Carol Fitzsimons - Young Enterprise Northern Ireland - Best Of Belfast Podcast Interview

Photo Of David Linden, founder of Madlug:  Make A Difference Luggage. 

This month we sat down with Carol Fitzsimons, the CEO of Young Enterprise Northern Ireland, a local charity that encourages our young folk to become more entrepreneurial. 

Before Carol was nurturing the young business minds of Belfast students, she was part of one of the biggest startups to come out of Northern Ireland...

The kind of startup that lands Amazon as a client within their first 6 months...

In this episode, Carol Fitzsimons shares a plethora of business wisdom, how she got her MBE, what Young Enterprise is all about and what a CEO actually does. 

Check it out. 

So, Carol Fitzsimons... you're in a lift with Liam Neeson... how do you introduce yourself?

Gosh, I'd be a bit worried I'd spend the first 30 seconds in shock!

Obviously I would love to pitch Young Enterprise to him but I also worked with his cousin a few years ago so would have the natural urge to do that 'Northern Irish thing' where we try to make mutual connections with other people.

But I suppose I would end up saying hello! I'm Carol Fitzsimons, the CEO of Young Enterprise:

We are all about getting kids to be as entrepreneurial as possible, to get involved in business and to make their dreams a reality.

Of course I would ask him to come along when he has the chance to tell the kids all about his career journey as I think they would be pretty excited about that (and I think the teachers/volunteers would too.)

What does Young Enterprise Northern Ireland do in a nutshell?


Young Enterprise NI is all about giving young people the chance to give entrepreneurship a go, develop skills along the way and learn how to work as a team. 

We have a wide range of programs for kids still in school both on a primary and secondary level.

These range from one-off events/masterclasses to year-long programs where students actually start their own businesses as a team, come up with, design and create their own products (or outsource some) while learning how to sell them for real money!

Students get to keep any profit they generate which acts as a real exciting incentive. 

It's all about creating a safe space with loads of support so our young people can be exposed to what it's like to start/run their own business while maybe even encouraging them to do the same when they leave school.

Not everyone will start their own business, but we believe the transferable skills they learn through our programs will be useful for wherever their careers take them.

As you know there is a massive start-up scene and ever-growing entrepreneurial culture in Belfast/Northern Ireland.

We want to equip young people to be a part of this when they leave school and start establishing relationships with the local business community from a young age. 

What type of volunteers is Young Enterprise Northern Ireland supported by?

Surprisingly we find that students engage with and learn more from people who are early on in their entrepreneurial journey rather than someone like Bill Gates who already has established a successful company.

For a young person to engage with a volunteer who is still working out aspects of their business is so beneficial because it allows them to see/think about how they can get from A to B and solve their own business problems. 

Our volunteers are absolutely crucial to what we do and we simply couldn’t do it without them.

For students in our company program (where they run their own business for a year) we connect their group to a local volunteer from the business community to mentor them along their journey.

This is a really great opportunity to invest in the young people of Northern Ireland and help mentor/advise them as they try to grow their business.

We are also constantly on the look out for volunteers to deliver workshops, training and masterclasses.

Basically anyone who has a passion for entrepreneurship with some experience to back it up, whether they own a business or work in one. 

what does a cEO of a charity actually do?

So as Chief-Executive Officer you are accountable for everything (including the money and how it's spent!)

It’s a massive responsibility but also a real honour.

I work closely with the board of trustees to deliver against the plan/strategy created, based on the charities goals.

This basically means that the organisation stays on track and doesn't stray away from its key goals/objectives. 

It's a big job, but I love it and have a great team who are dedicated and passionate to the work that we do. 


What did you do before Young Enterprise NI?

Before Young Enterprise NI I actually spent my whole working life in the private sector.

I started off working for a company called Desmond's, a manufacturing business who made clothes for Marks & Spencer's.

It was a massive company at the time with over 13 factories across Northern Ireland! 

After that I moved into training and consultancy...

I got involved in a local startup called Gem with a team of 30 people... that same company has recently been renamed Concentrix and employed 1000+ people by the time I left.

That start-up experience was so valuable and taught me a lot of what I wanted to bring to Young Enterprise NI.

Within our first 6-months we were doing things like pitching to Amazon...

Traditionally our Northern Irish culture doesn't really do things like this because we're not 'showey offey' and don't like to put ourselves out there as much as some other cultures.

But actually we try to teach young people to celebrate their successes and not to be shy of putting their best foot forward because of the opportunities and potential there is out there when you do!

Carol, we know that you have been awarded an MBE... How did you get that and what was the whole experience like?

It's a real honour and a privilege to be recognised for the work that you do.

What I didn't realise until the ceremony is that the award is all about civil leadership and pushing forward positive things in your own community.

How you get it is... a bit of a mystery.

Truthfully, you never really find out much about the process. You have to be nominated by someone and the rest all takes place behind closed doors!

To this day I have no idea who nominated me or what the process actually was.

I was really glad to have been awarded it for the work I've done with Young Enterprise and it honestly just encouraged me to keep going and keep pushing forward the great work the charity does. 

What is one big future goal for Young Enterprise Northern Ireland?

We really have the desire to see everyone young person in Northern Ireland run at least one business by the time they leave school.

The impact this could have on our economy - not to mention all the real-world skills students would leave school with - is just incredible.

Currently we only reach 1/3 of kids in Northern Ireland which means 2/3's go through school without having the opportunity to learn business skills and encounter entrepreneurship.

Our goal is to make that 3/3! 

Check out this cracking YENI team  MindSight : an app that seeks to address the issues of mental health and suicide in Northern Ireland. 

Check out this cracking YENI team MindSight: an app that seeks to address the issues of mental health and suicide in Northern Ireland. 

Carol Fitzsimons, How can our listeners connect with you?

If anyone listening/reading would be interested in volunteering with us you can contact us via email.

You can follow Young Enterprise Northern Ireland on Twitter and Facebook or find out more from our website. 

To connect with me personally the best place would be on Twitter @carolfitzsimons or on LinkedIn.


More from the Best Of Belfast Podcast.

Hey guys, Matthew here again:  If you do get the chance I'd recommend giving the podcast interview a listen as there is so much more good stuff covered in it then what we've outlined here. 

Just want to give another big thanks to Carol Fitzsimons for taking the time to share her story and tell us more about Young Enterprise Northern Ireland. 

We drop a new podcast episode with a local Northern Irish legend every single month.

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Other than that, I hope you enjoyed hearing the wisdom of Carol Fitzsimons and that you would consider partnering up with Young Enterprise Northern Ireland this year. 

(Whether it is a commitment of time or financial partnership!) 

Next month is an incredibly exciting show for all you food-lovers out there, so stay tuned for that!

Until then,

All the best.

- Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thompson