Interview with Callum Hill, the teenager behind ‘TeenWeb Conference’ on young entrepreneurship, and why he set it up

Organiser of TeenWeb Conf dispels the myth that all 'young entrepreneurs' are from privileged backgrounds, and tells us how the education system needs an overhaul in terms of the teaching of entrepreneurship, and ICT

TeenWeb Conference

Callum Hill is one of the teenage organisers behind a new event called ‘TeenWeb Conference‘ that aims to ‘brings young people together, with talks on young entrepreneurship and web development’. We’re told the event will take place at Microsoft London (who are supporting the event), and will take the form of a one day conference centred around talks from a number of speakers of varying notability. What is most promising about this event, is that it’s a ‘for teenagers, by teenagers’ event – which in theory, should mean the event will have an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience it’s targeting. A quick search on twitter reveals that there are a lot of ‘young entrepreneurs’  around – or at least people calling themselves them, so the market is certainly there for a conference. It’s not a new concept – Tomorrow’s Web took place in 2009, but since failed to materialise – so can Callum and the others behind ‘TeenWeb Conf’ pull this off? We ask Callum how he came up with the idea, about the challenges involved in organising an event like this – and more interestingly the real motivations behind creating an event specifically for young people. We also asked Callum’s opinions about the bigger picture – how young entrepreneurship is being portrayed in the media, and how it’s being supported through the education system – if at all – where Callum touched on some issues covered in our piece entitled ‘Why our National Curriculum is a National Joke and how the teaching of IT in the UK needs an overhaul‘ which provoked a real debate.

How did the idea come about?

[Callum Hill] Teenweb Conference came out of my own desire to begin networking with my clients in a more personal manner and to build up industry relationships face-to-face. It felt like something was missing that allowed young people to connect with each other in a way that wasn’t egotistic or elitist but was focused and non-judgemental. That’s where Teenweb Conference comes in. As an organiser, I plan to be approachable and myself and Henry (my co-organiser) have actively approached people in the industry who we feel will offer the same motivation and enthusiasm to young people who may have been put off by the shadows of those already in the industry.

What have the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome whilst organising the conference?

[Callum Hill] To begin with, the biggest challenge was building up the enthusiasm externally. I knew I was enthusiastic and I knew deep down it was an idea that could work but I was approached several times by people who simply said: “It’s been done before”. It obviously knocks your confidence a hell of a lot which is why I posted on the TWC blog about having a co-organiser; someone who was just enthusiastic about the industry as I was. Henry came a long and my motivation began to sky rocket and our friendship soon built into a conscientious and strategic team. Beside from the personal worries, finance was always a big barrier. We’ve had interest from sponsors but not to the point where we could be totally self-sufficient which is why we had to make the decision to charge for entry. This also had the secondary, positive effect of removing the incentive to book a “free” ticket and not turn up.

You have an interesting mix of speakers – what is behind the choices of those?

[Callum Hill] We live in a society where the connection between entrepreunerialism and the internet is ever strengthening. We’ve chosen speakers who are not only web developers, or technology consultants but business people as well. We have those who understand how strategy in business needs to work and who have actively made decisions when it comes to adapting to the ever changing, globalised business environment. Age was another big ideal for us as well. We didn’t want 60 year old experts, we wanted young people who have a story to tell, a story which others can learn from. I think we’ve fulfilled that.

Tomorrows Web Conference

The first conference it's kind, Tomorrows Web organised by Grant Bell took place in 2009 but in the following year failed to materialise

It looks like the idea has been done before – Tomorrows Web conference ran two years ago. In what ways are you going to be different?

[Callum Hill] I didn’t attend Tomorrows Web but I was an avid follower for a while. Having watch the conference streamed online, I felt there was too much distance between speaker and audience and the relationships which need to be built up in the industry just weren’t being pushed. This is the biggest difference I feel for Teenweb Conference. We’ll be extremely active in our approach to getting people to exchange email addresses and phone numbers; to share their ideas and find others who may be able to cover our own personal weaknesses.

