The Young Ones

A new generation of entrepreneurs are turning their business dreams to reality. Amanda Poole looks at the support available and meets our budding tycoons.

Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well among young people in Northern Ireland. Depressing youth unemployment statistics and tales of young men and women leaving our shores for work overseas does paint part of the picture, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

Across Northern Ireland, young people are coming up with business ideas all the time and working hard to make them a reality. Enterprise minister Arlene Foster told Business Month the success stories of our young entrepreneurs “give us all hope for the future” and she wants to encourage more young people to start a business.

She said: “Although young people often face many obstacles when they set out, entrepreneurship is a viable career option. It promotes innovation and resilience as it encourages young people to find new solutions, ideas and ways of doing things through experience-based learning.

“We need to support and encourage more young entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland as they have a huge role to play in growing our future economy.

“This involves finding ways to unleash the entrepreneurial potential of young people to generate ideas, expand innovation and create jobs.”

The minister said Invest NI has a range of initiatives to encourage young people, including those not in employment, education or training, to think about enterprise, including business start-up opportunities.

Their ‘Go for It’ campaign aims to encourage more people to think about starting a business, inform them of the support available and help to make starting a business a real and viable possibility.

The minister added: “Building on the existing support to young people who are thinking about starting a business, a specific initiative has recently been developed within Invest NI’s Jobs Fund which provides a £1,500 incentive grant to young people not in employment, education or training [NEET].

“In the last six months, 171 offers of business incentive grants have been made to young people not in employment, education or training, who have completed a business plan with support from Invest NI and who are taking the new business forward.”

Meanwhile, Young Enterprise is connecting young people, business volunteers and educators, to inspire each other to succeed through enterprise.

The business and enterprise education charity works with more than 95,000 primary and post primary students each year in Northern Ireland. They are supported by more than 1,000 business volunteers from corporate supporters such as Ulster Bank, Tata Steel, Allianz, BT and Bank of Ireland.

A spokeswoman told Business Month: “All Young Enterprise programmes complement the curriculum and benefit our future economy by empowering students who experience first-hand the dynamic culture of contemporary business organisations.

“This innovative approach is designed to kickstart our achievers’ entrepreneurial creativity, inspiring them to become future business leaders and igniting that spark that can lead to enterprise creation.”

James McCullagh

James McCullagh emerged as a business star of the future from series two of the BBC’s The Young Apprentice. The charismatic teenager is currently studying for A-levels in economics, English, Spanish, and biology at Loreto College, Coleraine.

He describes himself as a risk taker and a natural businessman and was tipped by judge Nick Hewer to be a future First Minister of Northern Ireland.

James (17) told Business Month he has big plans for the future, beginning with a gap year this September, before university.

“The Young Apprentice was a learning curve for me,” James said. “I’ve always been a massive fan of Lord Sugar.

“Meeting him was quite surreal. He taught me a lot. His feedback was invaluable and Nick Hewer is amazing too.

“I didn’t start off very well, because I went into it with the wrong mindset, but I learned how to work as part of a team, and how to lead a team and manage people.”

James said he knows what his skills and weaknesses are and he hopes his visibility on The Young Apprentice will inspire others to give it a go.

“I can sell, I can be creative and I’m good at branding, but I need to listen more to others,” he said.

“I’ve done various things to try and be entrepreneurial.

“I sold programmes at the North West 200 and I opened up our back yard as a car park.

“I’ve never set up and run a company, but it is something I want to do in the future, when I understand a specific sector better.

“Outside of school, I’ve been doing social enterprise events and I’ve done some work with Young Enterprise and Causeway Enterprise.

“I think when other young people see someone from Northern Ireland doing The Young Apprentice it gives them confidence.

“At the moment, I’m speaking at schools and telling pupils about the ins and outs of my Apprentice story. It’s a great opportunity and I hope other young people from here apply to take part.

“We are as good as anywhere in Northern Ireland, it’s just about taking risks and investigating opportunities.”

He added: “I’m also open to offers for my gap year, so if people like what they see they can send me an email.”

James can be contacted on his email at


“In many ways James McCullagh was unlucky not to win Young Apprentice 2011. We were all tremendously impressed with his maturity, imagination and sure grasp of business principles. His wry sense of humour and ability to get to the nub of a problem swiftly was also noted, as was his ability to take decisive action. We liked him a lot and are confident that he will succeed in whatever career he chooses.” Nick Hewer

“James had very firm ideas on how he wanted the tasks to run, and had a clear vision on the outcome that he wished to achieve. He also was quick to adapt in a team environment and got the best out of people by identifying their strengths and weaknesses. “He learnt to be sensitive to others as the process went on, showing real maturity to adapt and learn as the process evolved. He has a logical mind, is a clear thinker and is not afraid to change decisions if he feels there is a better solution.” Karren Brady

“I found James very quick to learn from his mistakes and pick up on things rapidly. He seemed to get the plot very quickly on all the tasks I set and summarise the main reasons to bring success or failure. He has a good analytical brain, which I am sure he will put to good use in the future in the commercial or public service world.” Lord Sugar