, it is easier because of the support systems available, yet on the other hand, it can be perceived to be more difficult because of increased competition.

Following the panel discussions, the students were invited to unleash their ideas through hands-on workshops on creativity and innovation, coordinated by staff and students from the Edward de Bono Institute. Working in groups, the students were coached towards developing and presenting new business ideas, leveraging on creative thinking tools to facilitate the process. As an output, each group was tasked with presenting their business idea on a single cardboard chart. These charts were then exhibited during lunch break and subjected to a peer voting contest to select the top three ideas.

Before the presentation of the top three ideas, Emma Gatt, Sophie Diacono and Alannah Xuereb from Orange took centre stage to present their story, a very successful endeavour in the 2014-2015 Junior Achievement Young Enterprise (JA-YE) Company Programme. On concluding their presentation, the three were joined on stage by their colleague Emma Xuereb and JA-YE Malta CEO Julian Azzopardi. A brief discussion panel ensued, moderated by Busuttil Naudi, where the benefits of the JA-YE experience on character formation and building business know-how were discussed.

For many, the subsequent idea pitch was the highlight of the day. This session shone a spotlight on the students behind the most voted ideas, giving these participants the opportunity to experience a business idea pitch in front of a live audience. Bernard Agius then closed off the day’s proceedings. Meanwhile, for the budding rockstars in attendance, the windows of opportunity remain wide open.

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