ENTREPRENEUR is the latest buzz word, glamourised by the success of TV shows such as The Dragons' Den and The Apprentice.

And while enterprise is very much in the public eye, Young Enterprise North East is focusing on delivering initiatives in schools, colleges and universities to get the message across to students.

Catherine Marchant, the charity's chief executive, said: "It is vital for our regional economy that we encourage the next generation to think big, be entrepreneurial and start believing they can achieve anything."

To deliver programmes to thousands of students each year, Young Enterprise relies on the support of hundreds of business volunteers from all areas of commerce and industry - from managing directors of multi-million pound companies, to individuals who run small businesses.

Dave Spensley, director at Aycliffe Fabrications, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, has been volunteering as an enterprise advisor in schools for nearly three years.

"What our work does is open youngsters' eyes to the possibilities that are out there, to make them realise what they can achieve in business. Our experience means we can talk honestly about the highs and the lows and make them realise that it is OK to make mistakes," he said.

"I see Young Enterprise as being a really valuable thing in the North-East - I wish I had been given this sort of information when I was growing up."

The word entrepreneur is taken from the French word entreprendre (to undertake) and is defined as a person who makes money by starting new business.

Its meaning is something North-East millionaire businessman Duncan Bannatyne also believes should be taught at a young age to generate interest and encourage a sustainable entrepreneurial culture.

He said: "It is a very popular word and it is essential that young people are taught about it. Anybody can get themselves into business and if they have a good idea they can achieve anything."

The Government welcomed figures showing the number of small businesses across the UK increased by 260,000 last year, the biggest annual rise since records began a decade ago. There were 4.3 million companies operating by the end of last year, compared to just over four million the previous year.

Small business is now the biggest driver of economic growth in the UK, contributing 60 per cent of its GDP.

Latest statistics, from 2003, show there are 98,960 small and medium-sized businesses in the North-East - a figure that would be more than 18,000 higher if the region's economy was performing in line with national averages, according to the North East Chamber of Commerce.

"There are definitely not enough small firms in the region - we really need more entrepreneurs," said John Wright, the national vice-chairman and regional policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

"Small firms are essential for the region's economy. Even if they are very successful and grow, many tend to keep their headquarters in the North-East, such as Sage, in Newcastle, or Reg Vardy and Arriva, both in Sunderland.

"It is important to get the message out there that there are a lot of opportunities for young people to become entrepreneurs. If they don't make it the first time, they can try again. Richard Branson is a classic example - he went bust seven times before he was successful. There is definitely the talent in the North-East."

Only a few weeks ago, university student Ali Zaidi was named the Most Enterprising Student in the North-East after helping web solutions company Visualsoft UK, in Middlesbrough, increase its profits from about £50,000 to £250,000.

The Teesside University student created a web directory system, which has been sold to the company's clients. It restructures their websites into categories and makes each page more accessible by adding search engines.

Mr Wright said: "There are some great ideas out there and sometimes, the simplest can be the most successful."

For more information about becoming a Young Enterprise business volunteer, contact Laura Snowdon, on 0191-495 9500 or visit www.yene.org.uk

From deckchair attendant to millionaire businessman

SELF-MADE millionaire Duncan Bannatyne didn't know what the word entrepreneur meant until he was in his late 20s. Now, nearly 30 years on, he is one of the region's most successful businessmen, with a chain of health clubs, a casino and a hotel.

His involvement in the BBC's show Dragons' Den - where he sits on a panel of business entrepreneurs (the dragons of the title) and invests money in contestants' start-ups in return for a share in the company - has put entrepreneurs back in the spotlight.

Mr Bannatyne's life is a typical rags to riches story. He was born on a tough working class housing estate and had a number of jobs, including barman and deckchair attendant, until he bought an ice cream van at an auction and started Duncan's Super Ices.

He sold the company for £20,000 and entered the care home business, netting £46m, and then in the late 1990s, he established Bannatyne Fitness.

"I didn't know what the word entrepreneur meant when I was young - there was no way of learning it.

"It should be something that is taught to young people.

"It is vitally important that they know they can achieve anything they want to with the right support," he said.

"I think there are many advantages to setting up business in the North-East.

"I have offices in the region and in London. "Here, you can get to the office in 20 minutes, in London people are under pressure, especially time pressures, and people don't work as well."

The second series of Dragons' Den starts on BBC 2 tonight.