For many years entrepreneurs in the UK have often been criticised for lacking the drive and spirit of adventure of their US counterparts, who have grown up to view failure as an opportunity to learn from mistakes.
The cliché being that British entrepreneurs tend to view a failing company as the ultimate taboo, therefore taking every precaution necessary to avoid being labelled a failure for the rest of their career. This caution, of course, sits at odds with true entrepreneurial spirit. However, there is increasing evidence to suggest a rise in entrepreneurialism within the UK, with 15 per cent of undergraduates planning to set up their own firm upon graduating.
Natasha Costello is one such example. Aged 23, Natasha quite her day job to return to education with the dream of running her own business. Now 26, and in the final year of a Marketing and Psychology degree at Manchester Metropolitan University, Natasha is currently setting up Business Graduates UK, an online jobs site which aims to find jobs for graduates who aren’t ready to set up on their own quite yet.
"Running my own business has always been an ambition since a young age," says Natasha. "Spending time with my family is precious, so it would be great to be in a position to work flexible hours doing something I'm passionate about.
"Risk is not a concern of mine as I have incredible motivation and a determination to learn from any mistakes. I will never give up on being successful."
Natasha is certainly not alone. A recent survey by Direct Line Business Insurance revealed 45 per cent of the graduates questioned cited being their own boss as the main reason for their desire to go it alone. The belief that they can make more money that they could working for 'the man' is certainly a big draw.
And there is further evidence that there is a boom in start-ups. According to statistics released by business researcher Duedil and small business network Enterprise Nation, there has been a 70 per cent increase in business launches since 2006 for the under-35 age bracket. There were 145,104 companies founded by young people in 2006. By 2013, that figure had rocketed to 247,049.
There is no doubt that the internet has contributed to the spread of globalisation and a geographical shrinkage of global markets. Moreover, the availability of role models further creates the alchemy required to forge the right environment for budding entrepreneurs to set up their own business and succeed. But, interestingly, many wannabe entrepreneurs worry that the right role for them simply isn’t out there in the jobs market, or that competition to land a job is simply too fierce at the moment.
Perhaps some of the most influential training comes from colleges and schools who have, for some time, had several initiatives in place to boost entrepreneurship within the school community. From mini-businesses, where the students buy and sell stationery to their fellow students, to buying and selling food at tuckshops, students are able to develop the bug for making money and being their own boss from an early age.
Building entrepreneurial skills into school curricula is certainly one way of inspiring entrepreneurial vision. However, without loosening the grip of red tape smothering businesses in the real world and increased funding of vital support networks and business start-up loans, all these initiatives are but nothing if new businesses start-ups quickly wither on the vine.
The statistics and bankruptcy figures tell their own story. According to the Daily Telegraph’s business reporter Elizabeth Anderson, "More than half of new businesses don’t survive beyond five years, with the UK tax system, a lack of bank lending and the cost of running a business cited as the top reasons for failure."
British Commercial Insurer RSA suggests that survival rates are lower today than before the recession. Particularly hard hit has been the construction industry, where survival rates are down to just 44 per cent, as public sector projects are stymied as the UK drags itself out of recession. David Swigciski, trading director at RSA, warns: "The UK is a great place to start a business, but survival rates are low. The recession has had an unsteadying effect on small and medium enterprises and we need to work hard to rebuild their confidence."
As the Enabling Enterprise programme, tellingly set up by teachers, states in its idealistic mission statement: "One day all students will leave school equipped with the skills experience and aspirations to succeed." Without aspirations, a viable business is pie in the sky and will never get off the ground. If we cannot inspire our young people to take a leap of faith, we won’t get an opportunity to help them progress and become their own boss in the first place.
There is no doubt that schemes such as the Prince’s Trust, which help disadvantaged young people to start a business, have proved beneficial in providing impetus to young entrepreneurs. Chandrika Thomas London is one such company which started out with the help of the Trust and Chandrika herself has argued that without such help she would have struggled to find a job, never mind work for herself.
"I struggled a lot at school because I had dyslexia, and as a result of this I was driven more towards my creative side and finally ended up starting my own wedding gown business with the help of the Prince’s Trust," she says.
Now extending her business by launching her own cosmetics and fragrance range, Chandrika credits her success to hard work and sheer determination in equal measure as well as supportive education and financial help and mentoring from the Trust. Now gearing up to get her fragrance stocked by Harvey Nicholls, Chandrika is an inspiration and example of how aspiration, skill, hard work, business education and support can make a real difference.
So what does this level of positive business growth for young people mean for the economy and society as a whole? Well, certainly it is heartening to see such growth occurring, but what we must also bear in mind is that not everyone will make it in the longer term. There must also be an ability to recognise when a business is not viable and to have the humility to cut one’s losses and find alternative employment, or a better start-up solution, before it ruins the confidence of our young people.
If this is the case, the challenge for the UK government is to do more to encourage young people to stay put, and use their skills to start their business and future here at home rather than losing these vital skills to countries abroad.