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The National Enterprise Challenge is part of The Inspirational Learning Group, who develop and deliver innovative world-class programmes and events f0r schools, colleges, universities and businesses, designed to engage, inspire and motivate young people to be the best they can be.

Now in its 7th successful year, what started as a coffee shop conversation, The National Enterprise Challenge is now the UK’s largest enterprise competition for secondary schools, having attracted 450 schools and over 250,000 participants since it’s inception in 2013.

2012 – The Idea

It started as a coffee shop conversation, and it is now the largest enterprise & employability competition for secondary schools in the UK!

In the summer of 2012, cousins Ben and Michael Dyer were sat in a coffee shop at Staffordshire University. Sitting opposite them were two well-dressed professionals discussing how young people didn’t have the skills needed for the world of work…

Ben recalls: “Michael and I agreed that instead of moaning about the problem, someone should do something about it.”

The Dyers had worked in enterprise education for a few years, including with the Chamber of Commerce and The Government’s BAF Diploma. With the skills and experience they had, they realised that they should be the people ‘to do something about it.’

Michael explains how they began: “We wrote down everything we knew about the market place and brainstormed ideas. We then formalised our plans, and The National Enterprise Challenge was born.”

The lads shared their exciting ideas with industry contacts and started the hunt for a high profile ambassador. With little money to finance the project and no proof that the concept would work, the chances were slim.

The summer came and went, and project plans were moving too slowly for anyone to be optimistic. Then a text message changed everything.

“I was lying in bed,” remembers Ben, “when a message came though from Claire Young from BBC’s The Apprentice, to say that Lord Sugar would front The Challenge.” It took a few months to get contracts signed but finally the challenge had gathered momentum ready for a start in the New Year.


2013 Challenge

The Youth Enterprise Community Interest Company (CIC) was then formed, with its flagship being The National Enterprise Challenge, and Lord Sugar as the face of the inaugural competition in 2013.

#TNEC needed to hit the ground running. This was to be a huge undertaking. Big names, big challenges, big excitement, big hopes. From their first little office in a Stoke-on-Trent community centre, Ben and Michael Dyer, Oli Docksey, Simon Dyer and Ben Cooper started to talk to UK schools to let them know about this amazing, new enterprise opportunity that would help pupils understand the skills needed for the world of work.

Michael recalls: “‘We wanted 50 schools to join us in our first year. We knew that reaching them, when teachers are so busy, was going to take an enormous effort.”

In that first year, with only a few months’ preparation time, The National Enterprise Challenge delivered its innovative fresh new education programme to 11,000 young people from 58 schools and welcomed both Staffordshire University and OCR as main sponsors of the Challenge.

The first ever #TNEC Finals Day was held at the Troxy Theatre, East London, and was attended by 600 people, including Lord Sugar. It was a huge success and schools wanted more.


2014 Challenge

Ben and Michael knew their idea worked, so started planning the second #TNEC and set out to acquire the perfect Ambassador to take the challenge onwards. Ben and Michael knew that the #TNEC Ambassador had to be someone who was passionate about young people and shared their long-term goal of bringing enterprise into mainstream education.

That person was Theo Paphitis, with his successful high street brand loved by schoolchildren across the country (Ryman), who became the challenges lead sponsor.

With these perfect partnerships in place, the 2014 Challenge saw the introduction of ‘real-life’ business challenges set by Ryman and the inspiring social enterprise fashion company, Gandys.

In just the challenges second year, it was delivered to 21,000 young people from 103 schools across the UK.  “With Theo’s endorsement and those exciting challenges, the Challenge doubled in size,” reflected Michael Dyer.

Held in the Dyer’s home county of Staffordshire in the Trentham Estate, the 2014 finals had 900 people in attendance.


2015 Challenge

Following the continued success of year 2, challenge number 3 had a lot to live up to… and it didn’t fail in doing so!

The 2015 challenge was proudly fronted by Theo once again. Joining us was also The Alton Towers Resort, who set the KS4 challenge and The Leather Satchel Company, who set the KS3 challenge in collaboration with Ryman.

Over 30,000 pupils took part in our 2015 challenge and our finals day was held at The Alton Towers Resort with a turnout of well over 1,000. The day was hosted by ITV’s Ben Hanlin and the entertainment was provided by X Factor finalists Only the Young. There was also the opportunity for the students to go on some of the resorts attractions to really top off a great day.


