SHAPING THE ENTREPRENEURS OF THE FUTURE
They've got the hair, the clothes and the ideas... and these students also had the guts to face up to a Dragons' Den-style panel with a business idea formed in a matter of hours.
Welcome to #NextGenFest, the festival-within-a-festival for 16 to 24-year-olds happening on site at Exhibition Centre Liverpool.
Organised by sponsor HSBC, and supported by a host of delivery partners, it's aimed at helping young people make the most of their talents and set them on the path to high-flying careers or entrepreneurial ventures.
And after a hard morning workshopping ideas and crafting business plans, youngsters from The Studio School, Liverpool, were ready to pitch to a panel from HSBC and the London Institute of Banking & Finance.
"There's a massive gap in the market that no-one has filled yet," Ollie Bielby-Smith, 17, tells the panel about his and friend Alex Siner's plan to create an online bank of past papers for subscribers to use while revising for exams.
The line was delivered with the aplomb of a candidate from TV's the Apprentice. And so it was with further presentations on plans to capture 3D images of shopper's bodies to allow them to virtually try on clothes, to create a diary-sharing app allowing friends to arrange get-togethers (and businesses to sell activities to them), and to bring wholesome Italian takeaway food to consumers frustrated by poor-quality takeaways.
The dragons weren't easily pleased.
"How do you plan to do your market research?" asked one. Others wanted to know where the capital was coming from, or how they would differentiate their products from competitors.
But some were won over by one team's idea to make shopping an easier and more efficient experience.
And Joseph's (right) talk of fresh carbonara left such an impression on the judges that they awarded him the prize for the individual they would most like to invest in.
But Ollie and Alex were the overall winners for their exam paper app, called thnk, which was inspired by their own cramming ahead of exams. They had developed the idea to the point of even having designed the logo.
"It was a really cool day," said Alex afterwards. "I was nervous before the pitch but it's just something you have to get used to." The Studio School is based in Liverpool's creative hub, the Baltic Triangle, and Alex added: "We work with tech on a daily basis and we also connect with people in industry so that's had a big influence on us."
Watching the pitches made for a proud moment for teacher Sam Forrest. "It was wonderful," she said.
"They are used to presenting in school and some have been involved in a social enterprise with the school but we didn't realise exactly what we would be doing before we came today. It's been an amazing experience."
The programme was developed by HSBC's head of performance for small business banking, Jennifer Crawley.
She said: "HSBC UK has a commitment to young people which is driven from the top. Our chief executive, Ian Stuart, started work in a branch in the Highlands of Scotland after leaving school at 16. So he's keen to give back by making sure young people have opportunities, and that's something we share as a team.
"We're trying to show them a different way of working; perhaps a job they'd not thought of doing and a new way to think about a career. It's been great fun and really rewarding."
Previously, the youngsters had found out about trading with the Commonwealth, discovered how gaming tech can be used in the business world, tested VR equipment and learned from apprentices at Microsoft and HSBC, and talked about creating a personal 'brand' with Young Enterprise.
And the London Institute of Banking and Finance's Rob Thompson said the organisation, which more usually trains bank staff, was delighted to be involved.
"It's the first time we've done this sort of thing and it's been great to work with a younger age group, to give them some guidance and support to help them make that next step in their lives," he said.
The programme - delivered in a dedicated area with a funky design and a soundtrack to match - also aims to leave a lasting impact when doors close for the final time on the three-week Festival.
HSBC is working with charities Founders4Schools, Young Enterprise and the Duke of Edinburgh awards to connect business leaders on the Festival floor with participants, opening up opportunities for work experience or further engagement between industry, schools and youth groups.
Tickets for #NextGenFest are free to people aged 16 to 24, and upcoming sessions involve developing job skills with the Prince's Trust, hearing inspirational stories from successful entrepreneurs, designing a T-shirt with the Hype fashion brand and a sporty session delivered by British Cycling and a team of professional BMX riders.