Eu Referendum

The EU referendum

For those who follow me on twitter you will have seen I am rather pro EU… So the outcome of this post will come as no surprise. But as we move into the final hours of campaigning before this critical vote, I wanted to take 5mins of your time to outline why I truly feel we are Strong In the EU and why the UK must be a strong and leading figure in the EU moving forward.

Politics and passion – why I am voting Labour

I am a firm believer in the power of passion, you must truly believe in something to make a difference.

For me politics is all about passion. It isn’t about spin, PR or negative campaigning. It is all about passion – passion for something that you believe in so much that you are willing to put your head and shoulders above the parapet and shout for it. It isn’t about a career, it isn’t about climbing the political ladder, it isn’t about power, it is about wanting to make a real and lasting difference for the whole of society, from top to bottom.

The power of global connections

The theme of this years Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) was connections, but can connections work for you? And if so what is the value it can bring to your start-up?

On the Thursday of GEW a, standing room only, event was held at the House of Lords, it was a joint effort between Young Brits and YBI and was a shining example of the advantages that networking and connections can bring when done in the right way. The event focused on the international dimension, it pulled together young entrepreneurs from the UK who have recently attended major summits that have been run across the globe by the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance and the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs as well as over 100 attendees and even the Prime Ministers Enterprise Advisor, Lord Young, asked to attend!

The key question that was asked, was can attendance at international summits for entrepreneurs really add value to your business. Tomasz Letniowski, Founder of Traductio, (attended G20 YEA Summit, Australia 2014), had this to say, “attending these summits offer unparalleled opportunity to network with influential business leaders from all over the world. However it is important to remember that once the connections are made you must look at how you maintain them.” Amy Barker, Founder of Monks & Co, (attended European Confederation Summit Greece 2014), went on to say, “being included in these international events have provided our business with incomparable networking opportunities with some inspirational established businesses. Networking with such advanced entrepreneurs aspire us to push further in our own enterprise and have provided contacts which have helped develop our business strategy’s further.” Nathaniel Peat, Founder of Gennex, (attended G20 YEA Summit, Canada 2010), summed it up well by giving a practical example of the benefit, “these types of summit have assisted the international development of my company directly, meeting like minded people, learning best practices, getting a contact database and establishing business relationships. As a result my company has now expanded into Africa the Caribbean and  is operating with partners in Asia, Europe and soon the USA.”

A few other boarder topics came up a number of time during discussions, and one was superbly articulated by Manuel Pinuela, CTO, Drayson Technologies, (attended G20 YEA Summit, Australia 2014), “It was great to hear across the panel that having the ability and the resilience to take risks and tolerate failure is becoming an important and recurring point to improve the entrepreneurship culture around the world.” Perhaps unsurprisingly the theme of mentoring, access to finance, coordinated support and access to market also came up during the sessions and it was extremely positive hear panellists and audience members mentioning the Start Up Loans scheme that is helping startups get access to finance and the IoDs Young Director Forum that is doing a lot of work around mentoring and support.

Finally, at a time of political sensitivity around Europe, it was extremely positive to have at the event a strong presence from the European entrepreneurship scene and to hear their insights/ thoughts on the UK and Europe. This was best summed up by Dimitris Tsigos, who is not only the President of the European Confederation of  Young Entrepreneurs but is also founder of a tech start up in Athens, Greece and has also recently launched his business in the UK. Dimitris had this to say, “The UK represents an amazing success story of governmental policies for promoting high growth and innovative entrepreneurship, being a true role model for Europe and the World. I was delighted to be involved in discussing the various ways international cooperation of Young Entrepreneurs can help them and their ventures take off, including the amazing opportunities that are possible for all young entrepreneurs if the UK and Europe and continue to work and grow together.“

It was a real pleasure to be involved in such a successful event, one where there was a tangible buzz in the air, and one where the networking went on until the early hours! But let me finish with the words of another one of the great entrepreneurs who kindly took part. Daniel Rajkumar, Founder of Rebuilding Society, (attended G20 YEA Summit, Russia 2013), “participation by members of the House of Lords along with a strong European contingent shows formidable government support for global entrepreneurship. May the inspiration motivate us all to do more & long may these positive initiatives continue.”

Many thanks to everyone who took part and to all those who attended. If you want to be involved in delegations to future international summits please contact me directly on: alex@youngbrits.com

Alex Mitchell, Director, Young Brits

Scotland and the Union

Part of my family is from Scotland, I was born in England and I was brought up in Wales. I feel very British and am extremely proud to be so. If Scotland decides to separate on the 18th September it will change our country forever and this I feel will be a huge lose; not only for Scotland, but for all of us from across the UK.

The referendum is an extremely emotive issue, it is splitting Scotland down the centre and whichever way the vote goes it will be a tight result. Although I don’t live in Scotland and therefore don’t have a vote, I have been watching the debate from both sides over the last 2 years and I strongly feel that a number of really key issues around Scotland separating have not been addressed.

Theses issues I have listed below and will directly impact the day to day life of those living and working in Scotland:

  • • There is a risk to the cost of living, leaving the UK would mean an average increase for Scottish tax payers of up to £1,000 per year
  • • There is a huge risk to going it alone, there is a strong chance Scotland would lose the stability of the UK pound.
  • • There is a very real pension risk; Scotland would lose the financial protection provided by the UK to pensions.
  • • There is a risk to schools and hospitals, at present additional funding helps pay for schools and hospitals in Scotland
  • • There is a risk to jobs and businesses; at present over 1million jobs are linked to the UK, many of which are in the finance and defence industries. We have already heard that RBS, Lloyds and others are moving aspects of their operations from Scotland if there is a yes vote
  • • There is no guarantee that Scotland could join the EU, at least not in the short term.

But why stay a part of the Union? There are the issues of the heart, if Scotland did decide to separate all we have achieved together, all our history together, all of this would finish. We are a family of nations, we have celebrated together in times of success and we have supported each other in times of need. We punch well above our weight and we are one of the strongest economies in the world. From a Scottish only perspective being a part of the Union has major direct benefits, did you know:

  • • As part of the UK 1 in 5 Scottish jobs are with companies based elsewhere in the UK
  • • Currently all decisions about the NHS is Scotland are made in Scotland, but are paid for by tax payers from across the whole of the UK
  • • As part of the UK Scottish households pay £100s less on energy bills.
  • • As part of the UK Scotland benefits from lower mortgage repayments saving circa £1,300 for those with a 75% mortgage

I really do feel we are all better together, we are stronger together, we share a common history, lets also share a common future.

If you are thinking of voting yes, please vote with your head and your heart. There is no going back on a yes vote and the detrimental impact it will have on the Scottish economy  and for Scottish citizens will be felt for generations to come.

If you are voting no, please talk to your family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues about why you are voting no. Talk to them about the direct impact it will have on their pockets and the core services they use. It is set to be extremely tight and every vote really will make a difference.

European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference 2014 – Pt5

The fifth and final blog post in this series is a quick wrap up from me.

There is no point in pretending that Europe is perfect, it isn’t and there are many things that need changing, but there is a lot right with it. As I have pointed out in a pervious blog post, as a member state of the EU, we are part of the world’s largest single market that has a total GDP of circa £11 trillion, an economic zone larger than the USA and Japan combined! In the EU there are 500 million people, and, although it is far from perfect, it is a fairly level playing field for UK businesses. There is also an absence of custom duties and a common set of rules, which means you don’t have 27 different sets of country regulations to be aware of and adhere to.

