18th Nov 2012
As Global Entrepreneurship Week draws to a close, business secretary Vince Cable looks back on the week and concludes that more needs to be done to promote support schemes for small firms.
Sunday sees Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) draw to a close. A record 3,000 events were held across the UK, which is a sign of an entrepreneurial renaissance. Despite difficult economic conditions, startups are at a record level.
I was fortunate to meet with some truly inspirational entrepreneurs. The winners of this year's Queen's Awards for Enterprise for example, included dozens of small businesses who are innovative and exporting across the world, often with high-quality, niche, products which insulate them from low cost competition.
At the Shell LiveWIRE event I met about a hundred young entrepreneurs, full of energy and enthusiasm, but often not know where to turn for advice and encouragement.
There is perhaps a perception that entrepreneurs come from wealthy backgrounds or have privileged access to contacts and finance. But the reality is that anyone with a good idea and a can-do attitude can start a business. During the week I met a young woman from South Wales at the Princes' Trust, which supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds trying to launch a business. She had overcome extraordinarily difficult personal circumstances to run a flourishing boutique that is now hiring staff and growing. Government must play its part to support people like her.
To seek advice, I hold regular meetings with an entrepreneur's forum. There are some highly knowledgeable and influential people on the forum such as James Caan, Sahar Hashemi and Sarah Tremellen.
I am also determined to unlock the entrepreneurial talent lying in our universities. We have scientists and engineers with brilliant ideas, but historically there has been a gap between the lab and marketplace. A long-standing problem is the so-called 'valley of death' which kills off many growth companies. On Thursday, I announced £60million for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support the very early stage of turning research into a commercial proposition. This funding will also allow universities to fund secondments for scientists and engineers to spend time in a business environment, helping them to understand how their research might be attractive to investors.
We are trying to create a more diverse range of finance options, including Start-Up Loans for young entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 24 years old. Work is underway to set up a £1 billion Business Bank.
We have a network of over 22,000 business mentors available through the Mentorsme Portal. Getting advice from someone who has been through it all makes a real difference to businesses when they hit an early stage crisis.
But we in government need to market these support services more effectively. One of the complaints I heard most often during GEW was that not enough people know about what help there is. The government's Business in You portal is a good place to start for anyone wanting to find out how to take those first steps.
The positive conclusion I took from Global Entrepreneurship Week was that there is a real desire or passion start a business. For its part, government has to listen to entrepreneurs, give them the platform on which to build and improve their ability to access finance through bank and non-bank lending channels. That way, we will achieve our goal of making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.