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.

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

Be proud, be Scottish, vote no

Last week I wrote a blog about the advantages for people from Scotland to remain in the Union, you can find it here.

Polls in Scotland open for the referendum vote in under 24 hours. If you follow me on twitter you will have quickly realised that this is something I feel very passionate about and I wanted to write a final blog post on the importance for us all in Scotland remaining in the Union.

In 48hours we will know the result, it will be one, which will either allow Scotland to have significant amount of home rule, whilst also remaining a part of a wider Union of nations and the combined voice that that gives. Or it will be one where Scotland will separate from the Union to go it alone and the uncertainty that will bring.

Regardless of the result the one certainty is that things will never quite be the same again. This referendum has done one thing and that is divide a nation. All polls are putting it as too close to call with the nation all but split down the centre.

It worries me that there have been a number of reports of intimidation of voters. I have also seen this in a small way with people sending me some rather rude and aggressive tweets, messages etc in response to some of the things I have been saying around the need for Scotland to vote to remain in the Union. Debate is good, healthy debate is one of the corner stones a strong democracy. But, in any good debate there must be mutual respect and I feel that is some instances over the last few days this has been lost and it not good to see. Lets hope in the last 24hours calmer heads prevail.

However, I do understand why people are getting so passionate. In a number of cases the vote has been pitched as a patriotic vote. ‘You are not a true Scot if you vote no’ was one tweet I saw recently. This is just plain wrong. I actually feel that patriotism is a very important thing, it provides us with a degree of identity, a common sense of a belonging, but you can be patriotic Scottish and still be within the Union, actually I think this adds to it. Just as you can be patriotic Welsh, Northern Irish, English and even Yorkshire (my mum is form Yorkshire!) and still be a part of the Union.

I have been lucky enough to do a degree of traveling in the different roles I do and I can honestly say that of the places I have been to the UK it unique. We are arguably the most diverse nation in the world; we are a Union of nations, a Union of cultures, a Union of religions. As a Union this is it what makes us different, it is what makes us strong and it what gives us such a truly global viewpoint.

We are a Union that is full of people from all colours, creeds and cultures. Scotland is a key part of this and we will all be worse off, both north and south of the border, if Scotland decides to separate and leaves the Union.

My message to undecided voters is this:

Over 80% of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland want you to remain in the Union, you would be financially better off being in the Union, Holyrood will receive further powers if you remain in the Union, The decision you make is not one for a parliamentary term, a vote for separation is one that will have impact for the next 100+yrs.

You can be patriotic Scottish and vote to remain in the Union. I actually feel you are a patriotic Scot if you vote tomorrow to stay in the Union, as you are safe guarding a strong, stable future for you and for your nation for generations to come.

The destiny of the UK is not of my choosing tomorrow, it is yours.  A vote tomorrow could fundamentally change the country in which we all live and could end a Union that is world beating.  Over the last 300+ years we have met all challenges that have been put before us and we achieved so much together. Just imagine what we could do together in the future. 

Please don’t leave us. Vote to remain in the Union. Be proud, be Scottish, vote no.

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.

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.

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.”

Entrepreneurs at the G20 in Mexico

Almost exactly two years ago to the day the idea of the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (G20YEA) was born. The idea was a big one, to bring together young entrepreneurs and the organisations that support them and provide a collective voice to champion young entrepreneurs from around the globe.

Two years later and the G20YEA is represented at a national level within all the G20 member nations, it is an officially recognised body within the G20 movement and its communiqués have been handed onto the G20 Leaders meetings. In addition to this it has pulled together major summits before every G20 Leaders meeting, with over 800 entrepreneurs from all the nations within the G20 taking part and IoD Young Director Forum members have been a key part of every official delegation from the UK to these summits.

So the initial idea was a big one and you could say ‘job done’, but this is just the start… Entrepreneurs and SMEs are the bedrock of our economy, they are the job, wealth and skills creators, we need to support them in anyway we can going forward, now more so than ever.

The IoD has been involved in the movement from the start and will continue to work closely with Prince’s Youth Business International and the Young Brits Network in supporting the G20YEA in the UK going forward.

I will be blogging about the outcomes of the Summit on my return, but in the mean time to find out more about the G20YEA visit: www.g20yea.com and follow what is happening at the G20 Summit in Mexico here:

www.twitter.com/G20YES
www.twitter.com/G20_YEA

I will leave you with a quote from Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, inviting the G20YEA to Mexico and who will be welcoming the Alliance to Mexico City in early June:

“It is always a pleasure to speak to young entrepreneurs like yourselves, who are the architects of the 21st Century. The energy, inspiration and the strength that will transform the world into the place we all seek are in your hands… I invite you to continue your hard work to become precisely that leadership group that will transform the world and develop a better future for all. In Mexico we await you with open arms.”