So what exactly is StartUp Britain?

Details of the new enterprise initiative announced in the Budget remain thin on the ground. But doubts are already emerging...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 28 Mar 2011
In the aftermath of Wednesday's Budget, the text of the Red Book has been pretty thoroughly scrutinised. But there's one thing in the Chancellor's speech that seems to have largely escaped attention since - namely, the mysterious ‘StartUp Britain’ initiative. So what is it, exactly? Well, according to a spokesman at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, it’s a private initiative being launched on Monday by a group of (mostly big) companies to help new firms get off the ground, which will offer services like free broadband, cheap office space and even mentoring. So - like Business Link, but with bells on?

Sky News' Mark Kleinman has unearthed a few more details today: he reckons as many as 50 companies have signed up to the initiative, including corporate heavy-hitters Google, O2, Microsoft, Barclays and Regus. Our BIS spokesman confirmed that the scheme won't get any financial backing from the Government, but it will get plenty of support in other ways - David Cameron himself will be there to cut the ribbon at the launch on Monday, for example. Apparently, the Prime Minister thinks of it as a sort of ‘Big Society for businesses’, where big companies donate their time to help nurture the next generation. Aaaah.

Not everyone is convinced, though. One leading entrepreneur we spoke to was decidedly sceptical: ‘It seemed to have been created by a lot of PR people, rather than entrepreneurs,’ she said. Indeed; word is that it was the brainchild of ad man-turned Downing Street strategy director Steve Hilton. But will it help? ‘I didn’t feel it’s really been thought through. It’s a portal for entrepreneurs, with mentoring, a lot like Business Link – I thought it was very disappointing'. She reckons that instead of focusing on start-ups, the Government would be better off helping out the 10,000 or so high-growth businesses (since they're a better bet for job creation).

That point about the involvement of entrepreneurs is an interesting one; it does seem a bit odd to have a start-up initiative staffed by people from large corporates (even if they do have more access to free stuff). Equally, the comparison to Business Link might alarm the large number of entrepreneurs who felt the service was a complete waste of space; then again, those who found it a valuable source of advice and information will probably feel that there's a gap there that needs to be filled. And since it's not public money that's being spent, there's no harm in trying...

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