On the figures side, as it currently stands, over 50% of foreign direct investment to the UK comes from other EU member states. 40% of our exports go to the EU and they are tariff-free. These exports help to support over 4 million UK jobs and are worth in excess of £200 billion to the economy.

So, it is hugely important we remain active and engaged in and with the EU.

In the UK we are seeing unprecedented levels of business start up, with 526,446 new businesses being set up in 2013, however, business failure rates are high, recent stats show that of those 526k starting up, circa 20% will fail within the first year and circa 50% won’t be around by 2016. When companies manage to get through the start up stages, are established and have the potential to grow they are faced with numerous challenges on how to develop their market, increase their reach and develop new opportunities.

One area that is often over looked for start ups and small businesses is overseas markets. Yes, the risks are high, but if you have the right introductions, meet the right people and have access to market intelligence, then the opportunities are equally high.

For me it is always a huge privilege to take groups of young entrepreneurs on these types of delegations. The event in Athens was a great example in the benefit of bringing like minded people together, providing a degree of inspiration, challenge them to actively contribute and encourage them to meet, network and work with one another. You can see the connections being made and future business partnerships already being developed. I hope the past blogs in this series really help to give you a young entrepreneurs insights and advantages of being involved in delegations of this nature.

But what about overseas market intelligence? It can cost a lot and it is difficult to find exactly what you are after. There are numerous ways of getting this are low or no costs, UKTI can help, as well as membership bodies like the IoD, but I wanted to flag up an initiative I have recently come across, that I have been hugely impressed by, it is Santander’s Business Trade Portal. It is really impressive and all I will say is check it out, you wont be disappointed.

I would like to finish by saying a huge thank you to the organisations that helped pull the delegation together, these were the Start Up Loans Company, The Institute of Directors, Launch Pad Labs, the Young Brits Network and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance. And an even bigger thank you to the UK delegates themselves:

European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference 2014 – Pt4

The forth and penultimate blog post is by Matt Kelcher, who is an Advisor to the Labour Party Business Team.

Its the end of the first full day of the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs here in Athens, and we’ve certainly been treated to a packed and varied programme so far.

The series of speakers has included a Dutch teenager who launched their first company at the age of 9 and a Dane for built his own rocket and is determined to fly to Mars. The panel discussions have looked at subjects from how entrepreneurs should bounce back from failure to how 3D printing will change business forever.

From all of these discussions it is clear how important entrepreneurs can be to the economic future of the UK and Europe as a whole.  The minister responsible for small businesses in the Greek government highlighted how the creation of 10,000 high growth businesses is needed to address the unemployment crisis in his country.  A similar number may be necessary in the UK.

It is clear from this conference that such goals are most definitely achievable in Europe.  Ann Mettler, the Chair of the Lisbon Council think tank, powerfully challenged the idea that Europeans are too “safe” to be successful entrepreneurs.

15% of EU citizens are self employed she said, and this corresponds very closely to levels in the USA.  Europeans also dream of pulling themselves up by their boot straps.

As someone who works in that infamous village located in SW1, my first thought has been how can politicians help entrepreneurs on their way.  The message I’ve heard clearly is that the old division of big state versus small state is no longer the issue.  European entrepreneurs want an enabling state, which creates an ecosystem where they can thrive, and then leaves them to do just that.

So how would this space look?  Well three common themes seemed to have emerged so far.

Firstly, entrepreneurs need to be given space to innovate.  There was acknowledgment from almost all the speakers that successful entrepreneurs have special qualities, which set them apart.  Nonetheless they still need space to hone and practice these skills. Very few, even if they are born with the right drive and talent, can succeed without experience. This can come through learning from failure in a society, which does not see one business failure as an ultimate disaster.  It can also come from being networked into people with similar ambitions but different skill sets, so that different entrepreneurs can share skills and ideas.

But most of all, many people at the event agreed with Candace Johnson, a successful entrepreneur from Luxembourg, who argued that Europe needs to shout more loudly about its business success stories to show more young people what they can achieve.

Secondly, many participants noted that government can provide the platform for young people to learn entrepreneurial skills early in their school careers.  Britain’s Nathaniel Peat emphasised how business ideas can be integrated into the current curriculum and how this will inspire children to learn.  Teach a child that 1 + 1 = £2 and you will have a captive audience.  This was certainly the case with teenage entrepreneur Bastiaan Zwanenburg who spoke about his success, which came despite not having a huge interest in academia.

Labour’s Waltham Forest Council are already placing a designated “Enterprise Governor” on the board of each school in their Borough to achieve just this.  This conference made me realise what an important idea this could be.

Thirdly, it was evident that high level commitment is required to produce a more entrepreneurial society.  The Greek Manifesto, a set of ideas to improve the standing of entrepreneurs, which was launched at the conference, demonstrates this.  Many influential figures from the world of business and government have signed up to this vision, making it far more likely it will be delivered.

Many speakers spoke about the need for the voice of entrepreneurs to be heard at the heart of government, and we particularly heard about Romania’s new Minister for Enterprise and Enterprise Mayor’s in Brazil.  Labour wants to introduce a British Small Business Administration, staffed by business people, not civil servants, at the heart of Westminster to do just this.  It was great to see this idea being discussed by Alex Mitchell from Young Brits at one of the panel sessions.

So a huge amount was covered today, and I’m sure tomorrow will be just as busy and interesting.

We’ve reached the end of the third and final day of the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs conference in scorching Athens.  Today’s discussions built on many of the topics previously discussed, but at the same time took these talking points in new and interesting directions.  The panellists for today’s sessions also seemed to come from even further and wider than before!

Education was again a hot topic, but where the conference had previously focused on the need to give very young children exposure to entrepreneurial ideas and values, today much talk was given to getting business education right at university.

Nadia Cheng a successful entrepreneur in the field of robotics, who flew all the way from the states to attend the conference, highlighted how effective a strong partnership between academia and start ups can be in the high tech sphere.  However, she warned that ground rules must be laid down at the start to prevent the academic or institution claiming too much of the credit and profit.  Members of the UK delegation indicated that this had also been a problem back home.

A second American panelist, Maxim Lobovsky, spoke about the successful start up culture at his university, where most students were preparing to start their own business whilst they studied and assumed the course they were studying would equip them to become successful entrepreneurs.  This may be an attitude lacking in UK higher education.

At yesterday’s sessions, a running theme was the need for high level policy influence.  During a keynote address, a former Obama Campaign staffer, Michael McGeary, talked about how he had achieved this by setting up “Engine” an advocacy group, which lobbies on behalf of start ups in the States.

He recognised that start ups usually have little time to slip away from their business to lobby politicians and policy makers.  But if each of these contributed just a small slice of time, their combined voice could be huge.  This is where “Engine” step in, as professional political strategists, representing a membership of tech start ups from across the 50 states.  They have seen some large successes such as measures contained within the JOBS Act.

