A group of Otago’s youngest entrepreneurs gathered in Cromwell last week to present their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The pitches were part of the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES), a programme designed to give high school pupils the opportunity to design and run a real business by creating their own product or service.

This year 5000 high school pupils from throughout New Zealand and the Cook Islands are taking part in the programme.

Cromwell College economic and business studies teacher Aimee Ross said it was a programme anyone could do.

‘‘They are learning all these extra skills. A lot of them don’t know how to send an email, so they learn,’’ Ms Ross said.

Having to work in a team also helped develop vital skills, especially communication.

‘‘Teamwork, collaboration skills [and] critical thinking because they’ve got to come up with a product to solve a solution.’’

She said being able to work on solving a problem the pupils had identified helped them stay invested.

The hardest part was often coming up with a problem to solve, she said.

‘‘A lot of the time they’re really passionate about it because they’ve . . . come up with the idea themselves, they’ve got a wee bit more buy-in.’’

The pitch session was the second of four challenges pupils took part in throughout the year.

Points received from the challenges are then totalled at the end of the year.

The top six teams from across Otago will compete in the regional final, with the winners heading to nationals later this year.

Head of YES and ‘‘chief student wrangler’’ Ian Musson said the pitch session was a chance for pupils to get evaluation from the judging panel, made up of local business people.

‘‘It’s an opportunity for them to get feedback, to share their journey to date and get some guidance as to what next steps could be,’’ Mr Musson said.

‘‘It’s a learning experience for them. Getting up in front of folk, especially adults, is a massive challenge.’’

He hoped YES would help the pupils develop skills they could continue to use throughout their life.

‘‘Our guiding light is unleashing entrepreneurial minds [and] helping our young people to realise the potential they have, knowing that there is not one single, linear path to this term we define as success.

‘‘The skills that they learn through this process have applications in many ways,’’ he said.

The programme also gave people insight into the issues young adults thought were important.

‘‘It’s a neat thing to learn what’s important, witnessing what they’re doing and realising these are the things having an impact on their lives.’’