Claire Young, inspiring the next

Back in 2008 Claire Young beat 30,000 candidates to reach the final of the fourth series of BBC1’s The Apprentice, impressing Lord Sugar (just plain old "Sir Alan" back then) with her determination and presentation skills.

The 33-year-old (who splits her time between London and Yorkshire), was born in Johannesburg and brought up in Yorkshire. She worked for Colgate, L’Oreal and Superdrug and had carved out a successful retail career.

Claire says she signed up for The Apprentice because she would sit there watching it, “screaming at how useless these people are. In Series 3 they went to a French farmers market and they took this really rubbish rubber cheese to the cheese capital of the world. I thought, if this is Britain’s best business talent, God help us.”

Trusting her instincts

Her instinct had also told her that she needed more of a challenge professionally, despite being outwardly successful.

She explains, “I was absolutely bored out of my brains in the corporate world. I had itchy feet. I can remember sitting in my seat at work thinking, ‘Is this it?’ I’d dealt with hundreds of thousands of retail stock for a multinational chain and I thought, ‘I’m really bored’ and I can remember sitting back listening to people who ran their own businesses talking absolute nonsense and thinking, ‘If they can do it, I can.’”

Claire says that most of her business decisions are based on instinct: “I applied for the Apprentice on instinct. When I finished and was offered reality TV shows and big job roles, I turned them down on instinct.”

Being emotionally engaged in what she’s doing is crucial for Claire and it’s this that drives her and, she suspects, a lot of other entrepreneurs too: “I think people should be psychometrically tested at school,” she says, “I know that I need to be emotionally invested in something. If I am sent an invitation to invest in something, I know within the first few sentences whether I am interested and if I’m not I don’t even bother.”


 Leaving something behind

Entrepreneurs have this need to build something out of nothing, she says, adding, “it’s not just about making money. I feel I need to leave some sort of legacy.”

This legacy is already impressive and has included a range of ventures since The Apprentice. She set up TeenBiz a couple of years ago, the first business start-up scheme aimed at teenagers. The idea was to provide a "business-in-a-box" for  young entrepreneurs; if they had an exciting, scalable idea then TeenBiz would provide the infrastructure to get the business started.  “There is a lot of ad-hoc work that happens in enterprise,” says Claire, “There’s lots of time and effort but it never converts into something substantial. We NEED young entrepreneurs but don’t give them the opportunities they need. If you’re under 18 you can’t get business investment and until recently no business bank account. TeenBiz had more than 600 applications in its first year so it was very successful. Sadly, that scale of scheme needs resources and funding and when one of the banks pulled it I couldn’t continue.”

She started her current business School Speakers four years ago with 54 speakers. The company now has over 300 speakers on its books and works with thousands of schools in the UK and internationally.

She set the company up after being inundated with requests to speak in schools. “It was an untapped market,” she says, “Teachers were trying to find speakers on the internet.” The trend for outside speakers is really popular in America and Claire saw the potential to grow it in the UK. School Speakers now has eight staff members and remains focused on delivering speakers, though they are constantly approached by other companies to branch out. Speakers are categorised and Claire says, “We deal with the weird and the wonderful and we often get phone calls at 8pm to find a speaker for the following morning. Nine times out of ten we can help.”

The impact of bringing someone into the classroom who’s not a teacher can be immense, says Claire: “Sometimes students think teachers live on a different planet JUST because they are a teacher. Aspiration is key for students.”

Girl power

Around the time her daughter was born two years ago she also co-founded Girls Out Loudwhich champions and campaigns for young women; supporting and inspiring them to aim for a future they might otherwise think is beyond their reach. The social enterprise came out of frustration at seeing the trend among young girls towards poor body image and lack of confidence. We would hold school events and they would say, ‘When you’re here it’s ok. But when you’re not I don’t talk to my parents or my teacher, I almost see you as a big sister.’ In the US the big mentoring scheme is Big Brothers Big Sisters and they were happy lend us their name, so the Girls Out Loud Big Sister mentoring scheme with hundreds of women is rolling out across the north west and there’s a huge demand already. “It’s very rewarding,” says Claire, “but it all comes back to lack of funding.”

Ups and downs

Though impressively chock full of ups, Claire’s career hasn’t been without its downs. She says this is the nature of being an entrepreneur. Her first business was in helping people with luxury properties rent them out as wedding venues. She sold it a year later to her business partner and thinks it may have since closed. “It was a guinea-pig business really,” she says, “If you make millions from your first business you are lucky and if it was easy being an entrepreneur everyone would be doing it!” By this time she was doing lots of media work and had dipped her toe in the water with school talks. “I was working seven days a week,” she says, “and I thought, ‘What is it that I least enjoy?’ and it was the wedding venues business. But I learned a lot from it, namely to make sure everything is on paper and you have an exit agreement.”

She says she has learned to be focused with her resources. “The scattergun approach doesn’t work with me. As an entrepreneur you have three commodities: cash, time and brainpower. I have to focus these.” She also learned that fancy premises don’t a business make: “You can run a business from an iPad in your bedroom. Alan Sugar always said you have to have a parrot on your shoulder asking whether you really need things. Printer cartridges are easy but for bigger purchases I think about them for at least a week first.”


Links (as mentioned in the podcast)

School Speakers

Girls Out Loud

The Apprentice

Teacher Toolkit 

Favourite business book

“I have never read a business book. I fall into bed at 9-9.30pm because I am an early riser so I only ever read one or two pages and fall asleep. I do follow the Womanthology blog, which is like reading a daily paper, and the Women’s Business Forum.

Inspirational quote

“The best lesson I learned from The Apprentice was: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You have to knock on doors.”

Productivity tool

“I am not hugely into apps and technology but my iPad has changed my life. I have my online diary, reminders, contacts all there. I am ruthlessly organised and I love a list. How did we cope without technology?! I also drink A LOT of Yorkshire Tea.”

Contact Claire on Twitter


I really hope you enjoyed Claire's story, whether you just read it here or listened to the podcast. As always, the story is best told by Claire herself; so do grab yourself a drink (Yorkshire Tea optional!) and have a listen.

If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them on Twitter or Facebook – I’d love to hear from you!

And finally, if you did listen to the show I would be hugely grateful if you could leave an honest review for The Mission Driven Entrepreneurs Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated! They do matter in the rankings of the show and I read every one.

Click here to open the show in iTunes where you can leave a review and you can also subscribe to get new episodes automatically.

Thanks again to Claire for sharing her story with us.

Next Time...

I'm talking to Oliver Stone, founder of the family-friendly Deershed music festival. Now in its sixth year, Deershed is firmly established on the festival scene. Having been to two with my young son, and been blessed with the most amazing weather, I am a huge fan. The logistics are eye-watering, and you certainly don't do it for the money. Join me next week to find out what motivates Oliver and his family, and to hear the story behind this fabulous event.