McGeary was particularly positive about the potential for a similar organisation in Europe.  He noted that politics is not as directly influenced by money in Europe, and so a start up voice would not inevitably be drowned out by big spending corporates.  Likewise, the existence of the single market allows lobbying of supranational institutions which could consequently make it far easier for European start ups to branch out and export.

The subject of finance was again discussed and it was repeatedly emphasised that money must come with mentoring and other networks of support, or it will be squandered.  If there was one key message of the conference it would be around the need for ecosystems of entrepreneurs

Attendees got to try this out for themselves.  Two representative from the European Commission gave delegates the chance to have their say on how a new huge pot of 79 billion Euros would be spent on future tech and infrastructure products.  Many ideas were given from using the funds as prime inducement to solve issues like tax avoidance and over fishing, to using it all for tax cuts instead!

It certainly has been a fascinating three days in Greece which has really sketched out a direction of travel for any government, or potential government, who seeks to unleash their domestic entrepreneurial talent.

European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference 2014 – Pt3

This blog post is by Amy Barker, Founder of Director of Monks & Co Clothing. Amy is a Start Up Loans recipient and was their loan recipient of the month in July of this year.

On day 1, after an explore around Athens, we arrive at Technopolis to kick start the summit. A huge highlight for me was Nathaniel Peat presenting on Social Enterprise. He explained his journey, what inspired him and briefly how he achieved what he has. I felt motivated by his story and ready to implement some of my higher aspirations that once appeared slightly intimidating. Entrepreneurs breed entrepreneurs and I couldn’t agree more. I always wanted to start a business but after an acquaintance had just ‘done it’, I decided with all the help and support currently available for young entrepreneurs with the Start Up Loans scheme there has never been a better time. The process was so easy in my application from start to finish and since starting my business I am aware of another young entrepreneur I have motivated to also just ‘do it’ and start their own business. Now we have been open 8 months it’s great to hear from other businesses at events like this, how they scaled up and achieved everything they have.

After the presentation we have a networking event over some food and drink. It was great to mingle with other businesses from so many different backgrounds in a more relaxed environment. My aim of the summit was to try and make some contacts that would help me grow my business by manufacturing my own brand of products, in particular high quality shirts and blazers. Conveniently I found myself speaking with a manufacturer from Egypt specialising in Egyptian cotton. As this is a new field for me I require his expertise on the manufacturing process, RRP and general guidance in the manufacturing industry. He is looking to open a shop in the UK selling Egyptian cotton bed sheets and home accessorise. Being based in Cairo without a presence in the UK means negotiation leases and finding shop units is increasingly difficult for him. Therefore we have found a mutually beneficial relationship and we have exchanged details and discussed having a meeting at his factory in September.

Since being back I’ve booked in a meeting with my business mentor, as I have so many ideas now I am looking forward to focussing them!

Day 2 started in an amazing venue called the Orange Grove, a flexible work space for young entrepreneurs to utilise. We had more discussions on a sustainable entrepreneurship future between Europe and the world and how to develop the ecosystem. However a true highlight for me was ‘what actually drives a teenage entrepreneur’ by Netherlands based Bastiaan Zwanenburg. Having a Fashion Tech company myself I was intrigued how this award-winning 17 year old set up an ecommerce site selling sunglasses. Having set up his company only 18 months ago his story was unbelievable. With over 1 million website views, over 10,000 Facebook likes and an amazing profit I was fascinated with how he had achieved so much. With the basic principles of business, buying cheap and selling with a great profit margin, they had a great website to support them and focussed on social and digital advertising where they knew there market would be.

 

I am totally inspired by Bastiaan’s business and afterwards went to introduce myself. We had a great conversation where we shared experiences and he took a look on our website and gave me some tips to drive more traffic to the site. We have since exchanged details and he has offered to provide me with some advice on growing our social presence.

The day ended with a networking event at the Dutch Ambassador’s residence which was an incredible experience. I spoke with somebody from the European Commission who was intrigued to hear my story and how I found setting up a business.

The whole event was not only extremely inspiring, it has directly helped my business through the contacts i have made and business i have met. It also gave me a great opportunity to speak directly to senior people from the European Parliament, enabling me to feedback directly my thoughts, challenges and expenses of setting up on my own.

Cant wait to the next one…

European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference 2014 – Pt2

This blog post is by Douglas Bell, Founder of Hideout. Douglas is also the entrepreneur in residence at Launch Pad Labs.

The purpose of The European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference (#EYEC2014) was to bring young entrepreneurs from across Europe together to mix with investors and political powers. Our host city was Athens; – Greece is, of course under intense pressure to reform, and to build on it’s burgeoning startup scene. 

Two headline challenges were being addressed at the conference: 

  • Overcoming the fragmentation barrier in Europe
  • Creating a European entrepreneurial identity

The conference involved a series of speeches & panel discussions over 3 days… helping entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and political forces to respond to those two challenges. Inspiring people like Candice Johnson (legendary entrepreneur & president of EBAN), Neelie Kroes (VP of The European Commission), Maria Pinelli (VP at E&Y, who was instrumental at both Google & Amazon at the very early stages), Pano Kroko (legendary entrepreneur, investor in Twitter/Skype), and a whole series of others geniuses were there to connect with European startup founders. It was an opportunity to discuss the big issues, and take away action points to push things forwards on a European level.

The biggest take-aways for me were that brilliant people are now advocating on behalf of startups, in many serious ways. And that there is massive political buy-in on a European level. Among others, The European Commission were there, asking how to design an incredible new venture fund called ‘H2020’ (Horizon 2020). ‘How can we invest €79 BILLION in ICT innovation?’ They’re serious. I have to say, the people leading this program are exactly the kind of people who should be doing it – they really do understand enterprise and innovation.

I was lucky enough to be there representing the UK as an entrepreneur delegate, with global ambitions for my startup Hideout. It was incredibly helpful. The networking value is impossible to quantify, so I’m privileged to have been a part of it. Many of the most valuable connections at these events happen informally, between talks, over drinks, and at random moments. EYEC was a very social conference, with drinking going on until sunrise, 3 days in a row – such was the level of energy between us as a group. Young entrepreneurs like to drink; a few world records may have been broken during these inspiring few days in Athens. The view from other founders echoes my own – this was a brilliant conference. We have all been inspired and energised by it. I’d also expect a huge number of cross pollination happening between delegates, investors and change-makers. If you get a chance to go yourself, snap it up. It will be an excellent investment of your time.

European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference 2014 – Pt1

Earlier this summer Young Brits led a small delegation of young entrepreneurs and individuals within the youth enterprise space to Athens, Greece for the European Youth Entrepreneurship Conference. This is a new initiative created by the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs to help young entrepreneurs from all around the Europe exchange ideas and best practices, set up business ties and make their concerns and policy suggestions heard, especially towards the European Union leadership.

The Conference, kickstarted in Athens at the end of June and it will be held on a biannual basis at the EU member state holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The conference brought together over 100 young entrepreneurs from across Europe to discuss how they can work together and collaborate with other stakeholders in the direction of overcoming the fragmentation barrier and creating the European entrepreneurial identity.

There was an impressive line-up of speakers from Europe, US, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa and the Leadership of the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs also published the “Declaration of Athens” at the conference ― This was a call to action for European young entrepreneurs to promote high growth and innovative entrepreneurship.

