LISTEN up, entrepreneurs: you are about to get your own trade union. Yes, you read that right – a union, or at least a pressure group, specifically set up to fight for those who create and set up businesses. This new Entrepreneurs’ Alliance is an excellent idea.
There are lots of groups that support established employers; and big business is well represented, as are all the industry groups (such as banks, energy firms or retailers) and professions (such as lawyers or engineers); but until now there has been no campaign for the men and women who set up new companies, who take massive risks and who pledge their own capital to create new, disruptive organisations.
The problem, of course, is that they cut across industries and sectors: you can be a financial entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur or somebody who has just worked out a much better or cheaper way of producing just about any good or service. But what you really have in common – being an entrepreneur – is not well understood. In an era when governments, regulators and politicians are omni-present in all walks of life, having limited representation really matters.
The result is that, all too often, when pubic policies are debated, the “voice of business” is inevitably that of very large, long-established global corporations. There is nothing wrong with such businesses: they are the motors of the London economy, providing vast numbers of high-productivity jobs. But their opinions on many key issues – including labour market regulations, the EU or the openness of markets – are often very different to that of radical, convention-busting entrepreneurs, for whom anything that makes life harder or is a barrier to entry takes on nightmarish proportions. Entrepreneurs are often libertarian-leaning individualists; sadly, big firms are often corporatists who favour cosy deals with the political establishment.
There are now 2.17m Vat-registered business in the UK, more than ever before (the previous peak was 2.16m in 2008 just ahead of the crisis); a large chunk of these are entrepreneurial and among them may well be the next Google, Facebook, Asos or EasyJet. StartUp Britain estimates that 523,140 new companies will be set up this year, up from 484,224 last year. There are now more entrepreneurs than ever before in the UK, and more people than ever before – in all age groups, but biased towards the young – want to go it alone.
It makes no sense only to listen to a few dozen giant companies and their representatives in the face of such diversity, especially given that so many of the business models and products of the future will come from new entrants to markets.
The founders of the new Entrepreneurs’ Alliance include Emma Jones, boss of Enterprise Nation, who hosted the meetings that led to the new group and who kindly says that an article I wrote six weeks ago on the subject helped inspire it; Clive Lewis, head of enterprise at the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales; Megan Downey, of the School for StartUps; Alex Jackman of the Forum of Private Business; Dawn Whiteley of the National Enterprise Network; Matt Smith of the Centre for Entrepreneurs; Dan Martin of BusinessZone.co.uk and UKBusinessForums.co.uk; Graeme Fisher of the Federation of Small Businesses; and Philip Salter, a former journalist with this paper and now of the Entrepreneurs Network. Good luck to all; for more on the Entrepreneurs’ Alliance, turn to our Monday entrepreneurs section on page 22-23.
Let us hope that the Alliance works with other excellent pro-enterprise groups -- such as the Institute of Directors – and soon becomes as ubiquitous in the media as those who today represent the biggest of companies. Many entrepreneurs have long waited for a genuine, authentic voice; they need it to be loud and strong.