“I saw a disconnect between ambitious teenagers and world-class employers” Dan Miller, Founder and CEO, Young Professionals
Dan Miller joined the IoD at 17 when he set up his Young Professionals business. The connections he made helped his organisation become the biggest supplier of school leavers to global organisations in the UK. He talks about not going to university and how IoD can offer a great deal to young entrepreneurs.
I was making money from an early age – tuck shops, market stalls, car washing. I’m a natural entrepreneur. I’m not convinced you can create entrepreneurs, good business leaders yes, but not entrepreneurs.
I grew up in Derby and my granny and parents sacrificed quite a bit to send me to private school in Nottingham. The school offered me a good education, confidence and lots of opportunities. It also exposed me to people with money. My friends were given the latest iPhones and sports cars for their birthdays and I quickly realised that if I wanted to have this kind of life, I would need to make it myself.
I read an article in the FT on the bus to school about alternatives to university and at the same time I was noticing how schools seemed to funneling students down the university route. I could see a disconnect between ambitious teenagers who didn’t want to go to university and world-class employers who were looking for talent. I set up Young Professionals to connect young people to business. I was 17 when I registered at Companies House, bought a domain name and became a fully-fledged member of the IoD.
I was making connections and running smaller events while I was still at school, but after A Levels I moved to London and hustled. I wrote to large businesses, got meetings and planned bigger events.
IoD networking connections both in London and the East Midlands were pivotal to the growth of my business. My first investor was an IoD connection made through the Young Directors Forum. I exchanged 20% of my business for him to fund development of the App. It got me started and I have bought him out now.
Young Professionals is now the biggest supplier in the school leavers space. We work with more than 40 global businesses (including BA, Goldman Sachs, PWC, IBM and Linklaters) and run over 100 events each year for thousands of students from all over the UK. It’s a data-driven business which can segment and manage our students to connect them with suitable employers and vice versa. If an organisation wants to reach a particular type of student – female, BAME, from a particular region or income group – we can target an event accordingly.
Role models and mentors have been important to me, and I am lucky enough to have had Judy Naake, the founder of tanning brand St Tropez, alongside as an advisor. I’m really grateful for the support I have had from my family, both in paying for my schooling and letting me follow my own path.
While I was starting out I made very good use of the remote working opportunities at both 116 Pall Mall and the IoD’s Nottingham offices. I got a great deal from my membership it wasn’t just about the free coffee! It would be great to see the IoD reaching out more to under 25s on a national scale.
My advice to young people? Make the most of every opportunity and if you’re not sure what to do, take a gap year. Travel, volunteer, get some new skills. We’re not saying university isn’t for you – and degree apprenticeships are a no-brainer – we just want you to know about all the alternatives.