A group of Sligo teenagers have been named European Young Entrepreneurs of the Year 2014 at a ceremony in Vienna. The Mercy College, Sligo students Rianne Keaveney (17), Róisín Shaw (16) Sinead Fitzsimons (16), Sinead D’Arcy (17) and Samantha Scanlon (17) travelled to Vienna to represent Ireland in the prestigious competition, which saw young entrepreneurs from across Europe outline their business plans to a panel of judges from some of the country’s leading companies. They were announced as Gold First winners in the competition late on Wednesday afternoon (Nov 26th).
Fourteen business plans were shortlisted from eight countries including Ireland, the United Kingdom, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Germany, Bulgaria and Bosnia. The competition is hosted by YouthStart, European Entrepreneurship Award – an affiliate of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in Vienna, which is run in Ireland by Foróige – Ireland’s leading youth organisation. In April, the girls were named the Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year 2014 and their reward was to represent their country on the European stage.
The teen-entrepreneurs won the Gold First award in the Real Market category at the awards for their business ‘Brace Yourself’, which manufactures a handy tool to aid people fasten bracelets and zips with ease. The girls developed a prototype and manufactured the bracelets after one of the group, Rianne Keaveney, saw that her grandmother had difficulty closing a bracelet.
To date, the girls have sold more than 1,700 bracelets, generating an income of more than €3,000.
Reacting to their win, 17-year-old Rianne said: "We are so thrilled to represent our country in Vienna - we’ve worked so hard on our business and have been inundated with orders for our ‘Brace Yourself’ fasteners since we won the Irish Youth Entrepreneur of the Year award earlier this year.
“All the business represented were fantastic and would have been worthy winners so we really can’t believe it. We’re hoping this win will allow us to expand our market further than Ireland, which really would be amazing. Our whole journey, from setting up our business to where we are today has been incredible and we have Foróige NFTE to thank for that.”
Ireland has now been honoured at the awards for two consecutive years. Amy Keatinge, from Tallaght in Dublin, was awarded a Gold First at the Awards in 2013 for her business ‘CoZey SoundZ’ which manufactures and sells customised ear muffs and cushions with inbuilt ear phones. The now 19-year old was a jury member this year following her win in 2013.
The NFTE programme was founded by US businessman Steve Mariotti in New York in 1987 to prevent at risk young people from low-income communities from ‘dropping out’ of the education system. The programme teaches young people to think like entrepreneurs, to take calculated risks, to be open to learning and be empowered to own their own futures.
The programme now operates in countries across the globe, including in the United States where the programme is supported by global star and Bad Boy Entertainment founder Sean “Diddy” Combs.
In Ireland, a total of 1,500 participants from low income communities who set up 600 businesses as part of this year’s Foróige NFTE entrepreneurship programme, generating a collective turnover of €250,000. The programme runs from September to May every year.
Research carried out by NFTE in Berlin among 3,600 young people who participated in the programme found that 70% of all participants have found a job, either as an employee or an entrepreneur. The survey also shows that each NFTE entrepreneur in turn employs an average of 3.5 people.
Sandra Dooley, Foróige NFTE Programme Co-Ordinator said: “We are so proud of the ‘Brace Yourself’ girls and their achievements – they are fantastic ambassadors for Ireland and youth entrepreneurship in general.
“Entrepreneurial spirit in our young people is alive and well – it’s telling that Ireland has enjoyed success in this European-wide competition for two consecutive years. Witnessing first-hand how young people involved in our entrepreneurship programme becoming excited about setting up a business and watching it thrive is truly inspiring.”