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Inside a cricket stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Nick Proctor is busy working out how to best install solar panels on the sloping roof. As the boss of Amber Energy, a growing energy-efficiency consultancy, he believes they could help cut the stadium’s energy use by half. “Changing the way we generate energy can benefit the environment – and give businesses a good return on their investment,” he says.

28-year old Nick has expanded his firm Amber Energy. He currently employs 10 staff, most close to his own age because he wants to give other young people a chance.

28-year old Nick has expanded his firm Amber Energy. He currently employs 10 staff, most close to his own age because he wants to give other young people a chance.

Amber Energy is one of thousands of companies launched with the help of the Shell LiveWIRE programme. It encourages young people with promising ideas to set up their own business, and helps existing young companies grow.

Only 10% of small businesses last more than three years, according to the World Bank. The business planning advice and management training that Shell LiveWIRE delivers can help them survive, and build for the future. It also runs publicity-generating competitions where aspiring business people can meet leading entrepreneurs.

A word of advice

Nick Proctor was still working from his father’s house when, in 2010, Amber Energy was shortlisted for a Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. At the UK finals he met top UK entrepreneurs including Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation which supports new businesses.  The media coverage from the programme  boosted business enough for him to move into his own office and hire more staff. Emma continues to provide advice, says Nick.

In some countries, LiveWIRE links young entrepreneurs to mentors. In Port Harcourt, Nigeria, for example, Obianuju Chukwuji Joseph, manager of an interior decorating and house-keeping services company, De Zionite Enterprises, receives regular guidance from an experienced retailer. “My mentor has helped me to succeed in a practical way,” she says. “She guided me, for example, to join the Association of Traders and learn more about taxes.” Obianuju has expanded her business, employing two sisters and three other people.

Spreading success

With the development of her business Mercy has employed her two sisters along with three other staff.

With the development of her business Mercy has employed her two sisters along with three other staff.

The LiveWIRE programme began in 1982 in Strathclyde, Scotland, as a way to share the benefits of the North Sea oil boom. Then, as now, it helped tackle unemployment by inviting business proposals from people aged 18-30 and advising them how to develop their own firms. The approach quickly spread. Today, LiveWIRE exists in 17 countries where Shell has operations.

The programme is now older than most of the aspiring entrepreneurs it helps. Around 9 million people have attended its workshops and learned more about employment and business opportunities. Between 10-15% of them have gone on to start their own companies. About 65% of those companies are still operating after three years. A UK-based non-profit organisation, Project North East, works with the Shell Global programme manager to oversee the quality of the programme worldwide. In each country the  Shell company runs the programme together with local partners.

Fábio Lewin, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is another success story. He sells water extracted from the coconuts his father grows as a refreshing drink. The husks are pulverised for use as fertiliser. “Before LiveWIRE I knew no one who could help me start a company,” he says. “LiveWIRE created a national network for business people to share their advice.” Now Fábio produces and sells 40,000 litres of coconut water a month.

A brighter future

A new version of Shell LiveWIRE, launched in 2012, focuses on encouraging young entrepreneurs to enter into their top five local business sectors: in the UK, for example, these include digital creative industries and low-carbon technology. Workshops run by local organisations – overseen by Shell managers – guide participants to use their talents in relevant businesses. This aims to increase the start-up rate to around 30%.

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