Interview with former Apprentice star Claire Young

We spoke to headstrong businesswoman and mum-to-be Claire Young, about life after The Apprentice and how she’s supporting young entrepreneurs kick-start their way into the business world…



How old were you when you had your first entrepreneurial idea?

When I was at school I used to sell sweets and break down packets of cigarettes. I’d sell them as individuals. And then at university I used to fly to Tenerife and buy 200 packs for £6 and sell them on campus. That was my entrepreneurial spirit.


And you’re now involved with three youth entrepreneurship organisations. Tell us a bit about School Speakers.

School Speakers is my own business. We’re an agency. We’ve got nearly 200 people who go across the UK delivering workshops, talks and enterprise days to students. It’s basically a one stop-shop to connect schools with inspiring business speakers.

Last year the Government pulled careers out of schools and said it can’t be internally provided, as it’s not objective, so schools now have to bring somebody in externally.

The idea for School Speakers came about because I started being asked to do so much work in schools, I didn’t have the capacity to do it myself. I had people coming to me saying ‘I need somebody for Science week’. It was really like a light bulb moment. I thought: is there not one place you can get all of this information? So it started in 2010 and just keeps growing.


Where did the idea for Girls Out Loud come from?

Girls Out Loud is a social enterprise working with girls aged 13 to 18.

I attended a lot of events for girls across the North with my business partners and we thought: there’s such an opportunity here. You’ve got the Girl Guides, but for a lot of girls it’s not suitable, they don’t relate to it. So we said instead of doing ad-hoc things, why don’t we create a social enterprise? It’s been a bit like throwing a stone in a pond, the ripples have been growing – it’s lovely. We started in April 2010 and we’re incredibly busy.

Probably the most exciting thing is that we set up a mentor scheme last year called Big Sister, which has been such a big success, now rolling out across The North West.


And how about Teen Biz?

Last year we set up a not for profit scheme called Teen Biz, which is the UK’s first start up scheme for under 18s. People come up with business ideas and we choose a winner. They then get a business bank account with Natwest, which is the first time under 18s have been able to get a business bank account. They also get funding, a mentor, a website and business cards. If they’ve got a really good idea, there’s always the potential for them to turn it into a business.


Have you had many applications?

There’s an issue with awareness in schools. As it’s been set up as not-for-profit, the money being donated for it is actually going into student pots and not being spent on marketing.

There are some really good entrepreneurs out there, aged 14-16 – the next Alan Sugars – who would absolutely love the scheme. They just don’t know about it.


What are the main challenges you’re facing?

I think the biggest issue is the barrier between education and business. A report by Pearson, the education publishers, shows we need to increase understanding of entrepreneurship in schools.

We need more SMEs and more alternatives to university because some people don’t want to go to university. We need to create jobs by getting people educated about entrepreneurship at a young age. You tick a lot of boxes, you create jobs, you get SMEs off the ground and you have alternatives to university. It’s just happening at a very slow rate.

At the moment I’m writing a document for schools interested in business or enterprise. Everything I do, it’s for young people.


Why are you so passionate about getting young people involved in business?

My background before The Apprentice was in the FMCG market. I worked for three big corporates and was director level by the time I was 27. So I ticked that box, did The Apprentice and then set up a property business. It made money but I found it incredibly boring – I think I’ve got to be emotionally engaged in what I’m doing.

I went into a school after The Apprentice and that’s where it all started. A lot of people think I’ve got an education background and I’m like ‘no before The Apprentice, I was selling shampoo!’


You obviously work very hard!

Programmes like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den have been fantastic for young people. But in a way they can paint a slightly unrealistic picture. We live in a very fast society where everyone’s tweeting and Facebooking. Everything’s quick, quick, quick! The reality is that you have to understand the basics and work hard to run a business.

When I’m in schools I don’t want people to go ‘Oh Miss I love your handbag,’ as it’s all obsession about material items. I’ve worked until 10pm every night so I can afford that Chanel handbag. I don’t want people to think it’s all fallen into my lap.


You mentioned that there should to be more alternatives to university. Coming in soon is the Enterprise Loan. What do you think of that?

People were saying on Twitter that whatever is put forward, people are always going to find fault. You get a maximum of £2,500, which has got to be paid back. Of course you’ve got to pay it back, no one gives you something for nothing in this world. A lot of people are saying it’s not very much, but I think that’s a fair chunk of money. I know people who have started their businesses with £100.


What made you go on The Apprentice?

Boredom. I was sat at my desk, tapping my fingers thinking, there’s got to be more to life than this. And like millions of people I was watching the show shouting at the screen ‘I can do a better job than this lot!’ How many people say that and how many people actually go ahead and fill out an application form? Not many. I got through and that was it.


Are you glad you went on it?

Oh yeah, definitely.


Any favourite memories you’d care to share?

It’s the only series he’s done it, but Alan Sugar took the final four out for dinner. That was really nice. There were no cameras and we had a nice dinner in a fantastic restaurant in London.

Working with Lee McQueen was brilliant too, because he’s got a great sense of humour.


How do you pick and choose what you want to do after the show?

I thought about the long term. If you go on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, which I was asked to do, you’re never going to be taken as a credible businesswoman being on TV in a bikini.

Alan Sugar said when you’re thrown into the public eye you have to think with your brain and not with your ego. I was the hottest favourite ever to win The Apprentice. Everybody wants a piece of you, so it is very easy to go off on a tangent. But my family is incredibly grounded.


Do you still keep in contact with Lord Sugar?

He has become a bit of business mentor to me and he’s a friend. He tweeted me last weekend because we’re both big Homeland fans. He’s in America at the moment and was like ‘do you want to know what happens?’


What are you making of the new show at the moment?

I think what’s changed for me is that because everyone is already pretty successful before getting onto the show now, there isn’t that same hunger. Like Tom, who’s one of my favourites, he runs a business that’s making £3.5million. So why on earth are you on The Apprentice?

I also think the show has changed in the past few years to become more entertainment based.


So who’s your tip to win?

Gabrielle, she’s good. Or Tom.


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