We chatted to founder of Givalittle, Nathalie Whitaker about YES and how it influenced her career as a social entrepreneur.
School | Chilton Saint James
Nathalie refers to herself as a YES junkie having participated in the scheme two years in a row, first in 2000 and again in 2001.
“In the 6th form we formed Tush Enterprises and made corporate branded plastic cushions. But in the 7th form we stepped things up a gear with a hybrid value-added product, aromatherapy teddy bears” says Nathalie. “Essentially we were unpicking the back seams of a well known soft toy brand and stuffing it full of herbs and cloth soaked in essential oils. We outsourced the re-stitching to our Grandmothers” Nathalie explains.
Nathalie describes their first year of YES as a crazy success. “The branded cushions was a door opener. We saved for petrol money for a sales trip to Auckland and got meetings with most of the corporate marketing managers we targeted.” says Nathalie. And they did well, Tush Cush Enterprises was named as one of the top 5 companies in the Lion Nathan Young Enterprise Scheme National Awards.
The following year Nathalie believes they focused too much on the technical process and lacked the X factor. They still got to the National Awards but weren’t placed in the top 5.
“The most amazing thing about YES was the call backs and meetings we got with CEOs and corporate marketing managers for the plastic cushions” says Nathalie. “I’m pretty sure I have far more interesting products and services to chat about today, but it’s a massive struggle to get a look in” says Nathalie of her current experience as a social entrepreneur.
One of the biggest take-outs for Nathalie was the importance of being adaptable and problem solving on the go. “I think when we did YES we believed there was a correct way to run a business, but none of us had any experience so we just made stuff up along the way” says Nathalie. That skill has stayed with her to this day.
Nathalie also acknowledges the support and importance of mentors. “I can remember making our pitch for the Finals to a panel of distinguished judges including Angus Fletcher. I have been lucky enough to have Angus as a mentor since then” says Nathalie.
And it was through her experience with YES that Nathalie years later, connected with Movac who Nathalie describes as “a group of awesome individual entrepreneurs” who funded Nathalie’s social enterprise startup Givealittle.
When asked whether she would do YES again, Nathalie responded “Absolutely, it was the only school activity that gave me practical skills that I can directly link to the way I work today.”
“For me, the whole experience of YES was really about realising that you create your own opportunities so if you are not satisfied with where things are at then it is a lot faster to change it yourself than wait for someone else to do it for you” says Nathalie.
“I was also pretty disappointed that my commerce study at uni didn’t really seem to serve up any practical trade skills for being in business – and for that reason I feel very grateful for the experience I had with Young Enterprise.”
“I also LOVED the freedom that it provided. I can remember skipping classes to do deals on the plastic cushion and being in my element. I guess I got addicted to the independence that being in business for yourself provides. These days that independence gets offset by the pressure of more risk and responsibility but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
So what is Nathalie doing now?
Together with a great team and investment support from Movac Nathalie founded Givealittle and are getting ready to launch an exciting new product for the international market.
“I am also having a great time as a trustee on the board for the Telecom Foundation” says Nathalie. And if that wasn’t enough, she is also currently doing a project in philanthropic strategy for education which she describes as “bending my mind too”.
Nathalie’s three tips for budding entrepreneurs:
- Be bold. It’s hard to say no to a young person in a school uniform.
- Be imperfect – the most important part of the YES experience is all the bits that you won’t see on paper.
- Make sure you truly believe in your product or service. It can be an uphill battle if underneath you think it is a bit lame.
Connect with Nathalie:
Website | www.givealittle.co.nz
Twitter | https://twitter.com/givealittle