PI LIVE is under a week away now and there will be a plethora of sessions you’ll want to check out. One panel you should definitely slot into your agenda is the Digital Disruptors final, which takes place on Wednesday from 12:30-13:15, at the Rakuten Advertising Main Stage.

The session will be hosted by the programme’s co-founder, Tina Judic, alongside a panel of judges, featuring Stevie Johnson, managing director at Disrupt, and Simon Hofmeister, Industry Head eCom at TikTok. They will be judging the four finalists of this year’s Digital Disruptors, all of whom are around 15 years old, who will be pitching their ideas for a brand new network or app. The winner will be crowned the McShane Young Digital Disruptor of the year.

So, why should you care about Digital Disruptors, and why should the final feature on your agenda? This week, I spoke to Tina Judic to found out more about this inspiring initiative, and how it’s shaping the future of our industry.

What is Digital Disruptors?

Digital Disruptors is a programme that’s on a mission to encourage young people to investigate digital marketing, the options it can provide as a career choice, and to think dynamically about the opportunities it can bring to our everyday lives.

It’s all about young people harnessing their amazing array of creativity and innovation and letting them loose with it, while working with some of the smartest individuals and businesses.

It was set up in the memory of Nicky McShane, one of the UK’s most exuberant and progessive digital marketers. She was always keen on supporting the underdog, so it felt like a really beautiful thing we could bring together.

We asked: How can we champion digital, whilst supporting younger people coming up, and see what their potential is in the space? And thanks to our partnership with The Hebe Foundation – a charity that helps young people discover and use their talents – Digital Disruptors was born.

Who should get involved, and why?

Everybody! Everybody should get involved. To any young person who wants to get involved, we’re here for you. We’re very keen for you to apply to join the programme. There’s a real potential to grow. The bigger we can make it, the better.

We would love more businesses to get involved. Whether it be a donation of funds, prizes, or time – all is appreciated.

Once young people are working on their responses, it’s great to have mentors. What we’ve seen with mentors over the years is they get quite competitive! (Laughs) And they’re working really closely with the young people to deliver the best they can possibly deliver.

What are some of your proudest achievements with Digital Disruptors?

First and foremost, it’s the enthusiasm of the young people who participate in the programme. They choose to do this in their summer holidays; they’re coming together after school to work on their response to brief. They want to be the best they can be.

When I get email after email: “What do you think of this, Tina?”, “Can I do this?”, “Can we run through our presentation with you?” Just showing that they care is utterly fantastic.

On top of that, I’ll never forget the first year we took them to PI LIVE. As an aside, big shout out to PI LIVE, which has supported us from the very first year. It’s so phenomenal that Matt and the team do this.

But, the mainstage – it’s quite a daunting thing. I think it’s quite a daunting place to go for any polished practitioner, let alone a 15 year old. It’s fascinating because you see some of them kind of go, “Oh my god!” (Recoils in terror) And then others are going, “Bring it on! This is where I was meant to be.” It’s just so wonderful to see.

Beyond that, I think we’re now starting to get into a few success story potentials. So, one of our first Disruptors, an amazing human being, is now at university. She came along to the Digital Disruptors programme this year as a youth support worker. She just volunteered her time.

I said, “Oh hello, Simbie! What are you doing here?”

“Yeah, well, I’m at university and I chose to do marketing because of Digital Disruptors. And by the way, I really want to have a conversation with you about work experience and getting a job when I’m done.”

I thought, ‘Brilliant’. She’s got ambition, drive, the knowhow; everything about her was so good. I told her to let me know when she’s done and we’ll have a talk.

It’s inspiring because there’s a whole 360 journey, from not really thinking about digital, to studying it at university, to speaking with me about working in the field.

Another chap, Francis, came to Digital Disruptors a couple of years ago. He’s now in college, just 16, and he’s set up a little side hustle as a design agency. We’re now speaking to him about getting some work experience with us and paying him to do some design work for the business. So again, we’re starting to see some of these young people now coming through and that makes it all the more rewarding.

The proudest achievement is being in a position where you’re inspiring young people and seeing their potential. At the moment, we’re living in a society that can often stunt creativity. Digital Disruptors enables young people to imagine, dream, create. It lets them put their unique stamp on things, on what matters to them. So, to give them that moment is amazing.

Even if they just take away something for their CV, or the confidence to express themselves, or the confidence to go on stage – and they can think back, “Wow, I did that at 15 years old!” – then that’s got to be a resounding success in its own right.

What can we expect from this year’s Digital Disruptors finals?

This year, we challenged them to create a new social media app/network. The brief was: ‘something that means something to you’. Everything is open, we don’t want to dictate anything. What we do want to know is how strong your idea is, who your audience is; what’s the validation of your idea, what research you have done, how are you going to promote it; give us an example of what might feature on it.

Four teams are going through to the final, so I’ll give a sense of what they’ll be presenting. We’ve got one team presenting a professional network, which is designed to minimise the gender gap. There’s a network that’s all about educating and developing young people’s skills. There’s a fashion platform, focused on helping people overcome their fears of purchasing online, providing a judgement free space for users. And the final one is a co-moderated network, all about helping young people be who they are in a very safe, entertaining environment.

They’ve only got six minutes each to bring these ideas to life, but when you hear them speaking about it – you hear the ideas, see the videos they put together – it’s just so inspiring because you’re seeing what is bothering them on a day to day basis, the things that they think are important. We should engage much more with the younger generation.

What are your plans for the future of Digital Disruptors?

Ultimately, we want to do more with it. We need sponsorships and support. There’s costs putting it together, bringing in the youth workers to support it, sorting travel for young people; we’re always looking for any financial support we possibly can.

We’re always super grateful for clients offering prizes. It would be great if companies could open up their offices and give us time; we want to expand further and take them on a tour of what they could achieve. I’m really delighted that this year the winning team will get to do a tour of TikTok – which I think they might like! The future is encouraging more to get involved with the initiative. The further we can take it, the better.