Bishop Fleming’s Mark Smith looks back at his time as a Young Enterprise Business Adviser.

In September 2016, I was presented with the opportunity to become a Young Enterprise Business Adviser for the school year. As someone who had taken part in the scheme while at secondary school and now, in my role as a qualified accountant at Bishop Fleming, looking to develop my personal and professional skills, I was keen to get involved.

One of the challenges facing the Young Enterprise board was the lack of schools and colleges in the North Devon area taking part in the scheme. For 2016/17, only one school – Ilfracombe Academy – had signed up and it was hoped that by demonstrating the benefits to the school, students and local business, it would encourage other establishments to join the following year. I live in Barnstaple and commute to the office in Exeter daily so the school’s proximity to home made Ilfracombe a suitable choice for me to offer my support as a business adviser. Bishop Fleming have also been very supportive of me and the scheme by enabling me to work from home on those days to minimise the impact on my role within the Corporate and Business Services department.

Luckily for the Young Enterprise board, I was joined by another adviser from North Devon but, as there was only one school signed up, we shared the role. This was an effective arrangement as it was the school’s first year taking part in the scheme and it was also the first year for both myself and the other business adviser – we would all be learning together.

The first meeting at the school went well; the students and staff were enthusiastic, already had a clear idea of what they wanted to do and valued our support and advice. This proved to be a good foundation for the year ahead as the team (Wood On Waves) went from strength to strength developing their products – custom-designed wooden body boards and paintings on wood – and had a successful few trade fairs selling to the public in Exeter city centre. They received a great deal of positive (and constructive) feedback from the judges and customers and used this to further improve their product and brand. They also picked up an award for customer service which was testament to their enthusiasm, belief and confidence in their company and product.

The journey was not without challenges; at times the meetings were poorly attended or cancelled due to the demands of their studies, their sales struggled during the winter (due to the nature of their product) and the bespoke nature of their product made it difficult to meeting demands quickly when the orders did increase. However, the encouragement and support the students received from the school and business advisers as well as their own motivation to succeed saw them through the challenges and they soon found themselves preparing for the final with a great deal of confidence.

At the final last week, held at the Met Office in Exeter, the team impressed the judges with their trade stand which was filled with a colourful range of bodyboards and paintings. Their polished presentation also appealed to the judges, which led to them picking up an award for best presentation on the night. They placed top three in each category, and came second overall behind a clever product – a Devon-themed colouring book and tourist guide – which I’m confident will do well at the national finals next month. It was quite a debut for Ilfracombe Academy; the team and school were thrilled and it was great to see their hard work and creativity recognised. I was proud to be part of their journey and I gained a lot from it too; I’ve developed my communication and people skills as well as my creative side through helping the team with design and marketing challenges.

Last week’s regional final was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great opportunity for local schools and students to showcase their skills and talents. For me, it was inspiring to see so many embracing the Young Enterprise programme and the input from local businesses and business advisers was also appreciated. I’m glad to hear that other schools from across Devon are eager to get involved and the success of Ilfracombe Academy’s team has hopefully encouraged more from the North Devon area to take part.

Young Enterprise is one of the many CSR activities that Bishop Fleming actively support and the skills and experience I have gained as part of the scheme has brought much benefit to my role within the firm and I would encourage anyone who is interested in developing their own skills and supporting local students to get involved.

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