The UK sent a delegation of five young entrepreneurs (listed at end of this piece) to the conference who were running businesses in a wide variety of sectors. The delegation included competition winners/ membership ambassadors from the Start Up Loans Company, The Institute of Directors, Launch Pad Labs, the Young Brits Network and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance. The conference was also joined by a representative from the Labour Party’s shadow business team, to hear first hand about some of the innovative projects taking place in Europe within the youth entrepreneurship scheme.

The following blogs in this series are from some of the delegates and i have asked them to share their direct insights from the conference.

The UK delegation:

The need for startups to be finance ready

The following post is from a piece that first appeared in Economia magazine on 4th July 2014 and can be found here.

Although there are issues in relation to accessing finance, it is extremely important for entrepreneurs to get their books in order before they try. Chartered accountants can help.

As anyone who knows me will confirm, I am passionate about enterprise and especially about supporting the UK’s growing ranks of entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

I’ve spent the best part of the last decade learning lessons from the best in the UK and, through my work as UK President of G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance and on the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs, from around the world as well.
One common issue, regardless of whether you’re talking to those running businesses in Russia, Brazil, the US or the UK (and I have visited businesses in all these countries) is finance and access to finance in particular.

The last few years have been challenging for many in terms of access to finance, with the large banks busily following orders from regulators to de-risk. This flight from risk has offset the beneficial impact of low interest rates. Debt may be cheap, but the official figures speak to the paucity of lending activity. Regardless of whether that’s down to a lack of supply or demand (and there are arguments offered on both sides), there simply hasn’t been the money flowing through the banks that many hoped.

Nevertheless, entrepreneurs abhor an unfilled opportunity and the market has risen to this challenge, with the arrival of a seemingly endless array of new financing options. It wasn’t that long ago when a business seeking finance turned to the bank. If they were rejected, that was often that.

While a depressingly high number of entrepreneurs still don’t look far enough afield, the range of options open to them is bewildering. We’ve seen a sort of supermarket effect in the world of business finance. There is now at least a whole aisle of options for those seeking to raise finance. That was why the publication last week by the British Business Bank and ICAEW of a Guide to SME Finance was so welcome.
Choice is all the rage, but it is also confusing and the guide does a good job of explaining the different types of finance and helping those running SMEs make sure they get the right finance at the right time.

But there is another aspect to the financing of SMEs that is too often overlooked. The reason many applications for funding are rejected is because the business simply isn’t ready for finance. That might be down to poor internal controls and a lack of decent systems or a lack of a clear plan as to how the new money will be spent, how it will help grow the business and how this projected growth will make it more likely there will be sufficient resources available to repay the investment (and offer a decent return on it).

Too many otherwise successful SMEs are being held back because they aren’t finance-ready. And there is a knowledge gap in too many cases. Too many people running start-ups are also running scared of the numbers. For no real reason they feel that this stuff is the scary stuff. They didn’t start their own business to worry for hours about a VAT return, so why not just ignore it and hope those letters from HMRC go away by themselves.

But there is help available. In the UK a body called the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England & Wales (ICAEW) has a Business Advice Scheme which is a great example of the help on offer. The scheme allows small businesses to access a one-hour free consultation with an ICAEW member firm. It may be one hour that changes your business for the better, forever. As the recent founder of a business myself, I can vouch for the fact that the some of the most valuable advice I got was from my accountants.

They keep things simple for me and allow me to focus on running the business. Of course I pay them for their services, but they are closely aligned with my objectives and the more successful my business becomes, the more they’ll get rewarded.
If we really want the UK to thrive as somewhere that’s not just good at encouraging start-ups, but also at growing businesses, we need more of our companies to be finance-ready. For that to happen we need to encourage more people running SMEs to overcome their fear of the numbers and tap into the help that’s available. A more finance-ready Britain would ultimately be a more successful Britain.

The UK and Europe…

I wanted to write a quick blog on the European Elections, which are taking place tomorrow (22 May). At the moment it seems to be fashionable to be anti Europe, but I am pro Europe, however I am not blindly pro Europe. I believe a combined voice is stronger in a global market than numerous individual ones, I believe that we can all mutually benefit from a strong globally engaged Europe, but I also believe it is important to keep the pound and to ensure we keep our financial independence. However, there are some very real issues with Europe: corruption, misuse of funds, is it really a level playing field and so on.

So the question is this, would the UK be better off being out of Europe?

My straightforward answer is no. Why do I say this? The UK is a member state of the EU, we are part of the world’s largest single market that has a total GDP of circa £11 trillion, an economic zone larger than the USA and Japan combined!

In the EU there are 500 million people, and, although it is far from perfect, it is a fairly level playing field for UK businesses. There is also an absence of custom duties and a common set of rules, which means you don’t have 27 different sets of country regulations to be aware of and adhere to. 

On the figures side, as it currently stands, over 50% of foreign direct investment to the UK comes from other EU member states. 40% of our exports go to the EU and they are tariff-free. These exports help to support over 4 million UK jobs and are worth in excess of £200 billion to the economy.

I was speaking at the European Business Summit last week and the UK was mentioned time and again as a country that is leading Europe with cutting edge innovative businesses, excellent startup support and a ‘can do’ culture. Everyone I spoke to said how important it was for the UK to be a part of the EU, a senior Commissioner from France even told me that there was a lot the rest of Europe could learn from the UK!

So again, would the UK be better off outside of the EU? No way.

We are going to increasingly be competing against China and India, countries with populations north of 1billion, nations that are utterly driven in their growth strategy and their global market reach. To compete we need to be heard and being at the centre of Europe will be key to this. Also it is ultimately better to be inside ensuring the changes that need to happen do happen, than being on the outside complaining about the issues and running the very real risk of being sidelined.

Come tomorrow I will be voting Labour, for me it is party I am proudly a member of and one I strongly believe has Britain’s best interests at heart. It is your right to vote for who ever you want and regardless of who you vote for, please use your vote. It is the foundation of democracy and it has been depressing to see how low voter turn out has been in recent elections.

On a political front the only thing I will say is this, don’t believe some of the headline grabbing announcements that you may have seen from UKIP. If you believed their leader then we should now be inundated with Bulgarians and Romanians post the scrapping of visa restrictions at the start of the year. However recent figures clearly show that there are now 4,000 fewer immigrants than before the rule was changed! A lot of what they have been saying is just plain ridiculous, comments that are deliberately headline grabbing and play on a fear of instability, as jobs, houses and pensions seem so fragile. But a significant amount of these headline grabbing stunts are just not true. If they do as well in the polls, as is expected, there are just going to be a load of UKIP MEPs sitting in Brussels, representing you, that couldn’t care less about enhancing the UK’s position within the EU. How can that be good for the UK and for British business?

Use your vote and use it well.

For the record on the wider immigration issue, I personally feel immigration has made the UK stronger. We are arguable the most multicultural country in Europe if not the World and I feel one of the most tolerant. It is great to see so many languages, cultures and religions in the UK, it exposes us all to a truly global culture and it shows us that regardless of colour or creed we are actually not all that different. For a country it has made us a global nation, this is a huge competitive advantage on the international stage, one we should be proud of and not ashamed of.

