Robert Clack School in Dagenham has worked with Future First since 2013. They have a fully established Alumni Association and recently launched their Alumni Academy, which will support students aspiring to be entrepreneurs.
The Academy’s programme involves a series of modules through which alumni work with students. Guest lecturers include a recent leaver (class of 2016) who sells self-made clothes; former students established in a range of business areas including finance, coaching, marketing, communications, law and accountancy; and a friend of an ex-student who has developed an exciting online gaming business and café.
Together with trustee, Michael Jeffrey, Neville McKay, partner in Aon Hewitt (a global leader in human resource solutions) and supporter of the school, was involved in designing and rolling out the very first Alumni Academy. Here, Neville shares some thoughts on the first few weeks of this exciting project.
How did you go about designing the content for the Alumni Academy programme? What areas did you want to cover?
We wanted the course to be interactive – to allow the students to progress their business ideas in a supportive environment. At the same time, we wanted to teach them new skills, e.g. how to obtain finance and how to develop a business plan. As a result, we broke the course down into seven modules covering the core skills required of a successful entrepreneur. Each module is delivered by an expert in that field, often both a former pupil of Robert Clack and an entrepreneur in his or her own right.
Tell us a bit about the speakers – what skills and experience do they bring to the Academy?
The first module was designed to introduce and inspire the students to entrepreneurship. We were extremely fortunate to have three successful entrepreneurs with different experiences. Jason left school and joined the police force. Eight years later, he saw a gap in the gaming market and took the plunge. He now runs a business with a multi-million pound turnover. Daniel learned his trade in financial services and then successfully set up his own mortgage advisory business. Yemi (who only left Robert Clack in the summer) has her online clothing business specialising in combining African prints with western clothing. Subsequent speakers so far have been experts in business development, financing, sales and marketing.
And what about our first tranche of entrepreneur students – what are their business ambitions?
The students had to apply to attend the Academy. In doing so, they had to show they had a credible business idea, and the drive and enthusiasm to develop it into a credible business proposition. The business ideas of the students are varied and include: solar-powered portable chargers; accounting services; and music events for young teenagers.
What have you enjoyed most about the Academy so far?
The combination of the expertise of the speakers and the enthusiasm of the pupils have been the greatest successes to date. The speakers have been superb. Despite their busy schedules as successful business men and women, they have prepared thoroughly and engaged with the pupils most effectively. The majority, being ex-pupils themselves, are clearly driven to do their very best for current pupils of Robert Clack. This is a joy to observe. The pupils are very fortunate to be exposed to such experience and expertise. Fortunately, they know and appreciate it.
And what are the hopes and plans for the Academy going forward?
The pupils have now been exposed to a number of new ideas and concepts. They have been given challenges to work through and techniques to practise. We now need to build on this by completing the technical content of the course and then giving the pupils time and support to develop their business ideas. This will be a very big challenge for them but we are optimistic that they will be enthused to give it their very best. The students will undoubtedly encounter many hurdles on their personal journeys. Let’s hope they learn much in the process – including resilience and determination – in preparation for future, hard won success.