Over 100,000 children have started classroom businesses since the Junior Entrepreneur Programme launched in 2010. Thousands of Irish entrepreneurs have mentored the 5th and 6th class primary school pupils while they create, invest in and launch mini businesses in their schools throughout the island of Ireland.The businesses created by the participating pupils have achieved sales of almost €3 million, with a significant proportion of the profits being donated to local charities. “One of the key changes in the approaches of the classroom entrepreneurs has been the realisation that their entrepreneurial endeavours can make a difference in their locality. As a result, they’ve embraced the concept of social entrepreneurship, funded by their successful classroom businesses,” explained Programme co-founder Marie Lynch.Children combine their innate creativity with the skills they develop on the programme to create original products and launch businesses ranging from board games to storybooks, high-end craft and educational products and businesses with strong sustainability and wellbeing themes. Standout projects in last year’s programme included:

·       Cool Cards Inc., Irish language flashcards that help children learn Irish, were developed by Laura Dillon’s 5th Class in St. Mary’s Primary School, Athlone. They are also suitable for adults who struggle with the language. The children created original pieces of high-quality artwork representing each word and included a QR code pointing to the correct pronunciation.

·       Alfie’s Aughrim Adventures was created by 5th class in Sacred Heart National School, Aughrim, Co. Wicklow, under the guidance of their teacher Emma Barriscale. What started as a simple guide to the landmarks of Aughrim was transformed into a rhyming and beautifully illustrated children’s book in the style of a treasure hunt. Each child invested €10 of their own money. They sold out the 120 copies produced in the first print run and made a profit of €732.

·       Andrew O’Regan’s 5th and 6th class in Lawrencetown National School, Co Galway, embraced recycling and upcycling to create a beautifully crafted product using old horseshoes and wood offcuts.  The box-framed golden horseshoes went on sale in the village shop.

·       The Climate Change Colouring Book created by the 6th class in Farnham national school in Co. Cavan educates young children on the impact of climate change in a very accessible way. At the same time, the colouring element keeps them engaged.

·       The 4th and 5th class at Beaumont Boys National School, Cork City, created Workout. The boys devised an innovative and fun board game that requires players to do exercises, including squats, shadow boxing, and frog jumps, to move along the board, earning them a profit of €1,200.

Initially launched in Kerry, JEP went national in 2013 and has opened the minds of children in every county to Ireland about entrepreneurship in their community. It’s not all plain sailing, though, and the children are often struck by the problems faced in the real world. “The feedback from many pupils is that starting a business is much tougher than they had imagined. Many children cite the biggest challenges as learning to compromise, listening to everyone’s ideas and working as a team, according to Marie Lynch.  However, their biggest takeaway is the sense of pride and achievement they feel from successfully creating a business from scratch. “Through JEP, children experience first-hand just how much fun creating, working and succeeding in business can be”, she said. “The children appreciate every cent when their investment in the business is on the line – and they savour the profit they achieve. Over 10.000 pupils in 400 classes are currently working on their classroom businesses as part of the 2023 programme,” she added.

Enterprise Ireland has supported JEP since 2020 under its Primary Schools Entrepreneurship Initiative, underlining the vital role of entrepreneurship in shaping Ireland’s future and the commitment to fostering an entrepreneurial culture from an early age.

Successful Irish entrepreneurs have been closely associated with JEP since its inception, including Tweak.com founder Jerry Kennelly, one of the programme’s founders. Frank Salmon, CMS Distribution Chupi Sweetman of Chupi Jewellery and Sonya Lennon, co-founder of Lennon Courtney, are among the other entrepreneurs who have spent time mentoring pupils in the classroom or online workshops.

‍Teachers are universally positive about the impact of the Junior Entrepreneur Programme, and their passion has helped the programme grow from 500 participants in 2011 to 10,000 participants in the current year. Teachers opt into the programme and facilitate it over 3 – 6 months in the classroom.