A sympathetic dragon’s den

Andrew Devenport, Youth Business International’s CEO, explains how emotional support can often be more useful than funding in a young entrepreneur's career path

Could you explain the aim and structure of Youth Business International (YBI)?

Andrew Devenport: YBI is a global network comprised of 46 different local organisations that all help young people to start and grow their own business and create employment. What we believe is that, if you’re going to work with young entrepreneurs, you’ve got to be locally relevant – so all our members provide local support, with local people.

Across all the organisations, we share best practice around things like mentoring or training, and also offer a common IT system which helps greatly to reduce the cost in supporting entrepreneurs. We work together with a number of international funders, building partnerships that span the world, with multinational corporations and public sector organisations. We campaign together, and we celebrate together.

YBI is present all over the world… is there anywhere, geographically, that you would cite as a particular success story?

AD: Our Canadian organisation Futurpreneur is a good one. They have an extremely strong relationship with the Canadian Government, and support over 500 entrepreneurs a year in a very diverse set of circumstances, across a very large country.

Does geography play into what kind of services you offer the young business owners?

AD: Yes, it absolutely does. In fact, I would say generally the more developed the economy is, the more focused or narrow the work is. In the UK, for example, the young people that come to us are already financially literate and have a good sense of what it means to start and grow a business. In a developing country, quite often our members are involved in training large numbers of people about the idea of entrepreneurship first.

A sign of a good entrepreneur is someone that's passionate about the idea of their business, rather than the money they can make from it

Andrew Devenport, CEO, YBI

How do you go about selecting entrepreneurs to provide assistance to?

AD: Generally what happens is that there is a process by which a business plan is identified, and a young entrepreneur is assessed for their capabilities. It’s a little bit like a very sympathetic version of Dragon’s Den.

We’re serious about trying to start real businesses that are sustainable and that will grow. I think one of the most difficult things to do, particularly for young people starting a business without support, is to develop themselves the same time as they develop their business. That's why our mentoring relationships are so important – often, members say that they find them more useful than any financial assistance that we can offer.

Are there any common characteristics that you see in people that have become successful entrepreneurs?

AD: That's a good question. Personally, I would say a good sign is somebody being passionate about the idea of their business, rather than the money they can make from it. Another important attribute is somebody who is prepared to accept that they don't necessarily know everything. There are circumstances when they’re better off getting other people to help them. We’ve done research that found that, on day one of the YBI process, most of our young entrepreneurs think that the financial aid is more important than the mentoring. A year later, the majority “I know my business, give me the money, the mentor is not so important”. A year on, the majority considered the most important thing was the mentor.

YBI has an upcoming roadshow in the UAE, which culminates in an event in Dubai. Why did you choose the UAE for this year’s event?

AD: It’s actually our first time having this event in the Middle East. We wanted to showcase our Young Entrepreneur Award winners to a new audience and inspire other people in UAE. We hope to use it as a way to encourage entrepreneurship in UAE but also, given Dubai’s hub role, to build partnerships that can have a broader MENA reach.

The YBI roadshow will take place across the UAE from 8-11 March. For more information, visit http://www.youthbusiness.org/