UK entrepreneurs need more than just ambition

Britain is not short of entrepreneurial aspiration, but growing it is what counts.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 12 Jul 2018

According to a report delivered by The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) research consortium, the Brits harbour more entrepreneurial ambition than their continental neighbours.

The GEM UK Report, which has been sponsored by Natwest, compares the ‘attitudes, activity and aspirations’ towards entrepreneurship of 12,646 working age adults in the UK, against those in France, Germany and the USA.

The main measure of the study is TEA (Total early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity) which tracks the proportion of people who are ‘nascent entrepreneurs’, as well as business owners who have been running their firm for between three months and three-and-a-half years.

The report found that overall the UK’s TEA rate was 8.7% - lower than the USA’s 13.6% but higher than Germany 5.3% and France’s 3.9%. The study also found that one in five working aged adults were engaged in some form of entrepreneurial activity or intend to start a businesses within the next three years*.

Plans > Dreams

Entrepreneurial ambition is a potentially great asset to the British economy, bringing an adaptability that we’ll need more than ever as we navigate the changing tides of the post-Brexit world.

But ambition alone will never be enough. For the UK to really thrive in the disruptive age, we’ll need to get better at scaling businesses too.

This is not to say we’ve had no success in this department. Britain already has Europe’s most vibrant enterprise ecosystem. According to VC database Dealroom, venture capitalists invest $7.9bn into UK start-ups in 2017 – more than the rest of Europe combined. It’s also home to 13 of Europe’s 34 unicorns, and 22% of all European investment comes from British-based investors (second only to the USA.)

But we could always do better. Silicon Valley and indeed the Pearl River Delta are still a long way ahead.

Breaking the barriers

In its 2017 Annual Report, the Scale Up Institute (SUI) - a private sector, not-for-profit working to improve scalability in UK businesses - identified five key barriers that were holding back UK organisations.

These were: access to the right talent and skills, entry into international markets, leadership capacity, finance (funnily enough) and access to support infrastructure.

There are many examples of programmes working to break down these barriers. The NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator - which now has 12 incubator hubs around the country - is helping to provide start-ups with ‘local growth hubs’, Go to Grow is aiming to help up to 800 scale ups expand internationally and the workforce tech company Freeformers is working to help companies and schools develop digital skills.

If we're able to close the 'scale up gap' the SUI estimates that up to 150,000 jobs and up to £225 billion could be added to the UK economy by 2034.

We’re on the way, but if we want to reach our true capacity, more work needs to be done.

*Other interesting findings reveal that women are more likely to start a business out of a motivation to contribute to society - and that immigrants are more likely to be ‘entrepreneurial’ with a TEA rate of 12.5% compared to the 8.6% of a UK native. (So for any doubters, it's less a case of she took my job, more a case of she created her own.)

Image Credits:  sasha2109/Shutterstock



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