Last week I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Ben Dyer, Co-Founder of The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge. Launched in 2013, The National Enterprise Challenge has delivered to over 140,000 young people from over 200 schools in the UK, giving them the opportunity to take on challenges set by real-life businesses. The campaign has previously worked with businesses such as Alton Towers, NCS and this year they have partnered with Rymans. The National Enterprise Challenge has also been fronted by some amazing ambassadors, from Lord Sugar in its first year to Former Dragon, Theo Paphitis.
In this expert interview, Ben will share the driving forces behind the creation of The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge and the aims of the program.
Getting to know Ben Dyer
Can you tell us about how The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge began?
The company is called The Inspirational Learning Group and The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge is what we are most well known for. It began in 2013 when me and my brother, Michael, were in a coffee shop and we overheard two gents saying that young people don’t have the skills they require for the world of work. At the time this was something that everyone was talking about, it was in the news, yet no one was doing anything about it. So, we set about deciding what we could do to help this growing issue and that’s when we came up with The National Enterprise Challenge.
What does the challenge involve and how does it help to engage young people?
The challenge is like a larger scale version of the TV show The Apprentice. For example, imagine that we have 200 students in a room at a school, all of those students will be split into teams of 6 where we then set them a real-life business challenge set by the likes of Ryman and Alton Towers. The students are then guided by our expert team and videos, including a message from our ambassador Theo Paphitis, on how to complete the task throughout the day. The day then culminates in the form of a presentation and the winning team goes through to our national final where they have the chance to represent their school.
Our national finals take place every summer. Each year it has been more and more challenging, this year we will have 1750 people at our national finals so it’s definitely a logistics exercise, but we are now attuned to putting on larger scale events.
We always event manage everything from start to finish, trying to make it special for everyone who attends, and we always get good feedback around this. Michael and I very rarely get to visit the schools these days, therefore when we attend final events not many people know who we are, hence it’s really nice to speak to all of the teachers.
What kind of activities does The National Enterprise Challenge involve, do they have to submit a business plan?
Effectively when students are participating in The National Enterprise Challenge, they are creating a business plan through looking at things like customer profiling and marketing. The main thing that the students do is a pitch for their idea, so the judging is more based on that. This year Ryman have set the challenge for students to create a new back to school campaign and we take the students through how they would go about completing this task.
At the age of 14-15 years old, these are really good tasks to be set because they’re professional challenges and it’s also giving students a lot of responsibility. In a lot of the videos, you’ve also got the CEO or someone senior from Ryman which I think is so important because it reinforces that it isn’t a make-believe challenge and that it’s something real that businesses like Ryman take onboard.
Another example of a great challenge that we had a few years back was for the students to design the ultimate pencil case and the winning product was actually sold in Ryman stores.
One thing that I adore about your challenge is that it is very inclusive of all individuals, irrespective of social background which is something very important to me as I grew up in a working-class area in a council high-rise flat, why do you think inclusiveness is so important?
I too came from a similar background, growing up in a council house in Stoke-On-Trent, where my family relied on benefits so growing up was tough and you had to do a lot to stand out, but you also had to do a lot to get by. For example, I loved going to watch Stoke City play football when I was younger, and I still remember selling half-time draw tickets when I was 12 and 13 just to get a free ticket for the match so I could watch the game, so I understand what it’s like for some young people to go home every night and feel a bit downtrodden.
This is why The National Enterprise Challenge is a fantastic platform for all students, not just those going to the top universities, but for everyone to develop basic skills such as communication, teamwork and confidence. This will help them to go far, and we’re not saying that everyone will become an entrepreneur, we’re just saying for people to be the best that they can be and hopefully The National Enterprise Challenge inspires students to do that.
I think the main thing that we have to realise is that everybody is the same, we’re all people. You can use your human qualities and communicate your ideas, you can get your point across, but you can also be sincere. Many people think it’s a cliché, but the main thing is to just be yourself and be a generally nice person and show your passion because then you can really go anywhere. I mean who would have thought that we would have ever been able to work with amazing people like Lord Sugar and Theo Paphitis?
If we relate The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge to sales, how on earth did you get Lord Sugar and now Theo Paphitis on board?
I would say that the first rule of selling anything is that you need to be passionate about what you do, and we are absolutely passionate about the subject matter, we could honestly speak all day about how young people have got skills and how it’s all about harnessing them. We were able to build a relationship with Lord Sugar as we had links with Claire Young from The Apprentice, we got in touch with her and shared our idea, so the challenge was born from that and Lord Sugar fronted the campaign for its first year.
The partnership with Theo and Ryman came about later as we wanted someone who had a link to young people and obviously Theo had the link with Ryman’s stationary. We spoke to their Marketing Director who probably wasn’t keen on taking a gamble on the idea, which again I understand, so the second time around, we approached the Marketing Director and said that Lord Sugar had done it the first year and that we wanted Theo. We gave them a week to decide and thankfully they said yes. Ryman and Theo have both been absolutely great for the challenge, it’s a great association and it works well for all parties. Theo is fantastic with young people so it’s been brilliant.
I would like to thank Ben for sharing his journey of the creation of The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge so far. Ben and Michael have done a fantastic job, from starting in a coffee shop to be a nation-wide program. They have created a brilliant business which emphasises the importance of developing young people’s skills in a real-life context, something that I feel is very important in today’s society.
For more information about this amazing challenge, head over to www.nationalenterprisechallenge.co.uk.
If you would like to read more blogs and Expert Interviews from inspirational individuals such as Steven Smith (the Founder of Poundland), Simon Crowther (the Founder of Flood Protection Solutions) and Anita Jaynes (Founder of The Business Exchange magazine), click here!