x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Judges to grill youngsters on business plans

A four-day course in entrepreneurship gives 20 students a chance to get a head start in business.

Maryke Blick and Abbie McMillan compete in the Tsu'Chu Biz competition on Wednesday at Al Ain English Speaking School.
Maryke Blick and Abbie McMillan compete in the Tsu'Chu Biz competition on Wednesday at Al Ain English Speaking School.

AL AIN // Children as young as 11 are getting acquainted with entrepreneurship and establishing their own businesses in the UAE, thanks to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust Abu Dhabi (SSAT).

The SSAT, which is a service provider for the Abu Dhabi school system, is always looking for ways to enhance the educational experience for students, and when its officials heard about a mentoring organisation in the UK called Tsu'Chu Biz, they jumped at the chance to bring its knowledge to the UAE.

This week, Tsu'Chu Biz conducted its four-day course in entrepreneurship, business finance, teamwork, leadership, stress management and personal development at the Al Ain English Speaking School, hoping to stir up some creative juices.

Twenty students aged 12 to 15 used the knowledge they learned from the course to create their own business plan and presented it to a panel of five judges on Wednesday.

The winning idea belongs to The Healthy J's, four boys aged 14 and 15. Their plan is to reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes in the UAE by distributing healthy food in supermarkets.

They received a prize of Dh800 and will work with a Tsu'Chu business mentor to further develop their start-up.

"The boys had a business meeting this week with the chief executive of Lulu supermarket in Al Ain to bring in their healthy food to the store," said Tony Woodcock, one of the lead mentors at Tsu'Chu. "Whether their projects are viable or not we don't know, but it's got them thinking 'we can do this'; it boosts their confidence and opens a new world to them."

As part of their project, the students presented a business profile, their objectives and a marketing strategy, as well as their competitive advantages and selling points. They calculated their start-up and monthly fixed costs and projected their annual income.

One of the judges, Adham el Sebaey, the general manager of the Hilton hotel in Al Ain, said the children's presentations were "remarkable".

"They have a lot of talent and put in a lot of passion, time, effort and dedication," he said, adding that the winners had the best business model and creative idea.

"They all had such innovative ideas, but it came down to the idea that was most compatible with the UAE," said Lee Mitchell, a judge and the director of wellness at the American University of Sharjah.

The winning team is comprised of British students Jack Roberts, 15, and Josh Stevenson, 14, and Emirati students Mohammed Ahmad al Khemairi and Omar al Gubaisi, who are both 15.

"I thought it was good for our learning capabilities," said Josh. "I learnt mainly about being an entrepreneur and [that] teamwork and communication are key."

Jack said: "It was a great set-up and I'd like to carry the idea through until the end. Obviously it's good for making money, but at the same time we are solving a problem in the UAE."

Mohammed said he was happy with the outcome and that he wanted his own business some day - and he hoped it would be with the other Healthy J's.

Tsu'Chu, which was was founded three years ago in the UK, has conducted its course in a number of schools in Abu Dhabi during the past two years - including Al Asayel and Al Samha schools, Al Sarooj and Zayedia schools for girls, Al Falahiya school for boys and the Abu Dhabi Women's College - but wants to reach even more students in the country.

"In the UAE we're just starting, and we're now speaking to universities. We connect with football clubs and associations like the Khalifa Fund and SSAT who provide funding for the students, and we'd like to collaborate to keep this going, as it changes the children," Mr Woodcock said.

The Healthy J's will begin implementing their business by providing healthy lunch packs - including items such as pasta and apples - to their fellow students.

"The school encourages them to use their brains," Mr Woodcock said. "You've got a target market ... so it makes sense to start their business at school. These are not massive global businesses, but who knows in 10 years' time?"

cmalek@thenational.ae