Entrepreneurs like Paul Lindley and companies like Ella’s Kitchen fill me with hope for Britain’s future. That’s why I was delighted to speak alongside Paul this week at NG, Labour’s entrepreneurs’ network, along with Sarah Wood (co-founder of the success story that is video ad tech firm Unruly) and James Meekings (co-founder of rapidly-expanding alternative finance provider Funding Circle). For with living standards stalled and the deficit still stubbornly high, we must reform our economy so it works for all. If we are going to make the most of opportunities in global markets and secure the jobs of the future, we need more of our entrepreneurs to succeed.
Labour exists as a political movement so that people from every background can achieve their dreams, within a community of shared success. We are on the side of aspiration, cheering on entrepreneurial success, delighted when people succeed. And we want more of our startups to go on to build world-beating businesses and secure more of those future jobs. Contrary to popular myth, building an entrepreneurial nation will not be a story of the success of lone wolves. Entrepreneurs hunt in packs. From Silicon Valley to Silicon Fen, these are stories of community: shared wisdom, shared know-how, and shared connections. In entrepreneurship – as in life – we travel further when we travel together.
Succeeding as an entrepreneur will never be easy. But we can do a lot more to make it less hard. For this we need government itself to become more entrepreneurial, responding to the new ways that business is being done. On finance, we need a proper British Investment Bank and real action on late payment. On skills, we need to be teaching English and maths to 18 so that everyone can do the basics. We need a clear vocational pathway leading to high quality apprenticeships and on to technical degrees for those who choose.
Whitehall cannot always know best, so we will give city and county regions the means to become masters of their own destinies. To encourage firms to pursue high-quality strategies, develop new goods and services, and create well-paid jobs, we must develop the network of catapult centres so even the smallest companies can get access to the latest ideas and technologies. Government procurement should support new ideas, creating early demand for new goods and services. And we must tie all this together with a US-style Small Business Administration – so that government support is easy to access and simple to navigate.
I’m passionate about supporting a new generation of British entrepreneurs because it is part of who I am. I was raised by a father who arrived in Britain with nothing, off a boat from Nigeria. I saw the hours he worked, the worry and the effort. But I also saw the passion, and the purpose that drove him. That’s why I believe in the importance of entrepreneurs and supporting their success. If we want our country to succeed, we need our entrepreneurs to succeed too – to achieve their dreams, to create the jobs of the future, and to build a dynamic economy that works for all.