Virgin Media Pioneers was created to explore how digitally delivered networking and peer-to-peer mentoring, coupled with the pull of an inherently entrepreneurial brand, could make successful and sustainable self-employment a more realistic aspiration for young people across the UK.
For many entrepreneurs – young ones in particular – it is critical that mentoring is both accessible and relevant, delivered by like-minded people. ‘Pioneers’ is a self-organising community, which relies on its members to deliver practical mentoring based on their own experiences of growing their business, through engaging, video-based content.
In 2011, the community came together to think about what more the Government could do to provide more support to start-ups. The findings were presented in the Virgin Media “Control Shift” report. Not surprisingly, one of the central barriers identified in the report to growing a business from scratch was access to finance.
Pioneers voiced frustration that their friends could get access to loans on favourable terms to study Business at University, but equivalent finance was not available to help start a business. That observation helped to crystalise the central idea for a campaign for a new loans facility – Start-Up Loans – based on the Student Loans model. Announced at Budget 2012 in March, the £10 million pilot will make thousands of micro-loans available alongside, critically, training and mentoring support.
This is a small step yet it provides a template for innovative approaches to micro-credit, helping stimulate enterprise in ways which young people find meaningful, credible and relevant to their needs. It is thinking like this that is required to drive an enterprise-led recovery.