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

What started as a coffee shop conversation is now the UK’s largest Enterprise competition for secondary schools, having worked with over 450 schools and 250,000 students since our inception in 2012.

2012 – The Idea

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 required skills for the world of work.

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

They shared their exciting ideas with industry contacts and started the hunt for a high profile ambassador to front the challenge.  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,” recalls 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 enough momentum to be launched.

2013 Challenge

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 promote the challenge to UK schools. Michael recalls: “‘We wanted 50 schools to join us in our first year. We knew that reaching them 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 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

Knowing that their idea worked, Ben and Mike 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 Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis who, along with Ryman Stationers, became the challenge’s lead sponsor.

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

The challenge doubled in size, engaging 21,000 young people from 103 schools across the UK.   Held in the Dyer’s home county of Staffordshire, the 2014 finals had over 900 people in attendance.

2015 Challenge

The 2015 challenge was proudly fronted by Theo Paphitis and Ryman who set the KS3 challenge in collaboration with The Leather Satchel Company.  Alton Towers set the KS4 challenge and were hosts for the 2015 Grand Finals which welcomed over 1,000 guests.

The finals were hosted by ITV’s Ben Hanlin and the entertainment was provided by X Factor finalists Only the Young. Finalists also welcomed the opportunity to enjoy some of Alton Towers Resort’s exhilarating rides and attractions.

2016 Challenge

By #TNEC Year 4 we were extremely proud to have Ryman, Theo, Staffordshire University and OCR as our main sponsors and were delighted to welcome Kingswood and Inspiring Learning as our KS3 challenge sponsors. Our KS4 challenge was set by Ryman and was inspired by Theo’s own entrepreneurial past asking students to create their own school-based businesses. The finals were held at Doncaster Race course, hosted by CBBC stars Dick and Dom with an Inspirational speech from Iconic Winter OIympian, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards.

Over 32,000 students took part in #TNEC in 2016, taking the total figure to just over 100,000 students since the coffee shop encounter 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.

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. This year the finals were held at The International Centre in the West Midlands, hosted by BBC presenters Sam and Mark.

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 run by kids for kids!

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

One team particularly impressed Theo with their idea and was invited back to work with Theo’s team to bring their idea, Animouth pencil cases, to market. The student’s designs  will now be stocked in ’s top 50 stores nationally! How’s that for a real-life business challenge?!

In 2018 The Inspirational Learning Group also launched The National Skills Challenge in partnership with Natwest Bank, offering college and sixth form students the opportunity to compete in a Nationwide Enterprise Event.

 2019 Challenge

In 2019 #TNEC welcomed a new sponsor, The University Campus of Football Business (UCFB) who set the KS4 challenge working in conjunction with The FA. Students were asked to create an event or competition to increase female participation in football, which was of particular significance as The Lionesses enjoyed a successful World Cup Campaign. For the final time the KS3 challenge was set by Ryman, asking KS3 students to create a brand-new mascot for the Stationery brand.

The 2019 challenge culminated in our biggest finals to date! Over 1500 students from 200 schools joined us at the iconic Wembley Stadium in July 2019, an achievement Mike and Ben could only dream about in those early days.

Ben said: “We’re incredibly proud to be working with some fantastic partners, not least 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  Challenge

2020 sees The National Enterprise continue its growth with two brand new partners setting our challenges!

Setting our KS3 challenge is multi-national plc, Air Products with their challenge focused on sustainability and recycling.

Our KS4 partner is sports-nutrition brand Grenade, challenging students to design a brand new flavour for their ‘Carb Killa’ range of protein bars, which will then be taken to market with retailers across the UK!

2021 – The story continues

Returning to set our KS3 challenge is multi-national plc, Air Products.  Following the success of last year’s challenge, we are thrilled to welcome Air Products back for a second year.

Our KS4 partner is high street bank, Natwest who will be challenging students to create their own social enterprise to address a common issue affecting their daily life, school, family or community.

Paired with the launch of our online platform, TILG Virtual, 2021 looks set to become TNEC’s most exciting year yet!

Will your school be part of the story?

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

To find out more about this year’s challenges and how your school or organisation can get involved, call us on 01785 550 160.