Changing lives through social enterprise

Christina, a scholarship recipient and graduate of the Manchester Enterprise Centre, is changing the lives of young people with her award-winning Aim Sky High Company.

Share Start-ups contribute £196 billion to our economy, read what we’re doing to get them off the ground Click To Tweet ASH Company set up by UoM alumna Christina attracts attention of Stormzy, read more here Click To Tweet Scholarships help equip students with the skills they need to thrive, read Christina’s story here Click To Tweet

Start-up businesses are becoming increasingly more important to the UK economy, with 40% of all UK businesses having been set up in the past 3 years. Start-ups employ 12% of the working population and generate an impressive £196 billion for the economy.

Despite their huge contributions, many start-up entrepreneurs struggle to get their businesses past the three year mark. A report commissioned by Virgin StartUp indicated that this is in part due to a lack of confidence or insufficient funding.

We recognise the valuable contributions these start-ups make to the UK economy but realise Manchester should be playing a bigger role. Out of the 650,000 new start-ups that were set up last year, only 9,416 were in Manchester.

But we know we have the innovative, creative and entrepreneurial minds to boost the number of start-ups based in Manchester. Therefore, we want to encourage our students to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and help these businesses not only survive but thrive.

Manchester Enterprise Centre (MEC)

The Manchester Enterprise Centre (MEC) is one way in which we are equipping our students with the skills needed to launch their own innovative business ideas.

MEC’s mission statement is “To enhance student employability and encourage ‘entrepreneurship’ and new venture creation by students and graduates.”

Through elective courses that can be taken as free-choice modules, MEC reaches 25% of all of our students (10,000 students a year).

One opportunity for further study provided by the MEC is the Master of Enterprise (MEnt) available to students from any discipline background.

The master’s is designed for students who are looking to develop business ideas. Prior study of business isn’t a requirement for the course as the main aim of the programme is to enhance the student’s subject expertise, but within a commercial context.

Despite huge numbers of our undergraduate students showing an interest in business, only around 18 students are taking up the MEnt every year.

So why is that? For many of our students, money is an issue. Postgraduate funding can be hard to come across, and for those students particularly from low-income backgrounds can be a real barrier to entry. This is where scholarships play an important role in giving bright students the help they need to make the most of their potential.

Christina

Christina was one of our students who graduated in 2013 with a Masters of Enterprise.

Like many of our students, Christina undertook elective modules from the enterprise centre during her undergraduate degree. After being identified by the business school for her social entrepreneurial skills, Christina was awarded a Weston scholarship to complete her master’s in enterprise.

From a young age, Christina knew she had an entrepreneurial flair, as well as a passion for dancing. It therefore made perfect sense that Christina would bring these two interests together.

In 2013, Christina set up The Aim Sky High Company which offers dance, drama and singing tuition to children and young people in Greater Manchester. She had been running the Aim Sky High Company as a community voluntary organisation for a number of years, but after learning about social enterprise models, she adapted the organisation accordingly. Christina also gained confidence in the organisations ability to succeed after winning the Venture Further competition, which is run by MEC.

Aim Sky High helps children and young people from underprivileged and disadvantaged areas develop their musical and dance talents professionally. The company charges minimal prices in order to keep the opportunities they offer open to as many as possible. The organisation reaches between 500-600 children every week.

“The main thing I try and teach the children is to have the confidence to try.”

Christina is not only making opportunities for young people to express themselves through performing arts, she is also providing business classes to educate her students on start-ups and how they can establish their own businesses.

“Right now, because they have to fundraise a lot, we are using that class to look at more sustainable ways of creating income. So there is a group of 11-14 year olds who have started their first start-up. They are all re-selling all of their things that they don’t use and also scouring charity shops and re-selling on platforms.”

The organisation also provides employment for 9 people, including former students.

Aim Sky High has been a huge success. In the past year grime artist Stormzy has asked for their dancers to be in his music video and others performed on stage with Justin Bieber during his UK tour.

But it hasn’t just been the students’ capabilities that have been recognised, Christina has received a whole host of awards including ‘Inspiring Youth’ Award by Social Enterprise UK, The Duke of York Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2016 and a Social for Social Enterprise 2016 Fellow.

Supporting students like Christina

Christina has shown herself to be a talented business woman, as well as someone who is passionate about improving the lives of young people in disadvantaged communities.

Thanks to the skills she gained from her masters and the financial support she received from winning the Venture Further competition, The Aim Sky High Company has flourished and is looking to expand its studios to other parts of the UK.

I want it to be well recognised in the entertainment industry, and I want it to be national. I want it to be thriving and for people to take it seriously as a proper organisation for change.”

However, she wouldn’t have been able to attend the Enterprise Centre without financial support. Christina’s scholarship provided her with the resources to be able to gain the skills she is using to make her business a success today.

For someone to have that much confidence and belief in you does help, it inspires you and makes you feel like you are actually worth something. The main thing the Enterprise Centre did for me was building my confidence. Once you’re confident enough to try things – that’s when you really excel.”

Innovative ideas and entrepreneurial talent doesn’t favour a socioeconomic background, it’s therefore essential that we are drawing from every possible talent pool and continue to support creative and successful business ventures like Aim Sky High.

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