Dragon’s Den for care leavers? Unusual event invests in young people’s ambitions

Charity Youth At Risk encouraged care leavers and homeless young people to pitch for investment in their future careers

Photo: Image Source/REX (posed by models)

A young woman sits in front of four people. Her goal: to inspire them to invest their money in her ideas. Sound familiar?

If it sounds like a scenario from BBC’s Dragon’s Den, that’s because it nearly is. The four investors even call themselves ‘dragons’, have scales and breathe fire (well, the first is true). Young people pitch them their ideas, which they need investment to carry out.

However, these dragons don’t have huge piles of money stacked in front of them as they menacingly put the young woman on the spot, and nor is she pitching for tens of thousands of pounds investment for a high flying business.

Jade, 19, is a care leaver. She’s pitching for a modest £145 to start a YouTube channel where she can give people lessons in GCSE maths.

Investing in aspirations

This Dragon’s Den-style event was held earlier this month as part of a programme delivered by the charity Youth At Risk. Taking part were six young people all pitching for money to enrich their lives and give back to their community.

Working with care leavers and young people who have suffered homelessness, the event is part of the charity’s method for working with young people: to invest in their internal thinking, aspirations and future, rather than working on the ‘problem’ they present with.

“It’s VERY different,” Jade tells me emphatically after her bid was successful. “I have never done anything like this before, so it was nice to have that experience. If I wasn’t on this programme, I would not be doing anything like that.”

The young people who took part worked with life coaches to devise business plans and pitches, which Youth At Risk used crowd-sourced money to invest in.

Inspired

Jade’s is going to use the money to gather resources to make her YouTube channel a success. She was inspired by the number of media channels there were giving her advice during her A Levels, yet noticed a gap in resources for GCSE students.

“I know quite a lot of young people who haven’t managed to get their GCSE and are looking to get it, and that was the inspiration”.

Claire Rogerson, one of the ‘dragons’, says the young people were understandably nervous, but gained vital skills they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to learn.

“It was a big deal for them and they were young to be doing this kind of thing. We weren’t intimidating or horrid and we didn’t have bags of cash on the tables. But we did press them. If they weren’t clear about something, they were questioned about that and they had to come up with something to show that it wasn’t full of holes and [would] be executed well,” Rogerson says.

Too much to handle?

What about concerns this could be too much for the young people to handle? Rogerson admits some of the young people arrived at the event adamant they weren’t going to pitch due to nerves, but says they were all convinced in the end, and happily so.

Barbara pitched for money to learn the piano so she could give cheaper lessons to others. She won the money to buy her own keyboard, but confessed to worrying about what would have happened if she hadn’t been awarded the money.

“That would probably bring me down a lot, but it is a good experience if you don’t put your hopes high too much. You go in there with an open mind and knowing you could get it and you could not get it,” she says.

“Something to try and achieve”

Jamie pitched for the money to pay for his Security Industry Authority badge when he completes a course to become a doorman.

“It was very Dragon’s Den,” he says. When you went up there you thought to yourself ‘this is quite nerve racking’, but I think when you actually get in there and explain what you’re there for you feel quite comfortable because they make you feel welcome.”

He is full of praise for the unusual approach: “It gave us something to try and achieve rather than just them giving it to us on a plate. It was like an interview for a job, so it gives you more confidence.”

Although not the most conventional way to work with young people, Rogerson believes it works: “I think that’s a very good lesson for them. If you work for it you will be rewarded, but you do have to put the effort in yourself. Nobody else can do it for you.”

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