TASOULA HADJITOFI, Youth entrepreneurship: A way to achieve financial and social prosperity

Young people should respect the knowledge and experience of grown-ups, but never allow anybody to prevent them from fulfilling their dreams and never allow anyone to clip their wings… If you believe in your dreams, make everyone see you achieving your dreams…

Tasoula Hadjitofi, successful entrepreneur and owner of a group of companies, cultural activist and art trafficking opponent (www.tasoulahadjitofi.com), keynote speaker at the 2015 Competition Finale and Award Ceremony, shares her thoughts, views and useful advice on Junior Achievement and youth entrepreneurship.

JA Cyprus: How was your first experience attending the Company of the Year Finale & Award Ceremony?

Tasoula Hadjitofi: When I was invited as a keynote speaker at the Company of the Year Finale & Award Ceremony, I was under the impression that the participants would be university students. Seeing the youngsters, aged between 15 and 18 years old, pitching their ideas was delightful for me. Their creativity, enthusiasm, and hard work was very special and I am so happy and relieved that I was not on the jury that day as I loved all of them and I was really impressed by their entrepreneurial thinking.

JA Cyprus: How would you evaluate our student-entrepreneurs’ performance?

Tasoula Hadjitofi: Having an idea and creating a business plan is a major process for us grown-ups, but I believe that these young people made it look much easier as they have a clear mind, a purpose and they can always seek help from grown-ups and learn from their experience. However, executing their business plan, creating products, marketing them and even finding a distributor for their products, as for example the way the team which promoted the fire cakes did, was most impressive.  It was clear that the youngsters worked well within their teams, learning how to present their company as complementary team members. Some spoke about finance, others marketing, and even general management issues.  They were excellent and the energy around them was amazing.

JA Cyprus: Among the ten entrepreneurial ideas presented, which one impressed you the most?

Tasoula Hadjitofi: I liked aspects of all of them, so it is difficult for me to make a choice. For example I found the team that presented the fire cakes very clever and innovative, as they thought of utilizing used candles, recycling them and making a whole new product.  I found the team that presented the magic beans very creative and I can see how people abroad would buy them and give them out as lucky beans to their loved ones.  The team that promoted the truffles, which are my favourite sweet treat and I could not wait to get home and taste them, were also very impressive in the way they designed and promoted their products, aiming at specific target groups. The truffles were delicious and most of all healthy, a fact that indicated that the students followed current trends, as people are becoming even more aware of the quality of their food nowadays.

The team that designed the phone stand/holder used for resting the phone is such a practical solution to a daily problem. Moreover, the fact that one of the teams thought of making paint in different colours, which could be used to create a blackboard surfaces on any wall, was very inspired as it suggested an alternative way to entertain children but also a way to reach the adults and spend quality time with them. The team with the blocks was also very fun as they also targeted the need of spending family quality time.  Of course, the winners cannot go unnoticed, as I found their product fantastic as well.  I hate the smell of the mosquito repellents we buy so I thought their idea to make an organic repellent from natural ingredients was brilliant. I carry their product in my handbag and I wish them every success in Berlin.

As you can see, I cannot choose any of them as I fell in love with all the concepts and all the teams! Therefore, I am glad I was not in the jury committee, so please allow me to decline to choose, as I was very happy I did not have to….

JA Cyprus: Could Junior Achievement constitute a hotbed for future entrepreneurs?

Tasoula Hadjitofi: We live in an era where we cannot ignore the youth as we do have a major gap between us.  I would love to see business people having more young people as apprentices, include them on their boards and help them promote their ideas. Young people look at things differently and for grown-ups, it is a good feeling to be able to transfer skills in an equal, respectful manner with youth who, though they lack experience, they do not lack creativity or brainpower. They have the same brains as us grown-ups, but they are the younger and, may I say, better version of our young selves. Nevertheless, we must never underestimate their power and the fact that they lack experience in their first years does not justify us treating them as less than equal. On the contrary, we must stand by them and help them spread their wings to fly and conquer their dreams.

JA Cyprus: What advice would you give to our present and future student-entrepreneurs?

Tasoula Hadjitofi: My advice would be to respect the knowledge and experience of grown-ups, but never allow anybody to prevent them from fulfilling their dreams and never allow anyone to clip their wings.  Have dreams where you must stretch to reach. What do you do if people laugh at your dreams or don’t believe in you????  Just sing for them….

‘Ας στους να λένε, ας τους να πουν, αυτοί δεν ξέρουν ν’αγαπούν’…  If you believe in your dreams, make everyone see you reaching for your dreams…

JA Cyprus: Do you think that youth entrepreneurship could be a potential way to tackle the financial crisis currently facing Cyprus?

Tasoula Hadjitofi: The Government of Cyprus must understand and pitch the value of our young graduates for investments worldwide.  It is unacceptable to have so many graduates who go abroad and study for many years and they eventually either stay abroad or return to Cyprus and remain unemployed and unutilized. We must try to attract companies to Cyprus, which can give jobs to our youth. We must give international companies fiscal concessions for their employees and make labour legislation flexible. We should also differentiate working permits: Make it hard for economic migrants to enter and take jobs from Cypriots and make it easy for knowledge workers to come and work in Cyprus to transfer skills, for a fixed period of time (i.e. ten years).

I would like to see call centres, gaming companies, software development companies, music, telecommunications, innovation and research units, medical tourism, cultural tourism, bio products, etc.  We should impose a minimum wage at a level that every Cypriot entrepreneur must think twice before bringing a foreigner to work for less than a Cypriot would, unless they have expertise to transfer to Cypriots. Only with these measures will major international companies settle in Cyprus to utilise our youth and then, YES, entrepreneurship – young or old – will bring many opportunities to Cyprus. Once we develop the mentality of “CYPRUS first”, we shall begin to grow our economy and bring peace to our nation.