 

Responsible Entrepreneurship

Last week (31 March to 4 April) was responsible business week. This is a great new initiative, which has been set up by Business In The Community (BITC) and aims to inspire and equip businesses to unlock innovation and demonstrate the positive impact of business in society. On the Wednesday (2 April) there was a focus on responsible entrepreneurship and this is what I am basing this piece on.

To me responsible entrepreneurship is both a concept and a process that sees companies integrating social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with all their stakeholders. It has to be driven from the top down and stakeholders must include both internal and external, customers and supply chain.

I like to think of responsible entrepreneurs as social innovators, not least because it kind of conjures up images of strangely dressed social super hero’s! However a responsible entrepreneur can create solutions to tough local and national social issues, whilst also ensuring commercial viability, thus increasing long term survivability and impact.

During the event there were three main speakers who I met and I wanted to share some of their thoughts and insights along with my own comments. First was Marcelino Castrillo, who is the Managing Director of SME banking at Santander. So why is one of the largest high street banks at a responsible business week event? They were a key sponsor, but their involvement seemed to be a lot more than that. Marcelion spoke passionately about his belief, and that of Santander’s, in the importance for all business to focus on education, enterprise and employment and the important business growth opportunities for SMEs that can be gained through responsible business practices. He also talked about the role that his bank can, and needs to play, in getting larger business supporting small business to create mutual benefit and growth, as well as the challenges that we all face in getting everyone, businesses and consumers, to think about sustainability and responsibility in all aspects of our lives. Finally Marcelino mentioned the wider positive impact that embedding responsibility at the core of your business can have, quoting that circa 80% of young people want to work for a company that has a positive impact on society.

The second person was Mary Portas who lead the independent review into the future of Britain’s high streets. Mary highlighted the impact that responsible business and responsible entrepreneurial enterprises can have on the high street. At a time when the high street in the UK is suffering and there is a continuing movement to out of town shopping centers, the high street needs to reinvent itself and create its own USP. She went on to cover the importance that popup hubs can play on the high street to highlight local traders, designers, artists, manufactures etc. If there is empty space on the high street, why not try and use it for a popup hub highlighting local trade talent? When I spoke to her briefly I was struck by her enthusiasm and passion for creating environments of kindness, how you should only employ happy people and the importance of living and giving – how you live your life and what you give back to society.

The third person was Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business. It is not only positive to see a senior politician taking part and supporting such an event, but to also see him talk about the importance of responsible business and responsible entrepreneurship from the heart. Chuka is the MP for Brixton and there are some great examples there of responsible businesses and entrepreneurs and the positive effect they can have on the local community. He also recently chaired a Labour Next Generation event on the importance of responsible entrepreneurship. It was at that event and again last week, that he highlighted the need for entrepreneurship to be ‘in the hearts of the many not in the hands of few’, and the creation of/ belief in a ‘British Dream’ with more people setting up businesses, leading business, and working in businesses. It was good to hear about the emphasis he and the Labour party are putting on the power of entrepreneurship and its social value. Chuka also touched on the need for government to empower responsible entrepreneurs to do what they want to do, creating businesses that have shared values, bottom line and society.

Both Chuka and Mary touched on the importance of consumer behavior and the need to change this, increasing awareness of the impact purchasing decisions can make. They both highlighted the important role that the media could play in championing responsible enterprises, as well as the need for those in positions of influence to create a ground swell within consumers to change their purchasing habits towards one that supports responsible businesses.

I strongly feel that sustainability and responsibility in all enterprises, large and small, new and old, will be a major competitive advantage moving forward. Customers will want to buy into brands that believe in something more than just profit.

It is great to see BITC leading the charge; they have a strong network of businesses large and small across the UK and in sectors from manufacturing to tech and catering to housing. Responsible small startups and entrepreneurs will need all the help they can get to ensure they can be the change makers society needs. I think and hope that BITC will act as an informal incubator and catalyst for them by utilising their network and their influence.

I will leave you with a key aspect of what responsible entrepreneurship is to me.

A responsible entrepreneur does not focus on short-term profits to the exclusion of all else, and they actually go on to make more money. This is going to only increase and will create real change within the business landscape. Why? Because as the power shifts to the consumer, if a business doesn’t become responsible, customers and stakeholders will ultimately vote with their feet.

A networked future

At the recent Association of MBAs Global leadership conference for AMBAssadors, that took place in Nantes, France (from 6th to 9th Feb 14), I gave a presentation on Networks and Networking. The following blog  focuses on what networking means to me.

The word ‘networking’ is a cold/hard one; it is quite clinical and doesn’t really have any emotion attached to it. The actual art of networking is the very opposite of this. Networking is a relationship. You can’t think of it in any traditional sense, you can’t box networking; you can’t explain it away using buzz word bingo business jargon.

For me, networking in its broadest sense is very simple, it’s about helping people. I believe very much in karma, if you help others then they will in turn help you. This is true with networking. You can’t go into a meeting or a conversation thinking ‘what is in this for me’. If you do, you will be at risk of being too blinkered, of missing opportunities, of focusing on the short term and not thinking of the long game.

I realise that I might be coming across as a bit altruistic, business is tough, your time is precious, you need new clients, you need access to new markets you need new revenue streams etc. I am not saying that every minute of every hour of every day should be spent networking. But true networking is relationship building, and any relationship needs time to be spent on it.

‘Networkers’

Successful networking is dependent on the partners involved, which leads me onto ‘networkers’. Am I a networker? Yes I am, but there are a lot of different types of networkers and in my different roles over the years I think I have seen almost every type. A key to networking is to try and work out what type of networker is in front of you. If you spend time on them, if you help them out, but they never do anything for you in return, (no matter how small), it is all one way, it is a waste of time and you are better off out of it. That type of individual may succeed in the short term, but in the long run people will work out what they are about and trust will be lost. Remember the world is a small place and word does get around.

Whether you want to or not, you will usually end up building networks around you that are made up of people who are very similar to you. If you go into networking thinking ‘what can I get out of this’ you will end up surrounding yourself with similar people. But if you go in thinking ‘how can I help this person’ then you will surround yourself with people thinking the same.

Top Tips

  • Help others, you never know who you will meet and who they are networked with
  • Try and work out what type of networker is sitting in front of you
  • Don’t go into a networking opportunities with the ‘what is in it for me’ mentality
  • Creating a network takes time and commitment, remember this and don’t think it will happen overnight
  • Be honest with your answers, if you can’t help someone, say so
  • Think dynamically about who you are meeting, if you can’t help them, maybe someone in your network can
  • Be engaged, don’t be dismissive, remember the person you are speaking to is passionate about their area

I don’t know if I have said anything interesting, it seems to be very basic, but I think networking is. Don’t over think it. The world is full of amazing people trying to do fascinating things. If you can create a network around you incorporating these types of individuals, then the personal and professional enrichment it will give you will be truly remarkable.

Global Networking

The title of this post was ‘a networked future’ and I should briefly explain what I meant by this.

Thanks to Gordon Moore and his law, the exponential growth we have seen in computing and the explosion we have seen in social networks, our interaction to people from all over the globe is only a mouse click away and it is set to only get easier. Global trade will soon be a part of every business, large or small; therefore the importance of networking and having a diverse network around you will become ever more important. Your network will be able to facilitate introductions, give recommendations, and provide market knowledge and intelligence. It will help to give you the competitive advantage.

