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Enabling entrepreneurs

By Erica Wolfe-Murray works across the creative, cultural and tech sector helping companies to innovate through imaginative use of their intellectual assets/IP. 

I’m currently mentoring a young entrepreneur with a really smart idea. Looking to build a digital platform that pulls together existing capabilities in a new way for a growing audience, she has spotted an unmet need in an expanding market. With a developing customer base, awards won, the business is starting to look for seed funding. There are many like Ana – smart people with good ideas. Her options are varied but it will be tough.

As we watch the pandemic unfold and the rising unemployment, it is vital to recognise that many of these newly unemployed or those coming into the jobs market for the first time will want to take control of their own futures by starting their own companies like Ana. If there are no jobs, they will be determined to create their own. Opportunity always arises out of difficulty and recession. So how can industry, the government and each of us personally support the new entrepreneurs?

Corporate venturing

Can your firm take some start-ups, some young entrepreneurs under its wing and support them in their early days? An offer of space, advice, support, access to skills, the board, technology can all help. It can be that simple. You may want to invest cash too. This type of support is easy and can be a win for both sides. Give them room to experiment, fail, flower. This type of arrangement can benefit both parties in so many ways.

‘Pay it forward’ models

Working with entrepreneurs is both refreshing and rewarding. Everyone who has started their own business has valuable experience to share with those entering the start-up arena for the first time. What can you personally offer? Are their business hubs you can offer your time to? Could you mentor and support young entrepreneurs at a local college or school? And bear in mind – this will not be a one-way street. You are likely to learn as much from their enthusiasm and new ways of looking at the world as they will from your support.

Government-backed support

Different sectors across the economy have different packages of support available to the entrepreneurs starting out or promising growth. For example Innovate UK is looking to invest in audiences of the future, in science innovation, in addressing the climate crisis, the issues faced in an ageing population. And whilst some applications may need larger teams, perhaps combining universities, innovation labs and bigger companies, others do not.

I work in the creative industries – before the pandemic it earned £111.1bn – the second highest sector in the UK economy with the fastest rising employment rate. Parts of it have been hammered. But across the sector, I see pockets of funding to help entrepreneurs build their business, whether through business advice grants, coaching or whatever. These small offers of funding and personal support are as vital as the bigger grants or loans.

Support through the financial system

Two really useful mechanisms of support for entrepreneurs often get overlooked, yet can provide a vital springboard to help young businesses grow. Investment schemes like SEIS and EIS allow investors to support small entrepreneurial companies whilst gaining tax advantages. And HMRC’s R&D tax credit system continues to be an inventive lifeline to both existing companies who are innovating as well as young growing companies. What is so encouraging about this latter mechanism is that you get a tax credit for innovation research – whether it is successful or not.

Local opportunities

Whilst the government can drive national growth initiatives, entrepreneurs can also search what is available at a more local level. The devolved nations have their own programmes, and in England there are 38 local enterprise partnerships. These bring together local authorities and private sector businesses to develop opportunities to meet the needs of industries in their particular region.

As I look to the future, I am aware that it is this mixed economy of help, advice, grants, loans that provide a vital springboard but also a safety net to entrepreneurs starting out on their commercial journeys. Each level within the economy has a part to play – government, local authorities, companies and individuals. Everyone who can help should. Without exception. Your knowledge and experience is vital to these people who are facing an uncertain economy. But so too is the hand you hold out, the time you offer for a chat over a cup of coffee.

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