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Boosting Britain's Entrepreneurial Talent

Jonathan Ortmans on June 21, 2011 Source: Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship

According to The Times CEO Summit here in London, Britain is mid-table in the world growth league, but committed to a new rigorous economic agenda. Now that the painful job of drastic budget cuts is underway and an often angry public has aired its grievances, Prime Minister David Cameron appears to be intently focused on new firm formation, the know-how economy, the next digital revolution and private input into “innovating down” health costs. He is determined to protect his AAA Standard & Poors evaluation and keep his economy from heading in the direction of others like Greece.

I report today from the United Kingdom, one year on from Chancellor George Osborne’s June 2010 emergency budget which introduced budget measures designed to create a “strong, enterprise-led recovery,” such as a reduction of payroll and capital gains taxes for entrepreneurial businesses. While, according to Cameron advisors I met in Downing Street yesterday, there appears to be poor utilization of such benefits by new or young firms so far, Downing Street is smartly sticking to a strategy of fostering high-growth firms as a source for new jobs and economic growth. Cameron’s government made several announcements of entrepreneur-friendly policies, which I shared with you in an article at the time. With so many of these budget changes only just taking effect, an analysis of its results will have to wait. However, it is not too early on the non-budget side to see other gears in motion for a new set of efforts to engage more British people in start ups.

Take for example, someone else I visited with on this trip, Mark Prisk, the Minister for Business and Enterprise, who has not wasted time in leading efforts on the cultural front—mainly through enterprise education at schools and universities. As he pointed out in a recent speech, Britain’s entrepreneurship spirit is below its potential. “Over half the jobs created in the last decade were related to the public sector. And for many years it was easier to make money through property speculation than genuine entrepreneurship. Our entrepreneurial ambitions should be higher,” Prisk said. In the realm of higher education, the Government has announced its commitment to work with the National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) to create student-led enterprise societies in every university and most colleges across England.

This announcement was part of another demonstration of resolve—the StartUp Britain campaign launch. This campaign by entrepreneurs is a response from the private sector to the government’s call for an enterprise-led recovery. StartUp Britain has the support of Prime Minister Cameron and more than 60 partner companies, including Barclays, BlackBerry, Experian, Intel, Microsoft, McKinsey & Co. and Virgin Media. Supporting companies have already pledged millions of pounds worth of support to new entrepreneurs, from office space to finance and mentoring support for startup companies. Google, for example, will support startups by providing them with an amount of free advertising. Estimates suggest that in total StartUp Britain will deliver a benefit package that represents over £1500 in value for every startup company in Britain. StartUp Britain had a successful launch last month and some of the entrepreneurs I met with here yesterday who are driving it, told me they are just getting started. It has the support of David Cameron and I have no doubt it has the potential to succeed.

Beyond this, there is the exciting development of Liverpool winning the bid to host the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), the yearly convocation of organizations from around the world driving the Entrepreneurial Spring (as it has been dubbed) including the 113 nation-strong Global Entrepreneurship Week movement. Following the success of the GEC in Dubai in 2010 and Shanghai in 2011, it has quickly expanded for 2012 into an even more significant global gathering for entrepreneurship talent adding now the world’s smartest economic researchers and an expo of the best players from successful start up ecosystems. The March 12-16 Congress in Liverpool will be a sure stop for a growing wave of Startup “Nation” campaigns and a big boost to Britain’s startup fever. Now for the first time, registration will be open to a wider group of experts and interested parties.

As with all entrepreneurship efforts, the true value of all these initiatives in the UK will depend on their measurable results in terms of an entrepreneur-friendly culture and numbers of new business created and grown. The jury is still out. However, through its government policies as well as through support to private-sector-led initiatives, the UK is betting on its innovators and entrepreneurs. While Cameron’s cuts may be unpopular with his people today, his guts to unleash Britain’s best innovative thinkers will deserve praise tomorrow.

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