NB: The above post was taken from a piece I wrote for Shell LiveWIRE in 2011 and can be found here

Small business at the heart of government

NB: This blog was one i wrote for the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs on 31 Jan 2014 and it can be found here

The backbone of the UK economy are small businesses and start ups, they are the wealth, job and skills creators, they are the innovators and they are core to ensuring the UKs stable economic growth going forward. However, is the voice of small business actually heard at the heart of government? For that matter, how many countries can truly say that small business and startups have a seat solely for them at the cabinet table?

With big business, the government’s engagement is strong, the companies have policy, lobby and press teams to ensure their voice is heard by policymakers and therefore, government does listen. When it comes to small businesses, governments tend to talk a good game, they say they are listening, but is that the case? If they are not, where does accountability lie? Ultimately it must lie with the Department Head, the Secretary of State, this is the person that has a senior cabinet position, the person who is the business champion within Government. But when the influence of big business in the department is strong, the voice of the small business person has a tendency to be crowded out.

What is the solution?

There must be a small business champion, a person who’s sole focus is on small businesses and entrepreneurs, a person who sits at the senior table and has the credibility and influence to raise the issues that startups and small businesses face directly with senior cabinet colleagues. Most importantly, their position must be one where by they can effect real change.

During the recent Federation of Small Business Annual Policy conference, one of the speakers was the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Chuka Umunna MP and what he had to say focused on exactly this issue. “We need government to be a better servant – and customer – of our small businesses and to make sure that entrepreneurs’ voices are heard at the top table. A UK Small Business Administration is necessary to realising this ambition. Based on the best examples from around the world, a UK Small Business Administration would create a step change in the opportunities for small businesses.” Chuka’s full speech can be found here.

As the power shifts from west to east, everyone from business to government must think creatively about how we can maximize our strengths. In the UK we have always been a nation of innovators and inventors, we were famously called a nations of shop keepers and as I mentioned at the start, small business and startups are core to economic growth and they will increasingly be so going forward. But we need to create the right ecosystem and I think the establishment of the UK Small Business Administration would be a big step forward and a real game changer. It would help develop a culture of support and practical action, which will drive successful small business growth, encourage entrepreneurial talent and help create the worlds leading companies of tomorrow.

Thoughts from Colombo

I was recently asked to take part in the second Commonwealth Asian Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs’ (CAAYE) Summit, which this year was taking place in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was asked to attend in both my role as Co-Founder of the Young Brits Network and as a Director of the Association of MBAs.

I was sadly only able to be at the summit for 48hours, but I had a hectic and insightful 2days and wanted to quickly share some of what I got to see and hear.

So why was CAAYE set up? Well I have been supporting the Alliance from its birth and it focuses on 4 key area:

  • To give a voice

  • To share ideas

  • To develop trade

  • To network

The forth area was the point that hit home most when I was with the delegates attending the summit in Colombo.  To network with like-minded individuals, regardless of where you come from and what your background might be.

I will go off piste slightly here, but I wanted to quickly share something that I heard from two of the delegations. India and Pakistan. Both been involved with CAAYE since the start, they have been working together to help create and drive a successful Alliance. Their governments don’t always get on, but the entrepreneurs representing their countries got on with each other, faced similar business challenges and shared common aspirations. This level of collaboration for me was cemented when I heard that entrepreneurs from India and Pakistan had managed to get the relevant visas and documents needed to cross on foot the border between each other’s countries and take part in a bilateral youth entrepreneurship event. For me this is what CAAYE and similar networks are all about. Putting people together that just want to get on and work with each other regardless of history or disagreements between nations at a political level.

This year’s summit took place directly before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the signed communiqué at the summit was handed directly to the leaders attending CHOGM. The leaders meeting had attracted a lot of press regarding the recent civil war in Sri Lanka. The CAAYE Summit is not political, it is a network of, and the voice for, young entrepreneurs, which is driven by young entrepreneurs from across the region and it was really great to meet Tamil and Sinhalese entrepreneurs at the CAAYE summit. These young men and women from both groups, told me they just wanted to create a future for themselves, their families and their country that is strong, stable and ensures equal opportunities and equal rights for all. The more I go to events like these and meet young, dynamic, driven individuals, the more I feel sure that these are the type of people who will drive future change in their countries and their regions. From what I have seen and heard this change will be one that stands a very real chance of seeing people working together across borders, cultures and religions to create a positive future for all.

Now on to a few stats… I hardly need to tell you that the Asian market is growing rapidly, in the 1960s Asia accounted for 14% of the world total GDP, however as of today is it now delivering around 36% of the worlds total GDP. Asia’s population was circa 1.4billion in the 1950s and it is now in the region of 4.6billion, which is 60% of the world’s total population. However one stat really stuck out for me that a speaker at the summit covered, this is that on average at the moment Asian countries currently have only 8% of their GDP coming from cross border trade. This must be a huge opportunity to develop, allowing countries in the region to trade and grow together and this is exactly where networks like CAAYE have a very important role to play. Pulling like-minded people together and facilitating trade, because you would rather work and do business with people you know than starting out cold.

One of the other key topics that was covered and struck a cord with me was around education. This was highlighted across all member nations of CAAYE as being key to ensuring a strong and stable economic future. A number of core areas on education were bought up that needed to be encouraged and focused on:

  • Firstly, female access to education. Everyone I met talked about the importance of ensuring women in their societies have equal access to education at all levels and to also ensure that the employment opportunities are there post completion of the education journey.

  • Secondly, the need for education to be available for all regardless of where you might live and what your financial status might be. With key limiters being location, infrastructure and family economics. E-learning and virtual educational programmes were highlighted as ways this issue could be addressed and a number of best practice examples where shared.

  • Thirdly, issues around turning ideas into successful businesses. Areas around employability skills sets, executive education and business leadership were all highlighted. There was a very real feeling that there was a need to get the right people in at the right levels to ensure an idea can be taken from concept to a viable business

  • Finally, the topic of social enterprise was looked at. It was very encouraging to hear how there was a drive to try and get the message out into the CAAYE regions about the positive effects social enterprise have and ways it can be bought into wider understanding through education at all levels.

I will leave you with my final thoughts from the summit. I personally felt that networks like CAAYE, driven by individuals who are driving this network, have a very real opportunity to choose their own destiny. It is said that a true measure of a person’s strength is how they master a moment of change when it arrives. The moment to create meaning full and long term positive change is now and I believe there is real capacity and passion in the people driving CAAYE to meet this change, to act as a force multipliers and to truly create something that is impactful. But it is a long road ahead, the network must keep pushing itself and they will need to have limitless capacity to meet the responsibility that they now have. If they do this, which will be hard, they will ultimately achieve something great.

All businesses will be social enterprises

NB: The following is from an article that first appeared in the Guardian on 27 Nov 2012 and it can be found here

All businesses will be social enterprises says Institute of Directors leader

As funding, and money from government is cut, business must be part of the solution, says Alex Mitchell
Social enterprise has a key role to play in building a new economy at home and abroad, says Alex Mitchell of the Institute of Directors.

Alex Mitchell, head of influencer relations at the Institute of Directors, has said that all businesses will have to become social enterprises.

