Young people handed the building blocks for bright business futures

Young people have been handed the building blocks for bright – and socially conscious – business futures thanks to an innovative learning programme in Leeds.

The Leeds City Council-funded BUILD Your Future programme took place over five days last week, hosted by Nexus, the University of Leeds’s innovation hub.

A total of 11 talented participants, aged between 16 and 22 and all from the Leeds City Region, were given expert insight into everything from design solutions to business case development.

The week also aimed to deliver improved self-awareness and self-belief for the young people, who were drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds and selected for the scheme following an application process that saw them each making a video about a major global challenge they were keen to tackle.

BUILD Your Future was inspired by BUILD, a 12-week accelerator programme for early stage start-ups and people with fledgling business ideas. Held earlier this year, BUILD was one of the interventions developed by a Leeds City Region senior leadership team that took part in the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP), run by the Sloan School of Management at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The young people who attended the BUILD Your Future programme at Nexus came away confident they now have the tools to make a positive, sustainable difference to society – by tackling problems such as food waste and poverty – through their own ideas and entrepreneurial spirit.

One of the participants, 17-year-old Faris Ahmed, from Leeds, said:

“It’s great to come to a programme where I can meet other young people with the same drive to change the world.  Now I know how I can bring this into my future career options and have learnt some new skills like design thinking which will help me bring an entrepreneurial mindset to what I do next.”

Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said:

“As a council, we are committed to giving people of all ages the opportunities they need to make the most of their talent, skills and potential.

“BUILD Your Future is an excellent example of this approach, with the young people taking part getting invaluable guidance from experts who are at the very top of their respective games.

“Let’s hope the lessons the participants have learned during the programme help them carve out their own success stories in the years to come.”

Speakers at last week’s sessions included a number of business founders who were on the BUILD start-up accelerator. Workshop content was produced and delivered by Claire Cockerton and Perdie Alder, serial entrepreneurs from Cockerton + Co. The team included teacher-turned-entrepreneur Tony Mallet, design thinking expert Adam Sutcliffe and Leeds City Council head of programme innovation Richelle Schuster.

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire stood in front of a group of young people on the BUILD programme taking a selfie

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, with the BUILD Your Future programme participants.

Sponsorship for BUILD Your Future came from infrastructure consulting firm AECOM and Nexus – a vibrant community for entrepreneurs and innovators located on the University of Leeds campus, providing bespoke support to help businesses innovate, scale and grow.

Dr Martin Stow, chairman and director of Nexus and MIT Team Leeds City Region champion, said:

“Nexus is really proud to support the BUILD Your Future programme. We have been inspired by the enthusiasm and innovation shown by the young people who took part in this programme and we hope they in turn have been inspired by the advice and support received, to develop those innovations and generate new ideas and business models.

“Growing our base of innovation-driven entrepreneurs through inclusive innovation is critical to the growth of our local economy and I’m delighted that the Nexus community can be an active and valuable part of that mission to inspire the next generation of innovators.”

Professor Nick Plant, deputy vice-chancellor: research and innovation at the University of Leeds, said:

“This collaborative programme has enabled ambitious young people from diverse backgrounds to develop confidence, connections and entrepreneurial skills – tools they can use to grow their careers and help build a better world. We congratulate them on their success and look forward to seeing what they achieve in years to come.”

Special guests on the final day of BUILD Your Future included the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, who spoke to the young people about their experiences on the programme.

She also met with members of the Nexus community to learn more about how they are harnessing expertise at the University of Leeds to scale business innovation and growth.

Demonstrations of latest innovations and projects included contactless pedestrian crossing software, a tool for measuring unconscious biases and digital city simulation technology that can be applied to mobility and environmental challenges facing the West Yorkshire region.

Speaking after her visit, Ms Brabin said:

“Both Nexus and the BUILD programme are contributing to our region’s ambitions for innovation. Providing established businesses, start-ups and young people with the opportunity to develop an idea with academic support, access to specialist facilities and structured programmes to instil the confidence for innovators to pursue their ambitions.

“It was inspiring to hear from young people who are so passionate about tackling some of the most challenging issues of our time, from sustainability and the climate emergency to health and addressing poverty. The summer camp is supporting the next generation and nurturing those with a passion and desire to create a better future.

“We need to continue to create opportunities for future generations to make a positive change in the world and I am committed to supporting any way in which we can do that in the region.”

Last week’s programme was run as a pilot and is now set to inform future work – led by ide@, the name for the Leeds City Region team which took part in REAP at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – that will strengthen the region’s innovation ecosystem and its pipeline of diverse business founders. REAP is designed to help regions accelerate economic growth through innovation-driven entrepreneurship.