A lesson for life: you’re never too young to start a business

The Junior Entrepreneur Programme is capturing the energy and imagination of primary school pupils around the country, who have masterminded projects involving GAA cards, board games, and teddies that contain sweets

The Junior Entrepreneur Programme has an alumni of 26,500 children who have created entrepreneurial businesses in their classrooms in ireland. Video: Tweak


A few years ago Jerry Kennelly had the bright idea of using the school classroom to help nurture the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

He had worked with students in colleges and second level. But it was in primary schools where he saw the idea really begin to take off.

“There’s a real energy in a primary school classroom,” says Kennelly, cofounder of the Junior Entrepreneur Programme, a not-for-profit initiative,

“Eleven- and 12-year-olds haven’t been impacted by the points race. They’re open, creative and quick to learn. It’s really uplifting to see that eureka moment for them.”

By the end of June more than 26,000 schoolchildren will have taken part in the programme, a 10-week undertaking delivered by teachers with the support or local entrepreneurs. The plan is to raise that number to some 250,000 by the end of the decade.

The idea is simple: help children to set up their own businesseses in the classroom, based on their own ideas.

A network of volunteer entrepreneurs assists children to refine the idea, make a modest investment and get the plan into production. The 10-week programme teaches children much more than just how to manage money and turn a profit.

It is fostering important skills such as creative-thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork, says Eucharia McCarthy, director of the curriculum development unit at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

Along the way, it is encouraging children to make decisions, negotiate, resolve conflict and connect with the wider world.

There are team-building games that link with PE and – depending on the focus of the project – there can be links to arts, history, geography or science.

“Overall it’s leading to a greater sense of confidence and understanding of what’s happening in the world,” says Kennelly, one of Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs, and the founder of Tweak.com.

“They’re realising that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the classroom to be an entrepreneur. But you need to have the drive and the passion, and ownership and responsibility.”

  • The Junior Entrepreneur Programme has created a classroom pack in collaboration with Mary Immaculate College. More information on juniorentrepreneur.ie

Customised clocks
The class produced clocks, which have been selling well in Doolin. The pupils are expecting a healthy return on their investment of €2. The clocks have already sold out twice. Teacher Annette Vaughan says, “It gets them thinking outside the box. I think it prepares them for the real world. Eventually some of them may start businesses for themselves. It worked in well with the curriculum: maths, profit and loss, and oral English development. It helps them understand what’s involved in setting up a business.”

Plaster-cast sculptures
Abeeha Syed and her fellow pupils made these skulls, which were complemented by a line of colourful fairy doors. The business is projected to turn a profit of €2,500, netting each pupil a healthy profit on their investment of €5. Abeeha’s teacher, Aideen Sheehan, says the pupils really developed as individuals on the programme. “The children are learning life skills and managing to put them into practice. It will be something they will carry on through life. “I have found that children who were quiet to begin with manage to become more confident.”

Victorian tea room
Charlotte Dowie and her class set up a tearoom in the school hall. “We picked the Vintage Tea Rooms because all of the mums in our wee group were good bakers. Now we’ve got a good team behind us. We’re going to borrow £50 from the principal for our start-up costs and pay her back with our profit, which will hopefully be £233. I’ve learned quite a bit about finances and how hard it is for people to do this every day. I’d like to be an entrepreneur, but I’m not sure,” she says.

Hanging baskets
Clara Kiernan found the experience really rewarding. “Everyone in the class will invest €5-€10 and we hope to make a profit. We’ve learned a lot, especially about entrepreneurs. I never really knew that loads of people around the area have their own business. I never really thought of it that way. We’ve learned how to manage money and organise things. I would like to be an entrepreneur when I’m older, because it’s very enjoyable,” she says.

Carracastle – The Board Game
Carracastle pupils created this board game about the Mayo village. It sells for €10 and is expected to return a healthy profit. Ryan’s classmate Emily Figg says she learned a lot creating the business. “Being an entrepreneur means you have to take risks and you have to be very confident. It’s about teamwork, it’s not about the money. We had a few problems picking the idea, but eventually the board game got picked. I think I’d like to be an entrepreneur. It’s introduced me to a lot of things.”

Sweetie Teddiz
The Clooncagh class created hand-made teddies with sweets inside . Fifty were sold, and each pupil got a good return on the €2 investment. Alanna’s classmate, Jade Fay, enjoyed the experience. “The teddies were hand-made, so if there was mistakes we could fix it, so we wouldn’t need a machine. They cost €1.50 to make, and the overall profit of all the teddies we sold was €152. I was the first person to know how to sew and I had to show everyone else. It’s not all about the money. It’s more about making sure the customers are happy,” she says.

Bayside Photo Booth
This project involved setting up photo booths in the school. Pupils in the school are invited to dress up in one of the booths, where they have their photographs taken to be used on keyrings and fridge magnets. The project has made a profit of €800. Pupil Sean Hughes was initially unsure about how he could cope with setting up a business. “I wasn’t really sure before I did this whether I’d have the guts and the knowledge to do a business, but now I think I would be able to do it,” he says.

GAA player collector cards
The cards are the result of a project undertaken by the class, supported by their teacher Annette Murphy. The cards are highly profitable and are closing in on their €500 profit target. They have already reached €420. Murphy says the programme helped the children learn new skills. “Problem-solving, communications, working in groups, negotiation. Often you can see creative and communication talents emerging. Often you find that children who are quiet normally in class really come out of themselves and shine.”

Bonker Balls
Supported by their teacher Sean Burke, the pupils produced Bonker Balls, which sell for €2. They are projecting a healthy profit of €250 after an investment of €3 per pupil. Pupil Ben McGorrian came up with the idea for Bonker Balls. “I got the idea from my cousin. I thought it was cool and so did the class,” he says. “They cost just 24 cent to make. It was really interesting. The most fun part was working as a group to find the idea,” says Ben.

Chance to Dance
Pupils at Lisnasharragh Primary School in Belfast hired a dance teacher and held classes in the school hall. “We’ve put in £3 each but we haven’t got our money back yet, though we’ve got another two weeks to go with this business,” says pupil Maddie Stronge. “We’ve done the sums already and we think we’ll get £21.03 back each. “I loved doing the business because we got to make a TV ad and got to be silly and dance about with your friends. It’s been really good fun.”

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