Right after starting high school, when I was around 16 years old, I heard that students participating in my school’s JA Company Programme were doing exceptionally well at the national level. They were winning awards, participating in international competitions and had a leading professor that was named the ‘best in the city’. I wanted to be one of those students!
I wanted to learn how to run a company and create value – both socially and economically. Moreover, I wanted to do it, not just read about it in a book, like many other subjects you learn in high school. “Entrepreneurship and Business Plan Development” soon became one of my elective classes, and the class I considered the most important for my future – which in the end turned out to be true.
What most impressed me about the JA Company Programme was how professional it was, we didn’t pretend to run a company, we actually developed a real tax-regulated business! And the business community took us seriously. We were not considered just a bunch of kids trying to make money, we were regarded as problem solvers creating value for others. Ungt Entreprenørskap (or JA Norway) really taught the Norwegian business community about the importance of young entrepreneurs.
While the JA Company Programme helped shape and develop my business acumen, I believe the desire to become an entrepreneur always existed within me. For as long as I can remember I have been a creative and problem-solving type of person, both when it came to theoretical and practical challenges. While vacationing as a child, I remember developing my first “business,” which included dripping water on beach guests if they got too hot from the sun. My motivation? The 50 cents I charged per person, which I then could spend at the local toy store. So as a child, the motivation was to create value for myself, however, and as cliché as it may sound, as I got older the motivation began to move from myself to the people around me. Finally, when I realized that my skills and personal abilities were perfectly in sync with entrepreneurship, I decided that I was meant to become an entrepreneur.
Today, I am 22 years old, and CEO and chairman of my own company, the Intergenerational Meeting (Generasjonsmøtet M AS), actually the same company that I created during my second JA Company Programme! The idea behind the company was born from the distinct gap my colleagues and I noticed, that existed between the local community and our grandparents – seniors in retirement homes. This troubling gab between the two was leaving the elderly in isolation, mainly because they were no longer able to participate as actively in society as they had before, due to practical, physical and psychological reasons. As a consequence of this, we saw that retirement homes and the community at-large existed as two separate worlds instead of one.
Our solution was simple and effective. We enlisted our own friends to visit different homes during their weekends to share their lives and activities with the residents. By bringing both unknown and known activities together, both the young and old were able to exchange experience and knowledge. By doing this, we sought to close the gap of isolation, so that the retirement homes became less foreign to the youth, and the youth and society outside became less foreign to seniors. Retirement homes were soon willing to pay for this service, and today we have 15 part-time employees under the age of 20, all visiting different retirement homes in Oslo, Norway. The net profit is solid and the future looks bright for us!
I definitely attribute a major part of my current success to the JA Company Programme, as it was my first entrepreneurial experience and the place where I learned both the upsides and sacrifices one must make in order to be successful. It gave me the essential practice I needed in order to evolve into the business woman I am today and motivated me to think differently. Most importantly, the programme gave me a passion, without this opportunity I would be a student without a strong understanding of what I want to do in life.
As I wrap this up, I want to share one piece of advice to other young entrepreneurs: failure is as important as success. Don’t be afraid to fail, because failure contains some of the best lessons to help you grow into the best entrepreneur you can be. And when you fail – because most entrepreneurs do fail hundreds of times before finding one success – allow yourself to learn from it. And always move on, don’t get stuck on a failed venture or lost opportunities.
Finally, remember: Everyone can be an entrepreneur, it’s just a matter of self-confidence, belief in your idea, some essential business knowledge (JA can definitely help with this!) and your ability to take risks. The rest is just icing on the cake!