Starting a business can be one of the most challenging, nerve-wracking – yet rewarding – decisions you can ever make. The good news is that there’s a lot of other people out there who’ve been there, done it, and have great advice they can share.
But the entrepreneurial community is spread thin, and, let’s face it, often pretty busy. So how do you go about tapping in to all the wisdom that’s out there?
This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week is about helping you do just that. Running from 12-18 November, with some 2,500 events in the UK alone, this year’s theme is ‘Pass It On’ – asking anyone who’s been involved in starting a business to share the advice that’s been the most helpful to them in their entrepreneurial journey, with an eye to helping those just starting out.
Entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes will be sharing their thoughts on social media and in the media (follow us at @GEWUK and #GEWPassItOn for more updates). But there’s also a wealth of events happening all around the country, including:
Even if you’re too busy to get to such events, there’s plenty you can get involved with virtually. For example, The Global Brainstorm will broadcast live from a central London location, featuring a free live brainstorming session asking the question – What do you need to know to succeed?. And the Business & IP Centre at the British Library is hosting two webinars each day to give you the essential information you need to protect your business and improve profitability.
So, between 12 and 18 November, take some time out of your working day to get involved. Whether you’re looking for information or want to share it, you can be part of the world’s biggest annual celebration of entrepreneurship. And you never know – you might find the answer to that business puzzle that’s so far eluded you…
Andrew Devenport is the Chief Executive Officer of Youth Business International, which manages Global Entrepreneurship Week in the UK. For more information visit www.gew.org.uk
Over 40,000 events, 115 countries and 10 million people taking part – as business events go, Global Entrepreneurship Week ranks a little bit higher than a sad ham roll and a warm pint at your local Rotary Networking Soiree. And it has government backing: - at Monday’s launch, Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk said:
“Up and down the country, dynamic entrepreneurs are creating jobs and driving sustainable economic growth. It is vital that we do all we can to help them realise their ambitions and transform the economies of their communities.
“We know that events like Global Entrepreneurship Week can transform people’s appetite for enterprise. We want to help people develop the knowledge and confidence they need to pursue their dreams.”
We’re officially impressed - but how can GEW help your business?
There’s a lot more to the week than huge statistics and ministerial speeches. Keenly aware that only five per cent of people in the UK start their own business, GEW exists to encourage entrepreneurs to make the break and set up on their own, and to give really practical help to small firms.
From 14-18 November, the UK sees the brightest and best of its business talent offering you talks, exhibitions, seminars and networking events daily, as well as competitions with properly worthwhile prizes.
Highlights In England include investment shows, free training workshops on essential skills such as phone sales, Apprentice winners sharing their expertise, and online trading masterclasses trading from ebay and PayPal directors.
A lot of GEW events are free, or under £10, and thanks to the determinedly local bias, take place all over the country, with hundreds of organisations holding every type of event, from creative ideas workshops to HMRC officers giving advice to start ups.
Find the event that you - or your staff – could use on the GEW online search for activities in your area. You can filter by type of help that you need – eg sales techniques or tax advice – as well as by date and location. Or just browse for useful new local leads – Ladies who Latte, the women’s networking group, is holding coffee mornings throughout the South to welcome new entrepreneurs. And this year, special focus goes to young people who want to start, or at least understand, what running a business means, so check what’s happening at local schools too.
Because this is Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and because I was intrigued to see the interior of Coutts Bank in the Strand in London, I went to a panel debate on Wednesday organised by the Sunday Telegraph.
Titled ‘The time is now for entrepreneurs’, the debate featured a line up of the great and the good in UK enterprise – Brent Hoberman, Julie Meyer, Sara Murray, Joe Cohen and the man behind GEW, Tom Bewick.
These are influential people. Many are direct advisers to Government on enterprise and entrepreneurship. They are genuinely keen to help the powers that be develop an enterprise culture in the UK and to turn entrepreneurship into an aspiration for many of our young people. Some would like to see enterprise introduced to the curriculum as a formal element, alongside science, English and maths.
There was talk of rapid growth, high turnover, capital investment, economic output, and so on – all good stuff and the panellists seemed to mostly agree on everything. There wasn’t much in the way of debate going on. I was lucky enough to be picked to ask a question. To paraphrase, I said:
“We’re all talking about entrepreneurialism and high-growth business here, and all the political lobbying and Government policy and media conversation seems to be geared towards these firms. But the majority of people running small businesses in the UK don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They’re small-business owners. What are we doing for them?”
