#NoWrongPath for Wick’s Envirocache

You might have noticed or been involved in the #nowrongpath campaign a couple of weeks ago. It was spearheaded by Developing the Young Workforce, a Scottish Government initiative which aims to help young people bridge the gap between education and employment – between ‘learning and earning’. DYW operate Scotland-wide, and have already done some sterling work in getting senior pupils placed into work experience positions in industry, and in communicating to schools and colleges what skills employers are looking for from school leavers and students.

Their #nowrongpath campaign was launched on the day the Scottish exam results came out to show young people that regardless of what their results may be, there is no wrong path to success. A number of high profile names shared social media posts detailing their exam results and career journeys.

I was invited to add my own story. A law degree and five years working as a litigation solicitor isn’t the most traditional route to my present mixed-media writing and broadcasting career and it’s not a career I ever I imagined I would have, but I’m more than happy with the way it has turned out. What I didn’t add to my post (and indeed rarely confess to) is that I only got a ‘B’ in my Higher English. I’m not sure even my children know about that ‘B’, nor did my editor, till now…

The campaign posts made for some very interesting reading. The current Dr Who Peter Capaldi was rejected from drama college yet has still made it as a successful actor. Crime writer Ian Rankin used to be a swine-herd. There were posts from journalists who used to work in Asda, marketing managers who started out as hairdressers, and an accountancy office manager who started his career as a flight attendant.

But by far the most interesting posts were from entrepreneurs – the self-starters who seemed to neatly side-step the traditional ‘Highers – University – Job’ path that so many of our parents and teachers pushed us towards, and which is still seen by many as the panacea for success. Instead, they just got on with the job.

It’s well known that Sir Richard Branson performed dismally at his string of expensive public schools, yet the founder of the Virgin empire was listed earlier this year by Forbes Magazine as having a net worth of $5billion. Simon Cowell left school with just a couple of O-Levels, and worked his way up to the top of the UK’s music business after starting in the mail room at EMI. And Steven Spielberg was repeatedly rejected when he applied to study film at university, so he just picked up a movie camera and made it up as he went along.

I was introduced to a couple of young entrepreneurs from Wick last week, and have little doubt that we’ll be hearing more from them in the future. Ellora James and Mari-Ann Ganson are the creators of Envirocache, an app which will turn family walks in the country into competitive nature-based treasure hunts. They’ve just started sixth year at Wick High School, and on top of their studies this year, hope to continue working to develop their app from its current prototype stage and get it to market.

Next week the pair will be pitching their business at the UK finals of the European Satellite Navigation Competition and, if successful, they’ll win a package of support and funding which will help them realise their dream. Even getting to the finals is remarkable – their entry was picked as just one of seven finalists from 250 entries. Be in no doubt – that’s impressive. This isn’t a competition for schools – many of the other entries came from businesses which are already trading, headed up by space technologists and astro-physicists with years of experience in industry. The UK finals take place in the UK Space Agency. Due to their remote location (and the desire not to miss school) Ellora and Mari-Ann will present via Skype.

So what is behind their success? As far as I can tell, having worked with them to help get their final presentation into shape, it boils down to just two things; first having come up with a commercially sound business idea, and second, having the tenacity not to give up in the face of apparent failure. This isn’t the first competition that the girls have entered, and they have tasted both success and failure.

Along the way the girls have had support, first from staff at school, then from the Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, and also from Interface, who paired them with Robert Gordons University, whose students have developed the app to its current prototype stage. But there is no doubt that they have been the drivers of this project, and that they deserve to succeed.

If they don’t win the UK finals, it won’t be for lack of trying. And having seen Ellora and Mari-Ann in action, I doubt this competition will be the end of Envirocache. Watch this space, and remember, whether they make it with this or not, there’s #nowrongpath.

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This column first appeared in six SPP Group newspapers week ended 25th August 2017.