Start up and survive the live-wire way

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The Independent Online
Five years ago, Kiren Darashah had the spark of an idea about going into business designing children's clothes. Now, aged only 29, she is exporting to Turkey, Belgium and the United States, and her company - Ben Go Tig - is expected to have a turnover this year of more than pounds 180,000.

Ms Darashah is convinced that her progress is largely down to the help she received from Shell LiveWIRE, a national scheme that the oil company has run for the past 15 years to give young people a start in business.

"My best tip for anybody thinking about setting up their own company is to get strong guidance from the outset and try to have a longer-term sounding board to help you as you want to grow," she said. "My Shell LiveWIRE mentor's point of view was so important when I was striving to make my business idea a reality, and I haven't really stopped using her advice."

But she is just one of more than 100,000 young people helped by the oil company since it began the scheme began 15 years ago. Others include Fleur Sexton, who has used football to encourage students to learn foreign languages; Emily Cosgrove, who has opened a continental cafe in Swansea; and James Keay, who runs a nationwide skip-hire business.

Now Shell is on the lookout for others to join them. On Wednesday it launches the 1998 business start-up awards, to recognise the UK's most promising young business people. To qualify, proprietors must be aged between 16 and 30 and their businesses must have been trading for more than three months but less than 18. They must submit a business plan to the organisers by 31 January.

Regional competitions will take place across the UK in the spring, leading to the national final next summer, at which the UK's Young Business Person of the Year will win a cash prize of pounds 10,000.

Meanwhile, the company has just announced that Armstrong Technology Associates of Wallsend, a Tyneside marine design consultancy, is the 1997 winner of the Shell LiveWIRE Export Challenge, a scheme rewarding the export achievement of small- to medium-sized firms. Managing director David Hewitt won a cheque for pounds 1,000, two airline tickets and a stay in a European hotel.

Chris Fay, chairman and chief executive of Shell UK, explains why LiveWIRE is one of a range of well-established programmes supported by the company. "The small business sector generates the majority of new jobs in Britain today, and small businesses constitute a very high percentage of Shell UK's customers, suppliers and contractors. It is therefore very much in Shell UK's best interests to make a positive contribution to a thriving small business sector which boosts Britain's economy and keeps people in work."

And, while the Federation of Small Businesses says eight out of 10 UK start-ups collapse each year due to a lack of sound advice, Shell claims that a scheme like LiveWIRE can double a business's survival chances.