How a teenager is turning frustrations into opportunities

It’s so wonderful seeing entrepreneurial spirit alive in young teenagers who are turning their frustrations into opportunities. I was in Menorca recently having lunch with Kate Winslet and we met a wonderful young entrepreneur who, even in a challenging situation, is finding ways to make his ideas come alive.

Iolo Edwards is a 13-year-old from Wales who has been quite poorly recently and was diagnosed with Acute Severe Ulcerative Colitis. In order to save his life, he had to have surgery to remove his bowel in April. He said he hated the stoma bags that he left hospital with – they were beige and looked really old-fashioned. He said he spent a long time looking at different products that would suit him better and settled with a plain black or white bag. He said there were loads of patterned bags for babies but nothing for teenagers - so they decided to make their own bags. Iolo likes Adidas and Ralph Lauren so they went to B&Q and picked some spray paints and had a go at making their own.

Iolo also likes looking at what’s trending on social media in arts and crafts. He then looks to see if there’s a way he can get the popular products into customers hands quicker – a really simple, effective way of starting a business. I was fascinated when he told me how he noticed that lots of people were interested in Japanese air dry clay on Instagram but many people were complaining about the wait for it. So he saved up his pocked money and set himself up with a Paypal account. He then bought as much clay as he could afford with his birthday money and waited for it to arrive. He listed it and was able to post it straight away – making the service much quicker for the buyers. As it started selling, he bought more.

He said he then did the same with polystyrene balls – he noticed people were buying them in small parcels, so he found the cheapest place they were selling them in bulk and bought a few big bags. The bags were the same size as replacing a whole bean bag and he split it up into packets that were a sandwich bag size – selling two small packets for the same price as a whole bag. He said he “made a killing on that”.

Hearing Iolo's idea of buying products in bulk and selling them on also reminded me of when I was a teenager. I wanted to sell records but I couldn't open an account as I had no credit. I did a deal with the local record shop to get a discount on records that I would buy in bulk and then sell on via mail order - it was only when it was so successful and articulated lorries were turning up to the record shop that I finally got an account.

Hearing stories like Iolo’s fills me with hope for the next generation and it’s so interesting hearing all about the different ways young people are spotting and filling gaps in the market. The ways we do business may have changed dramatically since I started out as technology has advanced – as showcased by Iolo using Instagram as a way to find business - but the motivations and reasons for doing it remain the same. Iolo looked around himself and saw that he could do things better for other people. There’s no better reason to start a business.

He also asked me for a few business tips for a young entrepreneur. From what he’s told me he’s already on the right track! My tips for him, and any other young entrepreneurs would be:

  1. Start small but think big. I started off the same as Iolo, with my pocket money and an idea. Many of Virgin’s businesses have started off as side projects which have grown into big companies. Always be thinking about what could come next, how you could expand, how you could take your idea global. It will take time but if you’re focused it’s more likely to happen.
  2. Always look for opportunities. I’m so glad Iolo came and told me his story – meeting new people and networking is a great skill that he’s mastered already! Don’t be afraid to get out there and meet like-minded people. Always say yes to opportunities and learn what you need to do to make the most of them as you go along – I’ve constantly asked for help throughout my life.
  3. Do what you love – I can’t stress this one enough. You’ll spend a lot of your life working but if you’re doing something that interests you and you’re passionate about then you’ll keep going even when it gets hard (and it will get tough). Think about your talents, what subjects and causes interest you the most, what problems you’d like to solve. 

I wish Iolo all the best of luck with his business ventures and hope he continues to explore his ideas and chase his dreams. 

Iolo also told us how he loves boxing and was an amateur boxer before he got ill. He showed us this video, which was filmed two weeks before he went into hospital.

I hope he has a speedy recovery from his upcoming surgery and is well enough to get back in the ring again soon!

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