The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition: developing skills for enterprise

By Katherine Davis, PhD student in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology (DIDE)

During the 2020/21 academic year, I took part in the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition, which aims to raise awareness about how ideas can be commercialised. In the competition, teams of postgraduate students, technicians, or early career academics prepare a business plan for a hypothetical company and pitch to win prizes. In this blog, I will briefly explain how I got into the YES competition, how I found taking part in the competition, and my advice for people considering competing.

Getting into the YES competition

In the summer of 2020, I saw a post about forming a team for the YES competition on my department’s Teams channel. From the description, the competition seemed like a great opportunity to learn new skills and meet interesting people. We had been in lockdown for a while and I was looking for something fun and different to do, so I quickly decided to join the team.

To get started, my team met on a video call. There were four of us: three PhD students from the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and one from the Department of Surgery and Cancer. We found that we got on well and decided to apply together for the competition. Fortunately, the application process was quite simple. You don’t need to have a business idea or business experience at the start of the competition, so the information that we needed to provide was straight forward.

Taking part in the competition

It wasn’t long before we got the news that our application had been successful and began to attend online YES training sessions and have meetings with experts from industry. The training and meetings provided a crash course in entrepreneurship and business, which introduced us to topics like sourcing and managing funding, protecting intellectual property, and marketing our products. This was very useful, and we learnt a lot that isn’t typically taught to PhD students.

As a team, we also met once a week to start developing an idea of our own. It was fun to get together, chat, and consider how we could approach the competition. At the beginning we had a lot of different ideas, and it was difficult to decide which we should take forwards. We ended up having a mini-pitch competition just to select our final concept!

With an idea chosen, it was time to take roles within our business. Each of us took charge of one key area and we started setting out our strategy. I really enjoyed seeing our business plan become more real as we built our pitch deck, and it was great to have something new to look at during our meetings each week.

When our training period ended, it was time for the final three-day competition. The first two days were set aside to make last minute changes to our pitch deck, meet with experts, and rehearse. We were quite busy, and the time quickly disappeared, leaving us to face the judges. Our pitch to the judges included a presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but it was also great to see our hard work pay off! We received some excellent in-depth questioning from the judges, and we were very proud of how far we had come as a team. While we didn’t win the competition, we received useful feedback and had a lot of fun.

Advice for students considering competing

Having finished the YES competition, I would like to share some advice for students who might be considering applying.

  1. Go ahead and apply 😊

The YES competition is an enjoyable and different experience, so I would really encourage you to apply.

  1. Make the most of expert advice.

The YES competition experts have years of combined experience and can help your idea to stand out from the crowd. Try to make the most of the time you have with them.

  1. Be organised.

Time flies by in the competition, so try to ensure that you stay on top of what needs to be done. If your team meets regularly then it’s easier to keep track of what’s happening and help each other. This makes life a lot simpler from day one to the final pitch.