Young people have been handed the building blocks for bright – and socially conscious – business futures thanks to an innovative learning programme in Leeds.

The Leeds City Council-funded BUILD Your Future programme took place over five days last week, hosted by Nexus, the University of Leeds’s innovation hub.

A total of 11 talented participants, aged between 16 and 22 and all from the Leeds City Region, were given expert insight into everything from design solutions to business case development.

The week also aimed to deliver improved self-awareness and self-belief for the young people, who were drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds and selected for the scheme following an application process that saw them each making a video about a major global challenge they were keen to tackle.

BUILD Your Future was inspired by BUILD, a 12-week accelerator programme for early stage start-ups and people with fledgling business ideas. Held earlier this year, BUILD was one of the interventions developed by a Leeds City Region senior leadership team that took part in the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP), run by the Sloan School of Management at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The young people who attended the BUILD Your Future programme at Nexus came away confident they now have the tools to make a positive, sustainable difference to society – by tackling problems such as food waste and poverty – through their own ideas and entrepreneurial spirit.

One of the participants, 17-year-old Faris Ahmed, from Leeds, said:

“It’s great to come to a programme where I can meet other young people with the same drive to change the world.  Now I know how I can bring this into my future career options and have learnt some new skills like design thinking which will help me bring an entrepreneurial mindset to what I do next.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said:

“As a council, we are fully committed to giving people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunities they need to make the most of their talent, skills and potential. BUILD Your Future is an excellent example of this approach, with the young people taking part getting invaluable guidance from experts who are at the very top of their respective games.

“Let’s hope the lessons the participants have learned during the programme help them carve out their own success stories in the years to come – it will be fascinating to keep an eye on the progress that they make from here.

“We’re proud to be supporting forward-looking initiatives like this one and to be playing our part as a council in creating the right environments for the kind of innovative, inclusive thinking that will benefit communities across the city.”

Speakers at the sessions included a number of business founders who were on the BUILD start-up accelerator. Workshop content was produced and delivered by a team that included Cockerton + Co serial entrepreneurs Claire Cockerton and Perdie Alder, teacher-turned-entrepreneur Tony Mallett, design thinking expert Adam Sutcliffe and Leeds City Council head of programme innovation Richelle Schuster.

Sponsorship for BUILD Your Future came from infrastructure consulting firm AECOM and Nexus – a vibrant community for entrepreneurs and innovators located on the University of Leeds campus, providing bespoke support to help businesses innovate, scale and grow.

Special guests on the final day of BUILD Your Future included the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, who spoke to the young people about their experiences on the programme.

She also met with members of the Nexus community to learn more about how they are harnessing expertise at the University of Leeds to scale business innovation and growth.

Demonstrations of latest innovations and projects included contactless pedestrian crossing software, a tool for measuring unconscious biases and digital city simulation technology that can be applied to mobility and environmental challenges facing the West Yorkshire region.

The programme was run as a pilot and is now set to inform future work – led by ide@, the name for the Leeds City Region team which took part in REAP – that will strengthen the region’s innovation ecosystem and its pipeline of diverse business founders. REAP is designed to help regions accelerate economic growth through innovation-driven entrepreneurship.

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