Mitchell, who also co-founded a charity for disabled athletes called Kit Us Out, said: “I think all businesses, large or small are going to have to become social enterprises in one shape or form. As funding and money from government continues to be cut, business is going to have to step up to the mantle and be part of the solution. To help get young people into work, for example.”

Mitchell was speaking on the panel at UnLtd’s Global Entrepreneurship Week at the British Library, which explored the future of support for social entrepreneurs and how that support could help mainstream start-ups.

He also talked about the role of business in building a new economy in the UK and abroad, referencing Greece in particular.

In response to a question from the audience on challenging capitalism, he said that “every system should be challenged; it’s up to everyone here and outside to ensure businesses are being challenged to play an active role in society”.

Later, in response to a question about how the social enterprise movement could be speeded up, he challenged the audience on which businesses they’re helping grow as part of their everyday life.

He asked: “How many people here go to Starbucks, even though they’ve been pulled apart in the last few weeks because they possibly aren’t paying the full level of tax? We have to own up: we need to decide where we’re putting our resources – I mean our own individual cash.”

Mitchell called for social enterprises to make sure they utilise the skills and support of experts to ensure the survival of their businesses. “The reason 50% of businesses fail in first two years is not because they’re not good businesses. To create success, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who are better than you.”

14 Words

 

“I can tell the House, we are also exploring the idea of enterprise loans.”

14 words that are light on detail but heavy on potential.

These were the words that the Rt Hon George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequerused during his Budget address to the House of Commons on 21 March. He continued with“Young people get a loan to go to university or college. We now want to help them get a loan to start their own business.”

And the Young Enterprise Loan Scheme is born, with a government commitment to run a pilot this year. The aim of the scheme will be to support entrepreneurship amongst young people through small, low interest, loans and integrating this with wider non-financial support.

This is no small task, but with youth unemployment currently running at over 1million, access to finance is tough for established businesses, let alone start ups, and the current high failure rate of businesses within their first 18 months, I would say now is the time for not only bold statements but strong coordinated action that is both practical and tangible. We need to provide the joined up support, we must enable access to finance and we have to ensure all young people trying to set up their own company have the basic business knowledge that can mean the difference between success and failure.

The opportunity the scheme presents us with is huge and as Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said: “This has the potential to transform the prospects of thousands of young people. The entrepreneurs of today will be the job creators of tomorrow so I’m delighted that the Government has listened to those at the very start of their careers. The country is full of gifted and enterprising people so this pilot, which crucially has business mentoring and support at its heart, will help prevent a lost generation of talent.”

But how did this scheme come about and what are the next steps.

I sit on the National Youth Enterprise Working Group (NYEWG) on behalf of the IoD, this is a central strategic group with national reach and scale across the youth enterprise sector, a bit of a think and do tank I guess you could say. It was formed in 2011, after young entrepreneurs across the country recommended a coordinated approach to support. We first met in December 2011 and have continued to do so monthly. Details on the groups’ membership can be found at the end of this post.

In November last year Virgin Media Pioneers launched their Control Shift report. One of its recommendations was the establishment of a Youth Investment Fund, through which small scale loans could be offered to early-stage companies on comparable terms to student financing, challenging the convention that a young person could easily get a loan to study business, but not on equal terms to start one. During the last few months the NYEWG has been working with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills as well as Number 10 to develop this concept into a workable idea that builds on the loan aspect to also incorporate a wider package of support.

Although details at the moment are light, we know that the next step with be the creation of a £10million nationwide pilot programme. The structure of this pilot is going to be developed over the next few months, with the pilot running later this year and in to 2013. We are hopeful that the NYEWG will be a part of the development process.

The collaborative work and effort of the NYEWG has got us to this point in a relatively short period of time and it shows the power a collective voice can have. But this is by no means the end. A huge amount of work needs to be done across organisations and government to ensure the pilot is not only a success, but one that can provide the learning’s to develop it into a full national scheme, that will provide the impact and support for young entrepreneurs for years to come, regardless of the region in which they live.

This scheme is something that myself and the IoD feel extremely passionately about, we want to help young people set up stable businesses which will grow to become the wealth and job creators of tomorrow.

 

Members of the National Youth Enterprise Working Group are:
Institute of DirectorsVirgin Media PioneersYouth Business InternationalPeter Jones Enterprise AcademyShell LiveWIREThe National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE)The Prince’s TrustUnLtd, and Young Enterprise.

Could social enterprise be an answer to the Greek crisis?

The mistakes of the past have resulted in the dire situation that all Greeks now face. Yet the crisis in Greece is not a financial one but rather a political one and the long-term solution will never be found in ministerial speeches or government buildings. It will be found where the power now truly lies, with the young unemployed throughout Greece, with any person with an idea, even with the protestors themselves.

Last month, I was lucky enough to lead a fantastic group of social entrepreneurs and young business people from across the UK to take part in Entrepreneur Week in Greece, run with the Hellenic Start up Association, founded by Dimitris Tsigos

Greece faces huge problems: an unemployment rate of almost 50% amongst young people and national debt running at over 160% of GDP. But it also lacks real support or networks for business – the current system seems to inhibit business start-ups and therefore job and wealth creation. One example of this anti-business culture is the obligatory payment of around €200 per month that has to be paid to the government, by anyone starting a business regardless of its profitability. As one of my colleagues on the UK delegation, Joanna Montgomery, Founder of Little Riot said: “There is absolutely no way I would still have my company had I been subject to a similar system.”

But not all is doom and gloom, there are rays of light over Athens, one excellent example being that of Co-Lab, a social enterprise that has been founded by Stavros Messinis. It is based in Central Athens and is a start-up hub to encourage and facilitate collaborative working as well as running regular start up weekend events. This is what Greece needs. It has the people (the second highest level of university education percentage wise of population), it has the aspiration, judging by the number of people I met who want to run their own businesses and with the current economic turmoil, it now has the reason.

Every new business that sets up in Greece could have a social impact as well as a financial one and every person, young or old, who is setting up a business can be socially entrepreneurial and in turn benefit many others. Young Greeks in particular have the chance to create a better society for themselves and generations in the future. As such they need to realise the potential they now possess and face up to the responsibility that has been thrust upon them.

The Greek government is not the change maker; the real drivers of this desperately needed shift, are the citizens of Greece. They need to create the business, economic and social solutions to the problems that Greece does and will continue to face. They need to embed a culture of responsible capitalism within business at all levels from start-up through to the established corporates. The need to create an entrepreneurial and business environment where start-ups and companies are not just job and wealth creators, but have positive impact and active engagement that creates long term social solutions within the communities in which they operate will be critical.

What Greek politicians can do is encouraging people like Dimitris and Stavros. These individuals are social entrepreneurs, creating initiatives and enterprises, which focus on a profit with wider social purpose. They highlight the power individuals can have within their local sector and the wider society. If Greece can nurture a culture and ecosystem that encourages enterprise growth alongside positive social impact, then maybe the Greek economy can be the fist one to aim for a truly national form of responsible capitalism, with individuals signing up to a wider social contract.

In the UK and across Europe, we need to ensure that the individuals within Greece who are trying to create positive change for themselves and their nation don’t stand alone. We need to help them develop the skills sets needed to create sustainable and profitable social enterprises. The power is shifting, the Greek population now have the responsibility to provide positive change for their country and we have a responsibility to help them do exactly that.

