The 2016 duvet

2016 in the wider context was at best a year that created uncertainty and at worst was simply a crap year. When I was really young I remember scaring myself thinking there was a monster in my room, but if I hid under my duvet all will be ok…

2016 was a year when too often fear dominated. Fear makes us close off, it makes us scared of those things we don’t understand. Put very simply fear makes us look inward and we isolate ourselves.

Lets take a moment to think of the fight or flight analogy. In 2016 did we fight for what we believe in? Did we fight for what in our hearts we know to be right, a world where those that truly need support are helped, those that a desperately trying to find a better life for their families are supported? Or did we take flight? Did we allow fear and hateful rhetoric to rule us?

Too often we look at the scenes we see on the news, the circumstances that have caused them and the problems just seems so huge, we run the risk of sitting back and thinking there isn’t much I can do.

But there is.

2017 needs to be year where we meet the language of fear in all is guises head on, it has to be a year when we call out hateful rhetoric pedaled by scaremongers, it needs to be a year where we encourage our politicians to be statesmen and women, we need to support them to make the tough global decisions that will drive real support for those that need it the most. We just cannot sit back and think it will all be ok. We cannot hide under our duvets.

Fear won’t go away, it will just embed itself and grow, it will create xenophobic and isolationist mentalities. It needs to be countered and the only way that this can be done is by all of us standing up for what we believe in, for what we know is right.

We need to look outside of our four walls, to raise our heads above the parapet, to look globally towards our fellow mankind and step up to be the voice for those that don’t have one.

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.

A Caribbean network for young entrepreneurs 

It is not often you get to travel to Caribbean for work, but in December 2014 that is exactly what I was lucky enough to do!

I was invited by the Commonwealth Secretariat to take part in a 3day visioning workshop they were running in Barbados. The purpose of the workshop was to pull together key youth organisations from across the Caribbean region and Canada, (I have put a full list at the end of this blog), to see if there was a way they could work together to create a strong regional voice for young entrepreneurs. I was invited to share the lessons I have learnt through my work with the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance and the European Confederation for Young Entrepreneurs.

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

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 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.

 

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.

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.”