With a cheeky grin and words of inspiration, one of Britain's youngest businessmen has fired the starting gun on a initiative to find the next wave of entrepreneurs across the Solent region.
Open to youngsters aged 16 to 25 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the inaugural Young Start-up Talent (YST) Solent 2016 was officially launched by 17-year-old Ben Towers at flourishing Portsmouth Technopole.
To be announced in October, the YST Solent winner will receive £50,000 worth of business support, including mentoring, accounting, legals, training, branding, signage, website, printing, publicity and £2,000 cash to invest into their idea.
Chris Allington, the managing director for Oxford Innovation, which manages 20 innovation centres, including three across the Solent region, told 50 guests at the launch: "I find the YST story inspirational and I'm absolutely delighted that we have become part of this process.
"Oxford Innovation not only runs buildings but business support programmes and we're committed to supporting and helping the young talent throughout the whole process - winners and losers. It is an important point - this is about supporting everyone.
"To put YST into context, there are 5.4 million private sector businesses in the UK. Small businesses account for 99.3% of those. What I find fascinating is that the small to medium enterprises employ 60% of all private sector employees.
"The growing likelihood is that one in three people leaving school, college or university is going to run their own business at some point in their working life.
"I personally believe that we should ensure all youngsters know all about entrepreneurship because a majority need to experience it.
"A slightly small number will have a go at it but what is important from the UK's point of view is that a significant minority will create future big businesses and therefore the UK's wealth.
"It all starts here, with YST and the skills agenda. Entrepreneurship is a key part of that agenda."
Richard May, the incubation director at Oxford Innovation locally and mentoring co-ordinator, is lining up local professionals to nurture the winner's venture.
He said: "Oxford Innovation has developed a supportive enterprise ecosystem at our flourishing centres here in Hampshire, helping start-ups and early-stage firms on what can be a perilous journey.
"It is in this context that we're proud to be the principal sponsor of Young Start-up Talent Solent.
"Ben Towers’ inspirational speech captivated everyone. He became an entrepreneur while still at school, including hiring an adult to work for him whilst he was in lessons, and now employs 15 staff aged just 17.
"He launched YST Solent in fine style - Ben is proof that youth is no barrier to commercial success. Indeed we can all learn from the youth entrepreneurial spirit and lack of fear to try something new."
As principal sponsor, Oxford Innovation is offering mentoring and virtual office space, as well as a financial contribution.
Deadline for submissions: end of June.
Portsmouth Technopole, with 89% occupancy and owned by the University of Portsmouth, has 37 registered firms, with nearly 200 people employed between them.
There are two other centres in the Solent region managed by Oxford Innovation.
Newly-built Fareham Innovation Centre, owned by Fareham Borough Council, has 16 businesses on site. There are 15 light-manufacturing workshops and 24 offices, with occupancy at 84%. More than 80 people are based there.
Ocean Village Innovation Centre, privately owned, has 91% occupancy and 67 serviced offices, with 37 companies on site and 32 virtual office customers.
All three centres have drop-in facilities, such as meeting rooms and conference facilities, which are used regularly by local businesses.
Ben said: "It’s so exciting to see Young Start-up Talent expanding into another region. Young people deserve the chance to flourish and this initiative really provides incredible safe opportunities that should be available to as many young people as possible.”
Designed for 16 to 25-year-olds with an entrepreneurial talent, the YST initiative has been running for six years across the South East and is expanding rapidly by reaching more and more young people.
Speakers at the launch event included Simon Finch of NatWest, who works with small to medium enterprises, and YST founding partners Lorraine Nugent and Matt Turner.
Attendees were given the opportunity to watch a video from Dean Day, a previous YST winner and founder of Greenlight Games.
Dean shared his progress since winning the initiative in West Kent last year and pointed out the areas in which the support has been invaluable.
Since winning the prize fund Dean has launch several games with the most recent creations being a mobile app game Duel and Minecart Dash, with an Xbox and PC game set to launch in the summer.
Speaking about YST, Zara Hogg, a partner at top 20 accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy, and a sponsor, said: "There are so many brilliant ideas out there and all too often not enough support is given to help get off them of the ground.”
Mike Dyer, a partner at Portsmouth-based legal firm Verisona Law, and a judge in the initiative, said: “Wow is the way I felt when I heard about YST. This is a seriously exciting project. I just knew that my business, colleagues and I had to be involved."