When Tom Little arrives at his first year commerce lectures at university next year, he’s likely to be a little ahead of the curve – while his classmates will just be cracking open the textbook for Business Studies 101, he’s already a CEO.

The Year 13 student from Taradale High School in Hawkes Bay is one of the founders of Pūkare Cards, a company that sells flash cards designed to help teachers, parents and psychologists lead discussions about mental health.

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The company was set up last year as a part of the Young Enterprise Scheme, a charity that supports high-school students to set up their own businesses. Alumni have gone on to found big market players such as Sharesies, Xero, Kiwibank and Flamingo Scooters.

This week the charity released a report measuring the social impact of the scheme – in dollar terms, $2,753 per participant, or $5.80 of measurable social return on investment for every dollar spent.

To reach that figure, they had data analysers ImpactLab (chaired by former PM Sir Bill English) quantify the dollar value of the wellbeing the programme gives students.

The report says participants tend to have increased specialised skills, improved mental health and a higher level of academic achievement – while being less likely to take part in risky behaviour or experience addiction.

Little corroborated the findings of the report. As a young man with ADHD, he said he’d at times found it hard to express his feelings or communicate what was going on inside him.

Hence the cards – a tool people can use to specify exactly the colour they are feeling from the wide, wide rainbow of emotion.

“Our company goal is to normalise talking about feelings from a young age,” he said. “With ADHD, especially when I was growing up, I had so many emotions and so much going on in my head. I found it hard to communicate them and would start to feel like they were building up.”

The Pūkare Cards founders at a regional business awards dinner in Hawkes Bay. From left to right: Tom Little, Jasmine Paz, Elizabeth Raitaci and Liv Fountain. Photo: Supplied

The idea is that young people or adults can use the cards to pinpoint exactly what they are feeling and help along the often difficult process of figuring out what is going on in your head.

But aside from the scheme allowing the business to move towards that goal – they’ve already sold 600 packs of the cards, which also contain emotion names in Te Reo Māori – Little said the scheme itself has helped his own wellbeing.

“It’s definitely confirmed to me that commerce is the direction I want to go,” he said. “But it’s also helped me socially – I’ve made friends and become more confident.”

The cards have been picked up by counsellors, psychologists, teachers and parents, said Little. Photo: Facebook

A year on from forming the business, he and his three business partners are now looking at expanding to a Tongan language variant of the cards and trying to land public speaking arrangements at high schools talking about mental health.

He credited the fruition of his ambition to the scheme, especially through trips to Wellington and speed coaching events he attended with business partners Liv Fountain, Elizabeth Raitaci and Jasmine Paz.

The teenagers launched the business with a $500 grant from the local council, $100 from the Young Enterprise Scheme and their own money, while finding ways to save costs. These included sourcing a graphic designer from the United Kingdom through the freelancing website Fiver, and making a half-now, half-later deal with a local printer.

Little said being part of the Young Enterprise Scheme opened doors for them, helping them get the council grant and making the printer more amenable to those kinds of negotiations.

Students pitch business ideas at a Young Enterprise Scheme workshop. Photo: Supplied

More than 150,000 students have been in the programme in its 40 years.

Among these was Nick Hyland, who went on to co-found scooter and bike share company Flamingo Scooters.

He said the scheme gave him a platform to test ideas and learn from his mistakes, while creating connections that he used once out of high school.

“The impact YES has on students is phenomenal,” he said. “Not only do they create entrepreneurs, but a network of entrepreneurs that can connect and work together to change the world.”

Former National Party leader and Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Bridges said the results of the report show that young enterprise turns students into tomorrow’s business leaders – something he’d long suspected.

“It’s great to not only see YES’ significant growth trajectory which has doubled in the last five years, but also the focus and dedication I’ve seen out of their alumni as they come out of the programme work- and world-ready,” he said.

But how do you measure the tangible social costs of young people starting a business?

ImpactLab looked at positive benefits associated with the programme, as well as government costs that were avoided. The data comes from a range of sources, including the Living Standards Framework and evidence from global literature on the subject.

After punching those numbers into the calculator, the report came up with a net positive social value of just under $18 million for the 2021/22 financial year.

The Pūkare Cards team packages their product. Photo: Facebook

YES CEO Terry Shubkin was pleased to be able to quantify the support the charity has provided young Kiwis over the years.

“We see every day the positive impact that YES programmes have in the lives of young Kiwis, but it’s wonderful to be able to quantify the benefits by measuring social value,” she said.

“We’ve always known that YES helps young people foster an entrepreneurial mindset so they can go on to become founders and world-ready, but in addition this report has also shown that YES participants have a reduced likelihood of risky behaviour and addiction, increased specialised skills, improved mental health, and increased academic achievement.”

The scheme has a glittering list of alumni, with names such as Givealittle founder Nathalie Whitaker, news reader Mike McRoberts and former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

YES CEO Terry Shubkin (centre) was happy to put a dollar value on the support the charity has provided young Kiwis over the years. Photo: Supplied

Now Shubkin and team are looking to be more inclusive and increase Māori and Pasifika participation.

In 2022, the charity launched a Pasifika-focused programme called Toloa and secured a $1.4m contract to strengthen its Rangatahi Māori programme. That money will allow them to hire five new Te Reo-fluent team members.

Little and team were recognised at last year’s Pan Pac Hawkes Bay Business Awards, where they pitched their business to the room of regional business leaders.

He then spontaneously auctioned a pack of the cards to the audience, with the aim of donating the proceeds to Mike King’s I Am Hope charity.

As impromptu auctioneer, Little was able to sell the usually $20 pack of cards for $825. That’s salesmanship.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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