Young  Enterprise Scotland chief executive Geoff Leask

Young Enterprise Scotland chief executive Geoff Leask

Celebrating young entrepreneurs

BQ Scotland editor Peter Ranscombe catches up with Young Enterprise Scotland chief executive Geoff Leask to find out about the organisation’s Festival of Youth Enterprise.

Most people will remember Young Enterprise Scotland from their school days. Back at Nairn Academy, our company produced “Carnival”, an album of tracks recorded by “Salsa Charanga”, the school’s samba band, which was accompanied by bagpipes.
Each track was sponsored by local businesses to raise money for the recording session and the album was sold to the fans who flocked to hear the band playing at concerts near and far. The spine of its day-glow green sleeve still stares out at me from my CD collection.

The experience taught our team a range of very valuable lessons and helped us to practice our entrepreneurial skills, from winning a prize for the best-dressed stall at a Young Enterprise Scotland market through to calling a music publisher in Denmark to check that its tracks were covered by the rather complicated-sounding Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) royalties scheme.

Geoff Leask didn’t get to setup a young enterprise company at school, but instead cut his teeth on the other side of the fence, spending a decade as one of the organisation’s volunteers in the Borders. Now, as chief executive at Young Enterprise Scotland, Leask is not simply in charge of inspiring children on his local patch, but motivating budding entrepreneurs throughout the country.

Leask and his team are busy preparing for the Festival of Youth Enterprise, which will take place at Hampden Park in Glasgow on 5 and 6 June. The event will be the culmination of Young Enterprise Scotland’s year, bringing together school pupils and college students from throughout Scotland.

“We want the festival to showcase the very best of the broad range of enterprise activities that young people get involved in,” explains Leask. “Young Enterprise Scotland is well-known for its company programme awards – there are about 2,500 pupils taking part this year and together they’ve launched about 200 companies.

“We’ve always celebrated that secondary school programme in June each year. Now that Young Enterprise Scotland is doing more work in primary schools, local communities and further education colleges through our ‘Bridge 2 Business’ programme, we wanted an opportunity to tell the story of the enterprise journey young people are going on.

“Enterprise and entrepreneurship is more important than ever. The young people who come along to this event are likely to have between 15 and 20 jobs during their career and their technical skills will need to evolve.

“Whether they’re setting up their own businesses or working for other people, the core skills they need will remain the same though – like resilience, team building, communication and confronting difficult situations. All this experience is developed by taking part in practical enterprise activities.”

The first day of the festival is aimed at pupils in their initial three years at secondary school, with around 400 children expected to attend the event. After breakfast at Hampden Park, they’ll have the chance to visit a marketplace where they’ll meet potential employers, entrepreneurs and some of the partner organisations with which Young Enterprise Scotland works.

“They’ll each be given a passport, which they’ll have to get stamped by each of the people they speak to in the marketplace,” Leask explains. “There’ll be a prize draw for young people who have completed their passports.

“The young people will also be able to visit workshops throughout the day and we’ll have panel sessions on the stage, which won’t just involve entrepreneurs but also pupils from primary and secondary schools and colleges.”

Continuing professional development (CPD) sessions will also be offered for the teachers and lecturers who will accompany the young people to the event.

On the second day, the regional finalists from the company programme will come together to compete for the national title. They’ll face a series of interviews, they’ll have to give presentations and they’ll have to set up market stalls to sell their products and services. During the evening, the results of the competition will be announced at the awards dinner.

Looking further ahead, Leask highlights the range of topics with which Young Enterprise Scotland is becoming involved. “We’ve been doing a lot of work around the circular economy and recently held workshops to get input from pupils at primary schools and early secondary,” he says. “We’ll be laying down a challenge to the audience at this year’s event because 2018 is going to be the Scottish Government’s ‘Year of Young People’. We want to challenge everyone to do more in 2018 to make this festival even more inclusive, perhaps with events in different parts of the country on the same day.”

To find out more information about the Festival of Youth Enterprise or to book a space, visit

Host and keynote speakers

Rachel McTavishRachel McTavish
STV news presenter and entrepreneur Rachel McTavish will be the host for the Festival of Youth Enterprise. As well as presenting programmes for the BBC, Five and ITV, McTavish has her own range of jewellery, the McTavish Collection, which she launched in 2008. She also regularly hosts events for Business Women Scotland magazine and the Women in Banking & Finance organisation. “Rachel is an entrepreneur in her own right, but also has hundreds of thousands of hours of presenting experience,” says Geoff Leask, chief executive at Young Enterprise Scotland.

Jamie Hutcheon
Luxury chocolate producer Cocoa Ooze was founded by Jamie Hutcheon in 2008 when he was just 17. The Aberdeen-based company now employs 25 staff and has more than 200 corporate clients, including BP, East Midland Trains and Town & Country Apartments. “I remember Jamie was the runner-up at the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust awards in Grampian – he wasn’t the happiest on the day, but Jimmy Milne from Balmoral Group, who was presenting the awards, told Jamie ‘You might not have won today, laddie, but you’ll go on and become a star because you’ve got that spark and flair inside you that you need to succeed’,” remembers Leask. Hutcheon will deliver the keynote speech at the end of the event’s first day.

Sylvia Douglas
Social entrepreneur Sylvia Douglas will deliver the keynote address during the dinner and awards ceremony on day two of the event. Douglas launched MsMissMrs in 2013 as a community interest company to support female empowerment. “Sylvia has opened an ‘empowerment centre’ in Glasgow to help build confidence among women of all ages,” Leask explains.