Anthony Gerrard, CEO of Bad Idea, is a prime example of what drives the founding and development of this social enterprise. His experience gives him a deep personal understanding of the obstacles of inequality facing young people as he endured periods of poverty and homelessness that left him longing to transform his own future. He approached 27 support agencies with a business idea and was left bitterly disappointed with the support and advice on offer, as well as being left with a very strong sense that it wasn’t for people like him. He decided to depend on the one person who could make that vital change – himself.
“There is no such thing as a bad idea but it took me months of trying to establish a business to recognise that. In January 2012 I was invited to a strategic meeting hosted by Jobs and Business Glasgow, as one of their clients. A year earlier I had started a business called U18 Team, which provided a bespoke website for 13 – 17 year olds for exclusive online creative exchanges and the meeting focused on finding new ways to inspire 16 to 24 year olds to start their own business. At that point Glasgow was 5000 short of the SMEs it should have had for its population size and I have to admit that the strategy meeting annoyed and frustrated me so much because the discussions illustrated my own experience – that business start up is stuck in the 20th century and so superficial.
The first huge obstacle is at the point of entry, when you’re told to go and write a business plan and if you can’t fit that criteria, forget it. Your initial inspiration is that first idea, which gets you going, fills you with excitement and enthusiasm and propels you into a support agency – and then you’re asked to write a 3 to 5 year business plan. You’re young, full of creativity and innovation and given no chance to nurture that idea, to explore where it comes from and what the ultimate aim is. There are some fantastic people in these support agencies but there are also far too many bureaucrats, stifling that creativity with a tick list of must dos.
The only things I got out of that strategy meeting is realising that there is actually no such thing as a bad idea and that there has to be a way of nurturing ideas before they go down the very traditional, very frustrating route. We have amazing young people in this country coming up with original and fantastic concepts which are too often smothered before they come to fruition. Some ideas will never see the light of day, others will change and mature into something else, a few will be developed in their original form. Looking back at my own experience with U18 Team I knew it was time for change, though I didn’t realise then how long it would take to bring Bad Idea to life.
I got really excited and thought I had the perfect solution to the strategy meeting- not to create another support service, but to inspire more young people to attempt business start-up in the first place. However when I tried to get back to everyone involved I was bounced around, eventually met up with someone who more or less told me to calm down, said my plan was too ambitious and said they would be in touch. I was pretty sure they were just going through the motions and I was having none of it. I’d lived and breathed that experience myself and I wanted it transformed for all other young people in Scotland and to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship at a much earlier age.
I’m speaking from experience here – I grew up in poverty and was homeless at 18. I tried to survive on benefits, which is a horrible place to be and at age 26 I decided to study and completed my first year in law at university, but at the start of second year I lost my best friend to cancer and was so devastated the uni decided I should defer for a year. That left me with nothing – no family support, no benefits – and struggling to survive. Sometimes education is the only place kids on their own can survive and by November 2010 I was despairing so in January 2011 I started U18 Team.
That experience meant I knew what was ahead of me when I started Bad Idea but it was hard. I was sleeping on friends’ couches, surviving on Enterprise Allowance while putting on a brave face, like going to meetings and paying for the coffee knowing that was the last of my benefit money so I wouldn’t be eating that night. I was very very hungry a lot of the time but I had a vision of how this could work and I had to make it happen. Some people made that vital difference – Professor Vic Lally at Glasgow University gave Bad Idea academic gravitas, Liz McGuire, Senior Policy Development Officer at Glasgow City Council gave me sponsorship and James Muldon at the Scottish Government provided practical advice and support through Scotland Can Do. The first Bad Idea competition was a pilot in 2014 and the organisation now has 14 employees in 7 cities and the 2015 competition is in full swing – every minute of effort has been worth it but I hope to make life considerably easier for anyone else hoping to do the same and get their business up and running.
Article first appeared in The Herald, Friday, May 1 2015