Baby Dragons Get a Boost from Peter Jones

Last Updated Oct 7, 2008 9:38 AM EDT

Phones International entrepreneur and Dragon's Den investor Peter Jones is fulfilling a long-held ambition by opening a skills academy for entrepreneurs.

The first National Enterprise Academy will be set up with some £4m of government backing and the rest of the estimated £8m running cost provided by Jones and other sources. The course will be fine tuned through a "live test" from January 2009, according to Jones, with a full launch in September 2009 followed by further NEAs in the north west and nationally.

There are 10 National Skills Academies (NSAs) in the UK (two more are in development), which offer vocational qualifications to over-16s and are part-funded by business and part by government. The current crop include academies in manufacturing, construction and the nuclear industries and are shaped by employer input. Each NSA delivers a qualification that is recognised by that particular industry.

According to the department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), £30m has been earmarked for Jones's NSA, along with three others for IT workers, electrical engineers and social carers.

Jones sees the enterprise academy as bringing some much needed awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable career route. There is also talk of creating links to further education and, more oddly, primary school -- though this is less about turning tykes into tycoons than creating a new mindset among Britons, from what Jones has said.

"There is a stark difference in the entrepreneurial mindset between the UK and the US. Here, there tends to be a 'can I?' approach, whereas in the US the 'I can' belief is instilled from an early age. If the UK economy is to become a world leader in business, we need to create the right learning environment for all our children, where their talents can be developed so they can go out into the workplace or business and prosper.
Can you, and should you, teach entrepreneurship to kids? There's a raging debate on the UK's cultural inadequacy following Richard Tyler's blog on this story earlier this year.

But may big business chief Andy Bond of Asda has the right idea. He thinks the academies are a "fantastic idea" and sees the problem-solving and communication skills being taught at the academy as vital to any workplace.

There's no arguing with that. The opportunity Jones's academy will offer 16-year-olds with ambition and an idea will be invaluable, even if only a small proportion go on to start up businesses. But I do wonder why the government turned down James Dyson's application for a Bath-based engineering academy, which sounds like a strong idea from a reputable UK inventor. Perhaps Jones just pitched his idea more effectively.

What do you think - can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur?