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Volunteering to drive entrepreneurship and innovation in Europe

As a Barclays employee, I have had the opportunity to work with JA Europe twice as a business volunteer. The Innovation Camps in Madrid have given both volunteers and students alike access to a truly unique experience that goes beyond expectations. In just a few hours students are able to discover what means to be an entrepreneur, and volunteers the chance to share their expertise and enjoy a very refreshing experience with tomorrow’s leaders.

As a business volunteer, I helped a group of students create a business plan that addressed a specific challenge and pitch it to a jury in under four minutes. The challenges given to students touch on current societal challenges (i.e. reducing our carbon footprint), which make them relatable and motivates the students to build positive solutions for society. This allows for everyone to get involved in the discussion.

Working together with the students is a very rewarding experience. The students constantly surprised me with their thoughtful ideas – many of them very innovative – and I was able to help them rationalize and go deeper into discovering the realities of the effort required and overall feasibility. 

Once the students agreed on the idea, they moved on to building their business plan. This required them to take decisions on each of the key elements in a business proposal, looking practically at each step. The students looked to define the value addition of their product vis-a-vis the competition, their target customers, commercial channels, resources needed (including how to finance it), they even thought to define the income versus costs model which could prove whether it was a worthwhile investment. While working on this, I again helped them to think in practical terms, sharing examples from my professional experience so they could understand the possibilities and implications of each option before making any decisions. I could clearly see this was really interesting and helpful for them – they were finally learning how things work in the real world.

Once business model was complete, it was time to start working on their elevator pitch and the presentation that would support it. At this point, we are generally always tight on time, so it always impresses me how much they are able to focus, keep going and finish on time, showcasing their excellent team work.

Something very important for me is the promotion of team participation from those students that perhaps have difficulties sharing their thoughts or are very shy. It makes me proud to see how each team member finds a way to collaborate with the tasks– true teamwork!

One last key element for volunteers is supporting the students that present the elevator pitch through encouragement, helping them stay calm and sharing any tips than can help them make it better. 

I strongly recommend this experience and initiative to everyone! While, I my schedule is usually very full and getting organized to dedicate one full day to this can be stressful, it is all worth it. Sharing a day with these young students, full of energy and curiosity, is extremely rewarding and refreshing, even helping me ‘reset’ and get inspired.

Written by Veronica Benito, a Barclays Volunteer working in Spain. 


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