The Big Idea: Street-based business training for young creatives - RSA

The Big Idea: Street-based business training for young creatives


  • Social enterprise
  • Catalyst
  • Crowdfunding
  • Fellowship

This is a guest blog by Lisa Oulton FRSA. Lisa was awarded RSA Catalyst funding for her project to help young people start creative businesses, and is now seeking crowdfunding to run a Festival of Enterprise in November. You can support her campaign on Kickstarter.

Yasmin from AND Clothing, one of the participants in Student Makers' Markets (
Yasmin from AND Clothing, one of the participants in Student Makers' Markets


The Big Idea: Student Makers’ Markets - street-based business training for young creatives

Creative young people are the most likely group to start up a business straight from education. They are often natural entrepreneurs: creative, innovative and visionary with immediately transferrable skills that lend themselves to self-employment. But they are also some of the least likely to have picked up the skills that they need to grow and sustain a business – failure rates are high – and the reality seems to be that once burnt these early starters often never return to entrepreneurship.

Youth entrepreneurship is being promoted and encouraged as a way of helping young people into the labour market and promoting job creation, but without business skills and resilience entrepreneurial inclination is no guarantee of success. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research identifies that young people in Europe feel less confident about starting up a business than their global peers, with a strong fear of failure and belief that they are ill equipped to start a business.

With the support of RSA Catalyst and the Canterbury Festival’s Prosper Programme we have created Student Makers’ Markets, a street-based programme of business and entrepreneurial training. It gives young people a supported space to come and test their business with access to informal training, workshops and on-going mentoring whenever it’s needed.

We bring young entrepreneurs together to create vibrant mini-markets within established street markets, festivals and galleries. We supply free stalls and equipment for unemployed young people, graduates and school students from communities struggling with high levels of youth unemployment and other social and economic problems.

The ease of selling through online platforms like eBay, Etsy, Big Cartel and Facebook means that many young entrepreneurs are already trading from bedrooms, sheds and kitchen tables. We’ve been surprised at the range of businesses we’ve found, from complete beginners to established on-line shops. Our ethos is to look for the “bright spots”, inspired by the Heath brothers’ book Switch: we look for what's working and how can we do more of it, the don't solve problems – copy success.

Connecting young people already running successful businesses to those just starting out creates amazing enthusiasm: when young makers meet those of the same age who are making a living from their creative skills it shows them what’s possible. It has been extraordinarily exciting for everyone involved – the market traders, the business community and ourselves – to find just how much drive and talent is already out there.

We offer free business advice during the markets and we’ve been astounded at the requests so far. Our assumption was that our traders might ask about setting up a business, accessing government loans or writing a business plan. Instead, we are answering questions from young people about exporting to multiple countries, registering for VAT and employment versus outsourcing. Taking part in a rolling programme of markets and training means the young people can access learning when they feel they need it, from realising that they're struggling to make sales at one market, to learning vital sales techniques before the next.

We want our young people to be excited not just by the opportunities that are open to them, but those which they can create themselves: to make their mark on their community, be visible and to inspire others.

What next?

We’re working in Kent and have been given an opportunity to extend our work into Folkestone to create a month long pop-up shop and Festival of Youth Enterprise. We've been given a beautiful old arcade building for the whole of December, where we are planning a programme of inspiring talks and workshops covering a wide range of subjects, from crowdfunding and social enterprise to printmaking and digital manufacturing. A production space will enable those without facilities to create work for the markets and a Christmas shop will enable everyone to sell what they make!

The campaign's progress so far
The campaign's progress so far


How you can get involved

In partnership with the RSA we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to support this initiative. The building we've been given is large and empty; we need to equip the production space and create a fabulous shop for visitors.

Our funding campaign is live on Kickstarter and we are aiming to raise £2,000 by 2 November. We would be very grateful if you could pledge your support, or help spread the word by sharing our campaign with your contacts. To find out more please contact me by email ([email protected]) or via Twitter @StudentMakers.

Take advantage of a special launch offer to the first 200 crowdfunding pledges made by RSA Fellows. The RSA will match the campaign(s) you have backed to a maximum of £10 if you tell your network which project you’ve backed via: a comment in the RSA Fellows LinkedIn group discussion on crowdfunding; tweeting using the #RSACrowdfunding hashtag; posting a status update on the RSA’s facebook group.

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our website.

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