By Mariane Cavalli, Principal and Chief Executive at Warwickshire College

Liverpool teenager Aaron Booth wanted to start his own business, selling cakes and other desserts from a mobile stall, but was stumped as to where he could raise the finance to begin.

Luckily, help came from a rather well known benefactor. Sir Richard Branson met Aaron, one of over 200 students attending the high profile Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Liverpool as part of a national programme delivered by Gazelle, a group of Further Education College principals dedicated to harnessing entrepreneurship as a strategic driver for change in the sector. Sir Richard listened to Aaron’s business pitch and was so inspired by his passion that he gave him £200 on the spot to start up.

Sir Richard was speaking at the Entrepreneurial Leadership Programme for Further Education Colleges - a programme of activity during the Congress, that involved some of Britain’s top entrepreneurs, including Gazelle Entrepreneurs Lara Morgan, founder of Pacific Direct and Company Shortcuts; Luke Johnson, former chairman of Pizza Express and Financial Times columnist; and Penny Power, founder of Ecademy.

Listening to Sir Richard speak at the event was an inspiration. He is a passionate advocate for helping young people to start up in business, and clearly, he puts his money where his mouth is. My students agree — they have said that the opportunity to talk with Sir Richard, the confidence they gained from being with like minded people, and the chance to take part in Penny Power's bootcamp - was the best and most uplifting of their life.

Sir Richard embodies the entrepreneurial sprit that Gazelle is striving to instill in students at Further Education Colleges across the UK. His ‘screw it, let’s do it’ philosophy is admirable and shows a ‘learning by doing’ approach that is the cornerstone of what Gazelle is all about.

This ethos is why Gazelle was named the Enterprise Education Partner of the GEC — the largest gathering of startup champions in the world — and has worked with one of the most successful entrepreneurs on earth.

Gazelle is committed to creating colleges where the ethos, values and culture is distinctively geared towards wealth creation, business formation and growth and employment outcomes. As Gazelle Principals, we believe that entrepreneurs have a vital contribution to make in college systems to encourage students to make jobs, not just take jobs.

At the GEC we also launched a landmark new report called ‘Enterprising Futures: The changing landscape and new possibilities for further education’. This report states the importance of colleges moving away from classroom-based teaching and recognising the importance of work-based practice and experience.

In this time of skyrocketing unemployment, it is no longer enough to teach our students the skills to simply be an employee — whether that’s an engineer, hairdresser or caterer. For instance, hairdressers need to learn not only how to cut hair, but also how to run a salon.

Our education system is built for a different age and so our Further Education colleges must take a new holistic approach, so that young people can build their own businesses around their specialist vocation. We will be working hard to implement these practices by giving students the chance to develop enterprising creative skills in real commercial settings.

This way, we will fill the gaps in the skill set of the next generation and make sure that young people like Aaron are self sufficient, empowered and equipped with the can-do attitude that will help them to achieve their dreams.

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