Young creatives develop business acumen early on

There’s a strong focus these days on nurturing entrepreneurialism, particularly among the young.

Only last week we saw the unveiling by Chancellor Gordon Brown of the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship, an initiative backed by the Department of Trade and Industry to encourage start-up businesses, which has an identity by Thompson Design (DW 16 September). Add to that the various ‘business’ programmes run for young designers by the likes of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the Crafts Council and Design-Nation, and a picture emerges of a future in which design once again thrives as a cottage industry.

Designers across at least four generations who have already taken the plunge have tended to amass business skills through sometimes bitter experience. Many have brought in business folk as partners somewhere along the line, but they remain entrepreneurs in spirit.

The new breed of design entrepreneurs look set to be far better armed for the commercial fray, however. And they are starting young.

Most of the 20 finalists in the Audi Young Designer of the Year 2004 prize, for example, have just left school, with university or a gap year ahead of them (see News, page 3). Yet the level of business understanding most of them display is impressive.

At the finals, winner Liberty Fearns, from Ralph Allen School in Bath, also demonstrated outstanding design skills in her device to secure bags in cafés and bars and an ability to draw well in the back-up materials. These qualities will stand her in good stead for the product design course she has just started at Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London.

Audi is very keen to foster young entrepreneurs, which is why it runs a second prize scheme, Mind to Market, won this year by budding avionics engineer Peter Kirkland. The idea here is to support the product – Kirkland designed a digital compass clinometer to help geologists take rock measurements more easily as an A-level project – and try to take it to market.

Fearns and Kirkland are exceptional talents, but one of the key things that united the Audi finalists was their ability to communicate their ideas and ‘sell’ them to the judges. This is born as much of passion for the project as from honed business skills.

The important thing for young designers is to hang on to that passion and not become too bogged down with the ways of the world. The same is true for experienced designers running their own consultancies. However successful you are commercially or however tough the client climate, it is that creative spark that sets you apart from the rest.

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