Starting Young – An interview with Duncan McCombe, Network Young

Duncan McCombe

Like many students before him and many since, Duncan McCombe approached his final days in full time education with uncertainty and some confusion over what would come next…There was lots of guidance available on applying for university and getting onto an apprenticeship, yet almost no support for developing vital skills such as networking with the right people and relationship building.

Determined to change things for students of the future, Duncan set out on mission to bring networking skills to schools, and Network Young was born.

We caught up with Duncan to understand more about his vision and how he is making it a reality…

Tell us a bit about Network Young…

Network Young is a social enterprise, which works with 13-19 year olds, helping them to understand networking and the benefits of building relationships. We help give young people the knowledge and confidence to build their own networks – empowering them to connect with people who are already working in careers that are of personal interest to them or who may be working in a sector or role that the young person may never have considered. This gives them the opportunity to have conversations that may spark inspiration and ambition – with the ultimate aim to helping young people make more informed career choices.

What inspired Network Young?

My personal lack of careers advice! When I was at school and college I received limited advice on my options, and any advice I did receive directed me to follow the university route, which I knew wasn’t right for me. When it came to making my university applications I had a light bulb moment and decided I wasn’t going to spend time and money on something that I was not 100% committed to or passionate about! I decided to take a gap year and think about what it was that I really wanted to do, if that involved going off to university then I would do that a year later and if not then I would pursue my career, taking a different route. I made my decision in January 2013, when I finished college in the summer and took some time to go out to networking, meeting people and building relationships. I was inspired connecting with businesses across the North West, I felt motivated and it sparked some ideas. I was getting better, more rounded advice than I had ever had before and then I came up with Network Young. Two days after leaving college I decided to go for it and here we are 3 years down the line, helping lots of young people make informed choices and meeting lots of successful business leaders who give their time and wisdom generously.

What does a typical day look like for you at Network Young?

WOW – well my days are incredibly varied! I work in phases in; part of the time I’m developing and part of the time I am delivering sessions. It also involves a lot of what it says on the tin- NETWORKING! Going out talking to people and building relationships. I also spend time in schools; delivering workshops and presentations. There is the directory of contacts, a list of people and businesses that the students can connect with. I spend lots of time working to expand that list, making new business connections and asking them to share advise at presentations. To summarise a day at Network Young is varied; networking, developing and delivering programs and presentations and spending time on marketing. I refine and develop what we delivered based on the feedback from students and teachers, so that hopefully we are learning and improving each time.

Do you have a team or is it just yourself?

It is just me at the moment, though I work closely with a group of experienced business people who support me with sessions and in my aspirations for Network Young. I also use them as a sounding board / advisory group for the growth of the business, they help to keep me on track and offer me sound business advice.

Tell us about a particular time where Network Young has made a difference…

There have been a few, though one that sticks with me was a young man who I worked with on a five-week programme. Week one was both difficult and challenging with lots of people sharing their views, but one particular young man was telling the group to quieten and wait their turn. He was making a stand and taking lead, influencing others to listen. He became extremely engaged in Network Young and completed the programme. In week 5 I had feedback from his teacher who said how incredible it was that Network Young had his attention and went on to say how usually he didn’t engage in class and generally didn’t enjoy education, however he was inspired by what we offer at Network Young and felt like his options had been completely opened up. I was beyond thrilled that we had managed to motivate him and help him with his future, that’s really what it’s all about!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

This is my first business; however, I do not plan on it being my last so in my spare time I am working on other business plans. I am also a football referee, so a couple of times a week and at the weekend you will find me refereeing across the North West of England. I love football and am a massive Manchester City fan, I also like to watch Manchester City ladies. In general I am a sports fanatic and enjoy various sports such as, running and golf. I work at Costa two days per week which has given me great experience of working life. I felt it important that I experience this before just becoming my own boss. It has showed me there are two sides to the coin and it is by no means an easy job. It inspires me to do what I really want to do. I have also worked with the BBC. Most recently I have been involved in a programme “Can Britain have a pay rise?” which will be aired on BBC2 later in the year and I was also involved in a programme called “Generation 2015” which was 200 young people voicing their opinions on the general election. This was aired on BBC5 live, BBC Breakfast and Radio 1. It was amazing and has given me the opportunity to become involved in other projects.

What is your favourite part of Network Young?

I love the networking because it gives me the opportunity to connect with other business leaders and learn from them about the ever changing world of business. I love working with senior business leaders and asking them to get involved with inspiring a younger generation.

Who is your role model?

There are lots! I admire Lawrence Jones of UK Fast, Phil Jones at Brother, Steven Bartlett who heads up a social chain, he is doing really well and is only two years older than me and is running a global company. Gary Vendachuck, who is doing lots on social media and snapchat. They are my top 4 at the moment but these change all the time. It is not just business leaders that I look up to, people in sport and in entertainment too. I think social media is important to include in your marketing strategy and very relevant in business today, Network young is a member of… Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn and it’s a great way to engage with business leaders and entrepreneurs.

What is your vision for Network Young?

I believe that once we have conquered Manchester we can go worldwide! I completely have global vision for it! I never really felt that way until I went to New York last October! I won flights to New York and took the opportunity to use it as a mini business trip. I met lots of people and community groups and realised they faced the same problems that we do and the realisation was, that this could work anywhere in the world. We plan to conquer Manchester, the North West, the UK and the world!! Watch this space!