The panel was perplexed. You could almost see them thinking “NOT high-growth? I don’t understand the question.” And it’s true, perhaps I didn’t make my point as well as I might. But I was surprised none of the panel took up the opportunity I gave them to explore the distinction between an ‘entrepreneur’ and a ‘small-business owner’ and think about the needs of a range of different kinds of business owner.
Instead they talked about the need to generate and support high growth businesses. Julie Meyer was somewhat withering about ‘slow growth’ firms (as she had been earlier about ‘lifestyle’ businesses); Sara Murray pointed out that the “majority of those businesses are corner shops” and that the Government wants to help create the next Tesco. “Tesco,” she said, paraphrasing Vince Cable, “is a bigger driver of economic output.”
This, I suppose, was the salient point. To be fair, Sara Murray also observed that Tesco had actually ruined hundreds of small businesses, so she didn’t necessarily agree with Vince Cable. But the panel as a whole seemed to find the idea of anything other than rapid growth alien and undesirable.
This is a shame. Let’s be realistic about this: the vast majority of the UK’s 4.5 million small businesses are not high-growth and will not become the next Tesco. What’s more, their owners don’t want to be the next Richard Branson, either. But they continue to employ people, pay their taxes and provide essential goods and services, year after year; they, too, provide ‘economic output’.
So why focus all of our attention on the tiny proportion of firms that will grow rapidly and make mega-millions? Why encourage all of our young people that it’s a realistic aspiration. It’s not – and X-Factor provides a salutary lesson here: for every Will Young or Alexandra Burke, there are innumerable other aspirants who now make a small living crooning on cruise ships or in pubs, or who have gone back to whatever they were doing before. Sure, they’re not as glamorous or as eye-catching, and they’re not making as much money for other people, but they are still valuable.
There seems to be something in our culture at the moment, where we consider only the spectacular and the highly lucrative to be deserving of attention. But tradespeople, enthusiasts who have turned their passion into a livelihood – yes, even corner shop owners – they are the meat and drink of our economy, and they all need a little thought from lobbyists and policymakers.
So while we’re blowing the trumpet for enterprise during Global Entrepreneurship Week, let’s remember that even though ‘now’ may well be the time for entrepreneurs, it is ‘always’ the time for small-business owners.
At the National Enterprise Academy (NEA), we are passionate about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. We exist to do something that has never been achieved inside the education system before.
And that’s to demonstrate that you can develop the entrepreneurial skills of our young people. We developed the first ever qualification, based on a curriculum written personally by Peter Jones — in enterprise and entrepreneurship — starting with 16 to 19 year-olds.
You may well ask why we don’t have enterprise education already. And it would be a good question.
Despite more than four million people passing through our further education system each year, no-one was teaching our young people the foundations of building a good business.
Now, I know Lord Sugar would probably disagree with Peter and I about this but we believe passionately that entrepreneurs can be made, as well as born. Yes, raw talent, commitment and that spark of a business idea is of course important and difficult to learn. But the basic ingredients of what makes a successful entrepreneur can, we believe, be taught.
I just do not accept that to get on in life and be successful in business is somehow solely the product of the bed you were born in or the genes that you inherit.
Lord Sugar is right about one thing though. We need to rewire the entrepreneurial mindset of the British people — perhaps even change our cultural DNA altogether. That’s as much about changing the attitudes of people in our society who too often ask the question: ‘Can I?’ Instead of saying, ‘I can!’.
This is borne out by the international evidence. The UK is second from top in the G7 of those — over 50 per cent of the population — who believe they have the know-how to set up successfully in business. Yet, only 5.8 per cent of our population is in the process of starting a new business right now. To put this into a global context –in the US it is 8 per cent, in Brazil 15 per cent and in China 19 per cent.
So this suggests that there is still a huge ambition gap to overcome. Converting the thinking into the doing is key. At the NEA we are trying to address this through what we call “learning by doing”. By nurturing a generation of young people that come out of the formal education system with the determination to make a job, not just take a job.
This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week – now in its third year. Over 100 countries will simultaneously celebrate the importance of building an enterprise culture. Ten million entrepreneurs around the globe will take part.
It’s based on a UK invention: an annual Enterprise Week launched in 2004. Like so many things, we’re great at generating the ideas. We can clearly export our ideas and creativity abroad. But can we really be the best and make the next decade the most entrepreneurial in our history?
A guest blog by Tom Bewick, chief executive of Enterprise UK