Since George Osborne dropped it into his Budget speech last week, StartUp Britain has been the subject of much debate (not least on the MT website). But the scheme was launched today, and the essence of the initiative is this: dozens of businesses have got together to produce an online portal offering a package of offers and discounts for entrepreneurs, which works out at something in the region of £1,500. The PM was even on hand with plenty of praise for the scheme. But will entrepreneurs be as impressed?
The leaders of the initiative insist it’s entrepreneur-led, although Microsoft, KPMG, HSBC, Google and, oddly enough, Yo! Sushi (presumably free edamame beans is exactly what toiling would-be entrepreneurs want) are all involved. The idea is that the companies in question rally together to provide advice, support and assistance to help get new businesses off the ground. A sort of Big Society for businesses, if you will.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that David Cameron had plenty of kind words for the initiative: in a speech during the launch, he said it will help would-be entrepreneurs ‘seize the moment’. ‘If you’re dreaming about starting up the next great British brand – now is the time to make it happen’.
And that’s not all: the idea is that in the future, the site turns into a ‘living marketplace for the wide range of enterprise support that is already available’, replacing existing provision (including soon-to-be-scrapped Business Link) with features like a ‘mentor marketplace’, and a ‘masterclass platform’ (which allows users to sign up for or deliver a masterclass in their local area), putting control of the support services businesses receive into their own hands. Or, as TechCrunch puts it, ‘a sort of free, business-led, crowd-sourced Business Link’.
But that’s the sort of thinking that hasn’t impressed critics. To begin with, there are concerns that the site is little more than ‘an advertising site for Barclays, Google and Regus’, while others have pointed out that it’s just a sales pitch from potential suppliers. And while its creators insist that it’s ‘by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs’, the names that stand out on the 62-strong list of businesses involved are, largely, big companies.
Whether there are measures in place to prevent the site from turning into a sort of Yellow Pages for big business is unclear. As one entrepreneur pointed out, it’s an interesting concept – now it’s just a question of delivering results. Although, to be fair to those involved, almost anything’s better than Business Link.