Company providing oxygen for the start-ups

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COMMUNICATIONS firm O2 is helping to accelerate new business start-ups and encourage entrepreneurialism among young people.

As part of these efforts, O2 is once again backing the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards, in particular the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category, for all promising owner-managers and directors aged 35 and under. Leeds is home to O2’s largest centre in the UK with more than 2,500 employees, plus those in its retail stores.

Gareth Pickles, head of business customer service at O2, believes that growth in Europe is dependent on nurturing the skills and talent of future generations. “As a digital services business, our success depends on identifying and backing great ideas and unleashing the positive potential of young people and technology,” he said.

Last month O2, the commercial brand of Telefónica UK, opened its first UK Wayra Academy in London – a multi-million pound investment offering budding technology entrepreneurs the chance to get investments to help to turn their innovative ideas into reality.

“The first 16 successful start-ups have been given great office space, initial financing, plus access to technology expertise and mentoring from within Telefónica to help them develop and refine their business idea,” said Mr Pickles.

“At the end of six months we will help them secure next stage funding through our network of partners/venture capitalists or if their business is a very close fit to Telefónica we may increase our investment or introduce them to Telefónica’s other venture capital operations.”

Next week sees that focus turn to Leeds when 40 schoolchildren will take part in the very first Think Big School and get the chance to practice the principles of entrepreneurship. Through its Think Big programme, O2 aims to empower young 13 to 24-year-olds to bring their ideas to life and improve communities. The schoolchildren will spend the day at O2’s Arlington Business Centre in Leeds and work alongside experts to turn their business ideas into a reality using the best technology in the business. The top ideas will be backed with cash and mentoring through Think Big. If successful, the plan is to roll out the approach across Europe.

“It’s a great opportunity for us in Leeds to work with the raw talent and no-barriers attitude of schoolchildren. Perhaps we may even find the next Facebook,” said Mr Pickles.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the O2 brand. O2 in the UK has doubled its customer base in 10 years to just over 23m and recorded revenues of £1.434bn in the three months to March 31, 2012.

The other categories in the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards are: Companies with a turnover under £10m, sponsored by Yorkshire Bank; Companies with a turnover between £10m and £50m, sponsored by PwC; Companies with a turnover of more than £50m, sponsored by DLA Piper; Young Business of the Year, for firms up to three years old, sponsored by Goldman Sachs; Exporter of the Year, sponsored by thebigwordGroup; SME Manufacturer of the Year, for manufacturing companies with a turnover of under £10m, sponsored by KeyedIn; Innovation of the Year, sponsored by Drax; Outstanding Employer of the Year, sponsored by Bradford University School of Management; and the Business Community Award, sponsored by QBE Insurance.