How will your conference differ from any other business or tech conference, and specifically how will it cater for your 11-25 audience?

[Callum Hill] Our demographic I feel is our biggest difference here. Not many conferences cater for such a young audience and offer the advice that young people yearn for. Our speakers are young and therefore hold a much greater ability to connect with this kind of an audience. Don’t get me wrong, those who are experienced have the stories to tell but that’s not only what we’re looking for. I really want our speakers to engage with our audience in a way that is non-elitist and our choices do reflect that.

Why shouldn’t young people just attend normal business or tech conferences and events – what stops young people from attending these?

[Callum Hill] There is no reason at all why young people shouldn’t just attend normal business or tech conferences and Teenweb Conference is not about changing that. We’re simply offering a day that will allow those enthusiastic about enterprise to network with people of a similar age; an age that can be the most creative. I don’t approach Teenweb Conference as being a “Special Event”: we have Young Rewired State for example which does a brilliant job, on a more practical level of engaging young people with web development but I think we offer something that little bit different in the way we plan to push networking much further.

What do you think of how the Junior Apprentice portrays young entrepreneurs – is it a good thing, or a bad thing?

[Callum Hill] At the end of the day Junior Apprentice is an entertainment program and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. I think it works in both good and bad ways however. Lord Sugars enthusiasm for young people in enterprise is ever more motivation for those thinking of starting their own business or beginning their own projects but I feel that the way in which the show often focuses on cliché failures and mistakes. which could have been handled with a little kind advice, is extremely disappointing and furthers the gap between professionalism and naiviety.

What do you say to those who feel ‘young entrepreneurs’ are just privileged children from comparatively affluent backgrounds who rely on their parents’ money (or the financial security provided by their parents) and like to wear the ‘entrepreneur’ label despite having no real business?

[Callum Hill] It’s extremely untrue. I, myself, come from a working class background. My parents haven’t helped at all with the financial development of Teenweb Conference and I wouldn’t expect them to. Sometimes we have to allowed to make our own mistakes, and being guided to the extremes by pushy parents who want the most for their invesment is a little bit insensitive.

Callum Hill

Callum Hill is the student behind TeenWeb Conf which takes place on Saturday, 10 December 2011

Are you a ‘young entrepreneur’ yourself?

[Callum Hill] Would I call myself a young entrepreneur… no. I’d call myself someone with an extremely unhealthy addiction with enterprise and strategy and I love it when a project I’ve worked on is nurtured and grows. At the moment, I’ve just moved away from my parents’ home and have started university and therefore my dedication to other projects, apart from Teenweb Conference, has been non-existent. I do however hope to join some projects after the conference but my biggest background is in freelance web development.

What is your view of the education system as it stands with regard to encouraging entrepreneurship?

[Callum Hill] It needs an overhaul. Business lessons are extremely theoretical and I feel that, although you do need to build a framework of understanding on which to lay your ideas, encouraging creativity when planning the strategic direction of business is entirely ignored. The same goes for the teaching for ICT. [Editors Note: We recently covered this issue in more depth in a piece by Louise Kidney on the state of ICT education in the UK] Beyond the first year of secondary school, it is very rare you pick up any further skills to do with Word Processing or spreadsheets; nor would you need any. I’d love to see schools introduce more active web development in IT lessons. I was asked to make a website for a business module in Sixth Form and had to use a WYSIWYG editor. The design was awful and I’d have done much better coding it myself; in probably better time.

Who are the top ‘young entrepreneurs’ that we should be looking out for?

[Callum Hill] I can’t pin point anyone in particular. I think anyone with enthusiasm should be encouraged to push their ideas forward and turn their hopes into a reality; should they have the ability to do that.

What do you think? Will TeenWeb Conf be a success? What do you think of those who call themselves ‘young entrepreneurs’, and what does the term mean to you? What do you think of the ‘Young Apprentice’ and how it portrays young people with an interest in business?