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The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge is part of The Inspirational Learning Group, whose aim is to provide innovative and enterprising off-timetable events for schools, colleges and universities; engaging, inspiring and motivating students to be the best they can be.

Now in its 6th successful year, what started as a coffee shop conversation, The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge is now the UK’s largest enterprise competition having attracted 450 schools and 200,000 students since its inception in 2013.

2012 – The Idea

It started as a coffee shop conversation, and is now the UK’s biggest schools’ enterprise education competition.

In the summer of 2012, cousins Ben and Michael Dyer were sat in a coffee shop in Staffordshire University. Sitting opposite them were two well-dressed professionals talking about 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.

cip_14732017 Challenge

In our 5th year the aim was to achieve our biggest and best finals to date. 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.

So what’s on the cards for 2018? Michael and Ben have started to put plans in place for a college/sixth form version of the challenge which will have it’s first finals in 2018. As for The National Enterprise Challenge, 2018 promises to see yet more innovation, creativity and excitement as we already have a record number of schools signed up.

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…

Jump to our Challenges Page to find out about the winners…