Comments from the UK delegation to Entrepreneur Week Greece:

Glynn Pegler, founder of youth media organisation Culture Group:”It was painfully obvious that no system of support for entrepreneurs in Greece exists. The private and public sectors are completely blurred. The mindset is some 10 years behind countries like the UK. Greece needs changes in infrastructure, changes in the mentalities of the facilitators and the standards that they expect. There is a need for people who can turn knowledge into change. I am pleased to support Young Brits in calling for a new fiscal framework for Greece; faster procedures for the creation of businesses there and the re-organisation of the public sector to facilitate the building of networks and peer support.”

Nathaniel Peat, Founder of The Safety Box: “Greece needs to change the whole legislation to allow young people to start business, the education system needs to be redesigned and entrepreneurship and enterprise needs to be taught on all levels both primary, secondary and post secondary education”.

Joanna Montgomery, Founder of Little Riot and Shell LiveWire Award Winner: “I feel incredibly lucky for everything the UK affords me. I have been supported and encouraged on so many levels since I started out, and organisations such as Shell LiveWIRE and others add an extra framework around young entrepreneurs like myself. I believe Greece could really flourish if similar support was made available to young entrepreneurs.”

Nathan Dicks, Founder of Rewise Learning and UnLtd Award Winner: “The key in Greece is a more equal society and a morally justified form of capitalism where everyone can benefit from growth”

Marty Bell, Founder of We Own and Virgin Media Pioneer: “Although the country is in a dark place, there was a huge amount of positivity over there. They understand that there must be a new mentality towards entrepreneurship, a mentality that fosters creativity & pushes ambitions, that won’t be linked with safety – but with innovation and creativity.”

The search is on for 25 ambitious social entrepreneurs

Recently we saw the launch of Big Venture Challenge, of which the IoD is a supporting partner, a fantastic new competition to find 25 of the nation’s most ambitious social entrepreneurs and give them the chance to fast-track their ventures to the next level. The initiative, run by UnLtd and supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the Millennium Awards Trust, is in three stages – offering 25 winning entrepreneurs £25,000, the best 10 £50,000 in matched funding, and a massive £100,000 to the very best two.

Big Venture Challenge seeks to provide the leverage for ambitious social entrepreneurs to scale their ventures up in order to meet increasing social needs in a time of significant public service budget constraints. These ventures are a key solution to fill the ever-growing gap between publicly funded services and society’s needs. As well as providing crucial services, social ventures stimulate economic growth by contributing more than £24 billion to the economy.

There is a clear gap in the social investment market between small start up funds and later stage investment for established social ventures. Big Venture Challenge will help bridge and stabilise this gulf by providing flexible co-investment finance of up to £175,000 for these mid-market social ventures, making a direct bridge between start-up and success. This competition aims to reduce the risk in the early stages of growing a social venture through business and financial support and to attract new investors into this space through the innovative co-investment model.

With 238,000 people starting or planning to start a social venture in the UK, social entrepreneurs are key to providing alternative, innovative solutions to social problems across England, and also to economic renewal.

The Challenge has received more than 1,000 registrations already, but if you or someone you know fits the description of a social entrepreneur whose venture is past the start-up stage and is in need of funds to scale up to the next level, visitwww.bigventurechallenge.com to find out more. The closing date is the end of June, so get applying and good luck.

Joined up thinking – or just a pipe dream?

Primary and secondary schools, businesses, local councils, students (young and old) all working together towards a more entrepreneurial and enterprising future? Wishful thinking? An idealistic/ utopian society? Or even, dare I say it, big society?

Global Entrepreneurship Week stemmed from a project that Enterprise UK set up in 2004 and is now in over 100 countries around the world. It is movement that aims to inspire, educate and promote entrepreneurialism and enterprise. For one week every year businesses, schools, entrepreneurs and students come together to learn from one another and help shape a more enterprising future. Well that is the aim but does it actually happen?

The first two days of GEW 2010 I spent in Yorkshire, going on a tour of different projects and businesses in the region and it struck me that all of them had one thing in common, a real drive to promote and support enterprise AND it worked.

Charlotte Britton and Kenton Robbins , who head up the IoDs Young Director Forum and West Yorkshire Branch in the region, kindly hosted me for the two days and took me around some fascinating initiatives. From a space centre and mission control in Keighley, to a enterprise activity with over 200 primary school children and a Leeds venture that not only provided support and mentoring for new graduates to help them set up their businesses, but also paid for their accommodation!

What better way of inspiring primary school children into the sciences and technology subjects than setting up a mock mission control and space centre . Then conducting science experiments in a space station on an alien world. There was a group of us adults touring the centre and it is fair to say that we all found it both inspiring and engaging. The highlight had to be the space station doors complete with Star Trek sound effects!

In Leeds, we visited an initiative set up by a local successful entrepreneur Justin Whitston called Venturelab. With a small team, Justin delivers a complete package of support for eager graduate entrepreneurs who have an idea but need a bit of help to make their vision a reality. This includes everything from advice on finance and marketing to mentoring for the individual and their new business. We are all aware that new graduates are coming out of University with spiraling levels of dept and quite often this can hold an individual back when they are thinking about taking the leap to setup their business. So Venturelab, in addition to the above, will pay for their accommodation for 6months. Now add in the fact that all of this is free for the would-be entrepreneur and Venturelab receives no government support/ funding. It is currently only able to take on a few graduates every 6months but it is growing, with plans to expand out of Leeds. Definitely worth watching for them in a city near you soon.

However, the highlight of the visit was getting to see real enterprise education and inspired learning in action. I attended a school enterprise event run in Hull by Charles Cracknell from Youth Enterprise Hull and one of the local schools. They had over 200 students taking part, from ages 12 to 15, as well as local business people who were giving up their time for free to mentor the groups and they also put up prizes for the winners. I chaired the judging process and got to see some fantastic ideas and pitches, not one of which was unrealistic and all of the groups had thought about the feasibility and financial viability of their ideas. They showed real creativity and flair, and judging by the amount of noise in the room, they were thoroughly enjoying the experience. In addition to this and without realising it, they were learning some basic skills, which will enhance their employability in the future; including team work, leadership, problem solving, along with basic marketing and financial understanding.

Finally I must finish with the fact that, yes this was all pulled together for GEW and it provides a focus for these types of projects, but they and similar projects happen every day all over the UK and have been doing so, in some form, for years. A lot of the people, who make these things happen, have done so in the past and will continue to do so, by giving up their time for free and for little or no recognition. But they are helping to change the perception of enterprise and entrepreneurialism in young people, thereby future proofing the UKs economy and ensuring it is one that is full of idea creation and innovation.

If Britain is going to have an enterprising future I would suggest every child must have the opportunity to take part in such initiatives, as the ones I saw in Yorkshire. When you see a child’s eyes light up as they are solving a problem, creating a business idea or getting excited and engaged by science, you know this is an experience that no book or exam will give. Learning through doing and inspiring through insight at is very best. Initiatives like this can not be allowed to fail; they must be embraced, supported and allowed to become a core part of a young persons learning and development.

Well done to all those involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week in Yorkshire and for that matter to everyone involved in the week from all over the UK. From me a heartfelt thanks for your continuing efforts.