Get Up, Stay Up!

As ABE’s sustainable entrepreneurship campaign gets its first airing in Westminster, Rob May, Chief Executive, provides an overview of the background and objectives.

Westminster

With the aim of exploring the pressures and challenges business owners face as they seek to survive and scale and looking what can be done to increase the probability of success, Alan Mak MP* hosted the first in a series of roundtable discussions in the House of Commons.

Stayup roundtablecentral plank of the UK government’s productivity plan is entrepreneurship, and through various policy initiatives the government has encouraged more people than ever before to start their own business, with some 70 new businesses formed every hour in the UK last year.

Overseas, inclusive and sustainable economic growth is a United Nations sustainable development goal for emerging economies, which are targeting at least 7% GDP growth annually.

Entrepreneurship and the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is seen as essential to fulfilling the developing world’s economic growth agenda. As many countries now establish policies and conditions for entrepreneurship, they will be looking to the UK, where a constellation of inspiration, resources, tax reforms, and accelerator projects are helping around 600,000 new businesses every year to get off the ground. 

A less encouraging statistic is that between 70-90% of those small businesses fail within 3 years. This often happens in an emotionally-charged context of bankruptcy, litigation, depression and social stigma which make turning around a failing business harder and entrepreneurship a lonely journey.

The discussion in Westminster pressed-in on the psychological aspects of small business survival, drawing on experiences from entrepreneurs, leading business schools, lenders, investors, mentors and trade bodies.

Much small business failure can be attributed to a lack of technical skills in running a business – managing cash, managing inventory, managing a growing team, etc. all of which can be taught and learned through on-demand educational interventions.

But the table felt that a variety of ‘soft skills’ needed to be overlaid on technical management skills and competencies, skills such as resilience, managing expectations, assessing decision-quality, remaining focused, having a strong personal message, principles and brand, and self-awareness. As one delegate said, “the magic happens when you find out what you don’t know about yourself.”

This blend of business and management skills with the accessibility of a much deeper personal skills toolkit would give entrepreneurs a fighting chance of viability.

Another critical factor is the ability for service providers to aim interventions at the right point in the small business lifecycle, pivot points that are known or can be picked up through digital listening posts. Assistance delivered online, via the ubiquitous smartphone could start to push struggling entrepreneurs in a particular direction, towards the mentoring or learning experience they most desperately need. 

Naomi Weir, Deputy Director at the Campaign for Science & Engineering asked Alan Mak whether there was role that government could play, and Alan responded that the role of government is certainly to be a “convener, catalyst and creator of conditions that help businesses to succeed”.

Part of this creativity could see the inclusion of a fourth ‘C’, Connector.

The UK .gov website is an essential gateway portal for small businesses to fulfil a number of statutory obligations such as registering, setting-up, filing accounts and tax returns – and already offers some useful tips and templates.

As the .gov website is the one portal that all small businesses must at some point interact with I wondered if more could be done to utilise it as a support mechanism, perhaps even through the ‘Amazonification’ of the parts of the website to connect entrepreneurs to support networks at critical stages in their business journey, as well as curate online ‘just-in-time’ learning content and detect spiralling businesses.

One thing is sure, there is a lot of strong feeling that Stay-Up needs to occupy an equal space alongside Start-Up and Scale-Up in the government’s productivity focus.

A report on small business viability, commissioned by ABE and produced by the Centre for Education Economics will be launched in the House of Commons in Autumn 2018, and once we start to emphasize sustainable entrepreneurship in the UK, I’m confident that our ideas can reach out to inform system and policy development in emerging economies across the world.

The next roundtable debate takes place in Westminster on 26th June, Chaired by Racheal McLean MP.

Join the debate #BusinessStayUp

*Alan Mak is a Member of Parliament and Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship. He is also Senior Parliamentary Aide to Secretary of State Greg Clark, in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), as such providing a link between the government and Conservative backbench MPs as new legislation is created, focusing on implementing the government’s industrial strategy.