2016 Challenge

Then we had #TNEC Year 4. We were extremely proud to have Ryman, Theo, Staffordshire University and OCR to continue on this ambitious, shared aim with us.

With us last year for the KS3 challenge we had ‘Kingswood’ and ‘Inspiring Learning’ who set a fantastic, real-life business challenge. Our KS4 challenge was set by Ryman and was actually inspired by Theo himself.

Around 32,000 students took part in #TNEC last year, taking the figure to just over 100,000 since that coffee shop chat in 2012.

During #TNEC Year 4, Ben and Michael also agreed a deal to form The Inspirational Learning Group with the aim of becoming the largest off-timetable provider in the UK along with Jenny and Graham Wynn, Co-Founders of The TTC Group based in Telford.

The aim of doing this was to further the work of the challenge and move into other areas including careers, employability and teambuilding.



2017 Challenge

During 2017 we worked with more than 40,000 students in 43 counties across the UK. With Challenges set by The Alton Towers Resort and Ryman we saw some truly great ideas and more importantly, lots of enthusiasm and passion for the challenges.

For our directors Michael and Ben it was an important year which saw them collect the Social Enterprise Entrepreneurs of the Year Award at The Great British Entrepreneur Awards in November. Shortly after our 1st Birthday in Telford, The Inspirational Learning Group was also announced as the Best New Business by the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce at their annual awards, a fitting accolade for the incredible achievements of 2017.


2018 Challenge

Again, over 40,000 students took part with challenges set by principal sponsor Ryman, and new partner for 2018; KidZania, an indoor city ran by kids!

The competition was as fierce as ever and hosted by celebrity duo Jordan Banjo & Perri Kiely, from dance group sensation ‘Diversity’, 2018’s Final at The International Centre in the West Midlands was the best one yet!

We heard from motivational speaker Brad Burton, witnessed an open and brutally honest Q&A session with Brand Ambassador, Theo and saw some amazing pitches from the final teams.

One team has been invited back to work with Theo’s team to bring their idea for innovative ‘animal mouth’ pencil cases to life, which will be stocked in Ryman’s top 50 stores nationally! How’s that for a real life business challenge?!

2018 also saw the sister challenge launched in colleges/sixth forms; ‘The National Skills Challenge’, in partnership with NatWest Bank. This is a great compliment to The Inspirational Learning Group‘s portfolio, and is a testament to Mike and Ben’s commitment to their cause.


2019 Challenge

University Campus of Football Business2019 saw a great new partner introduced to the programme in The University Campus of Football Business (UCFB). Working in conjunction with The FA, 2019’s challenge participants created an event or competition to increase female participation in football. Highly topical given current trends and the Lionesses recent performances, the challenge has seen some great ideas incubated by the young people of the UK.

The 2019 challenge culminated in us hosting almost 200 schools at the iconic Wembley Stadium in July 2019, an achievement Mike and Ben literally dreamed about in those early days.

Ben said: “We’re incredibly proud to be working with some fantastic partners, not least Ryman and of course UCFB, without whom, Wembley would not have been possible… Wembley is a truly world-class venue and the quality of the presentations was higher than ever.



2020 sees The National Enterprise continue its growth with two brand new partners setting the key stage challenges for the first time ever! Ryman continues to support the challenge as principal partner, and the introduction of the ‘Ryman Shop Challenge’, an amazing new initiative that sees all schools who participate in TNEC, also receive the Ryman Shop initiative at no extra cost!

Setting our KS3 challenge is multi-national plc, ‘Air Products’ with their challenge centred around sustainability and recycling.

Our KS4 partner is the team at sports nutrition brand ‘Grenade’, with a challenge to see our young people design a new flavour for their ‘Carb Killa’ range of protein bars!

We’re incredibly excited for the 2019/20 academic year and can’t wait to deliver our brand new challenges!


Will your school be part of the story?

As you can see from Michael and Ben’s own humble story that began in a coffee shop, anything is possible!

“Anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve!” – J.K. Rowling

Coffee shops seem to be the place for ideas. Did you know that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in a coffee shop? What’s for certain is that there will be a few more conversations in coffee shops across the UK and who knows where that may lead…

Find out more about the Challenge or give us a call to find out more on 01785 550 160.