Young Enterprise: A Sir John Todd favourite still going strong after 40 years

Sir John presenting at the awards

Sir John presenting at the awards

Terry Shubkin, CEO of the Young Enterprise Trust, remembers feeling quite nervous the first time she met long-time supporter, the late Sir John Todd.

But as those who knew Sir John, a founding trustee of the Todd Foundation and board chair for 28 years, there was no need to feel nervous: he had a knack for putting people at ease.

“I actually called my friend beforehand to say how nervous I was about meeting him,” recalls Terry.

“But when I walked in, he just made me so comfortable. He was fabulous!”

Young Enterprise, which supports secondary school students to set up their own businesses and develop an entrepreneurial mindset, was very close to Sir John’s heart. His long and active involvement included bringing the Todd Corporation on-board as a sponsor from 1998 to 2016. He also served as a member of the Young Enterprise supporters’ council and he regularly attended the annual award ceremony for the organisation’s flagship programme, the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES). Each YES company creates their own product or service and brings it to market during the school year.

After Sir John’s passing in 2015 the Todd Foundation created the Sir John Todd Memorial Grant – a funding relationship with Young Enterprise that began in 2017.

Sir John’s belief in the importance of Young Enterprise has proved to be well placed. Since it was set up 40 years ago, more than 150,000 secondary school students have been involved in the programme, and the list of successful YES alumni is constantly growing.

They include Brooke and Leighton Roberts who helped set up online share investing platform Sharesies, Nick Hyland and Jacksen Love who set up scooter and bike-share company Flamingo Scooters, Natalie Whittaker, founder of GiveaLittle, and Alexia Hilbertidou, CEO of GirlBoss which encourages more girls to study STEM subjects.

Even if they don’t go on to become successful business people after they leave school, YES participants gain many other useful skills, such as confidence, resilience and a belief in themselves.

“For some kids, it's just about making them work-ready and world-ready,” says Terry.

A recent report looking at the social impact of YES found that it produced $5.80 of measurable social return for every dollar spent. Participants had improved mental health, a higher level of achievement and they were less likely to take part in risky behaviour.

The types of businesses YES participants set up has changed over the years. Terry says there’s now an increasing emphasis on environmental, cultural and social sustainability. Levi Scott, whose company Upcycled Plastics won the 2022 Sir John Todd Memorial Prize, for example, recycled more than 600kg of used plastic bottles in a plant he built in his garage.

As Terry points out, technological changes over the last few decades have also changed the way that YES participants do business.

“Who would have thought, 40 years ago, you could have high school students selling their products globally?”