Professor Gary McEwan: Pay it back with business mentoring

I started in business immediately after leaving school. While I don't condone that sort of behaviour, having come from a family of entrepreneurs, it was the right thing for me to do.

When I think back, I was full of carefree abandon, unencumbered by knowledge, practical experience or overthinking and it leaves me with some faith that, in ­business, naivety is not always a disadvantage.

I started three small ­businesses and each failed for one reason or other prompting my dad to suggest that while it was good to learn from my mistakes, I should try not to get all my education that way.

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With my fourth business, reality soon hit when I had to raise the money I needed to get going, £7,500 as I recall. The banks I spoke to were strangely hung up on my lack of success, experience and knowledge and I was, for the most part, left thinking that the task of raising funds was going to be beyond me.

Then I encountered the Prince’s Scottish Youth ­Business Trust (PSYBT), an organisation dedicated to the support of young entrepreneurs. They gave me a £5,000 loan, but left me the task of raising the shortfall. My proper journey began.

I will never forget the ­pivotal role of PSYBT and how it dared to fund those young people and give them a chance.

I was not alone either; household names such as Brewdog, Aircraft ­Medical, MJM International, DADA Events, Thorpe Molloy Recruitment and Seric ­Systems have built large ­businesses with their ­support. Over the years, I have maintained a strong link to this supportive PSYBT family, mentoring some new businesses and doing my best to inspire our next generation.

PSYBT recently merged with the larger Prince’s Trust, and continues to provide crucial support to orientate young people towards education, employment and self-employment.

If those who receive give something back, if we ‘pay it forward’, if we can pass on the ­benefit of our experiences to the next generation, then we do a ­sterling service to our young people and to our country. That, however, is only half of the story – there are few activities that offer so much in return.

I, along with two others, recently sat on a Prince’s Trust panel. Our task was to interview and assess whether a young entrepreneur was ready to drive her new business forward and, if so, should we provide the funds to make that happen.

Her personal story was fraught with tragedy, heartache, determination and resilience and was utterly compelling. When we announced that we would help, she was overcome with emotion and it took me straight back to being on that side of the fence when supporters were hard to find. Her new journey started that day and she joins our family.

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Giving back when we have been fortunate in life – offering our time, our experiences, our endeavour – makes for a brighter future for everyone. Working together, changes lives, our own included.

Professor Gary McEwan is chief executive officer of ­Elevator, Aberdeen.