Yann Lelievre started a successful business in Clermont-Ferrand, France, with help from the European Social Fund.
After just a few years in the workforce, as a commercial representative and later as a marketing agent, Yann Lelievre had a pretty clear idea of where he wanted to go. "I saw friends and colleagues moving up in the world, based on good ideas and a lot of hard work," he says, "and I wanted to do something too, to make something of myself."
Yann is an avid outdoor sportsman who rollerblades to work and climbs rock faces at the weekend. His energy seems unquenchable, "but without a solid business plan in hand," he says, "my dream of starting an outdoor sporting goods shop was slipping through my fingers."
A challenging beginning
The fact that he was just 27 years old did not seem to bother Yann, but for others, like Clermont-Ferrand's local lending institutions, his youth and inexperience seemed to count against him.
"It was hard for me to get a bank to take me seriously," he explains. "I had already carried out my own market study, but I wasn't quite sure how to present my ideas, how to make an impression."
Clermont-Ferrand's Espace Info Jeune, co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund, helps young people get training, find work, activities and housing, or start a project.
"I understand the need for rules and regulations," Yann says, "but the hoops you have to jump through to get a business started can be mind-boggling. Espace Info Jeune helped me to understand the system and create a professional business plan. It was a real boost, allowing me to convince the banks but also to bring important suppliers on-board. Without it, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Yann's 'Espace' shop sells a variety of high-quality clothing, shoes and equipment for climbing and mountaineering, rollerblading and skateboarding, and a range of other 'green' outdoor sports (no motorised sports).
He is proud of his business' environmental credentials, an issue close to his heart. "We don't cater to polluters," he insists. "We sell only the most durable products, observe strict rules for sorting waste, and the shop itself is equipped with the most energy-efficient lighting system."
The shop has continued to expand since its establishment in 2002. "We've just moved into a larger space. Today, I employ one part-time and two full-time workers, and this is something I'm especially happy about. We've got a great team here. We're always learning about new products and technologies and we provide the best possible advice to our clients," he enthuses.
Yann's dynamism and energy would be hard to repress even in the most hostile of business environments. "I like speed, being on the go, getting people and things moving. That's exciting!"
A life changing experience
But in a relaxed moment, after the shop doors are closed, he takes time to reflect. "At the core I think I was someone who lacked self-belief," he admits. "This experience has changed me. It's given me a great deal of confidence. I know how things work now, and I know I can build on my success if I set my mind to it.
"I can't say right now where I'll be in two, five or ten years, but I do know one thing – I'm not stopping here. I'm going to be moving forward, looking at bigger and better opportunities, and I'll bring new colleagues, partners and associates along with me."