Young entrepreneurs at Bradford College go ethical and launch a student business start up society

After reading Khosro’s article about teaching business ethics, I decided to find out about teaching business ethics in practice. Our very dynamic Students Union President Piers Telemacque told me about an Enterprise and Entrepreneurship class, and I went along for a visit.

This class is doing something special: each student has to set up and run a business, from scratch. It’s a new EdExcel BTEC Level 3 National Diploma, and some 25 Further Education students are taking part this year. As they research and plan their businesses they have to consider their personal values and how those translate into business values, and they have to write an ethics policy.

Apparently its got the class thinking. Is profit more important than anything else in business? Is it fair to tax small enterprises? The students are drawing up plans that include employment without discrimination, fair pricing and environmental awareness.

In addition, this class has done something collectively that is both novel and a great idea. They have set up a Bradford College Enterprise Society as part of the Students Union. They aim to get enterprising students together to run fundraising events (some have already taken place, including for charity). They are looking for (and getting) outside sponsorship. And they are applying for a grant of £400 from the Students Union. Once this is secured they will run a Dragons Den, giving £10 start up money to small student enterprises. The money is paid back with interest so other enterprises can apply for start up support. What a brilliant plan!

I met three founding members of the Society: Jon (Secretary), Tashinga (Vice Chair) and Ben (Treasurer). They each have a small business in the pipieline. Tashinga and his friend Danny have launched a local marketing service, offering virtual marketing and leaflets across the College and neighbouring university. Ben is going to help a College teacher market a ‘cave bus’ that tours local schools giving them the experience of pot holing.

Jon and Harrison are running a tuck shop at the College gates, because students want sweets but don’t have time to go out to the local shops (sweets are not on offer at our various excellent cafes). I asked about the ethics of that – are sweets good for you? They said, cleverly I thought, possibly not but the profit they make will be able to fund other enterprises and ethical projects.

The lecturer on the course is Noel Clayton. He studied at Bradford College, and he’s been an FE lecturer here since 1983. A decent innings! “This is a wholly new course,” he says, “and it’s great to get in with young people right at the basics of setting up a business. When I look around, I see a lot that is wrong or unfair in the world of business, and it feels good to help students think about that. I have always admired ordinary people who stand up to powerful forces, and setting up a small business is in a way doing just that.”

“In life, you have to think about what you’ve done, and whether you’ll be happy with it in the future,” he adds. “In the midst of a recession, this course is showing that students can have lots of creativity and they can achieve good things.”

Check out the student posters and find Neil in this photo.