Big corporates help small firms prosper

Kathleen Brooks
IN THE past, corporate social responsibility meant big firms sponsoring a recycling plant, or an art exhibition at one of the major galleries. But now well-known corporate brands are starting to direct their altruistic impulses toward entrepreneurs.

At the start of this year, Virgin Media teamed up with Enterprise UK to support young entrepreneurs. It uses the internet to give advice, run tutorials and help young people with a good business idea to make it happen. T-Mobile is also jumping on the bandwagon. Just last week, it held a “Business Sense Round Table” to discuss what small companies and start-ups need to succeed in the coming years.

So does this mean that entrepreneurs have become the new “social responsibility”? Not necessarily, says Stephen Alambritis, spokesperson for the Federation for Small Business (FSB): “It’s rather like foreign students who come to the UK to study. One day it might lead to then choosing Britain to do trade with. The same principle applies when large companies help entrepreneurs –?one would expect that if they do well they will go back to the large company to do business.”

Helping entrepreneurs can be vital for large corporations, adds Alambritis: “Without a groundswell of medium-sized businesses in the UK, corporations will find it hard to get firms who can service their large orders. So it’s important for them to help small start-ups to grow.”

It can also help corporations understand their business clients of the future, says Oliver Chivers, head of indirect business at T-Mobile. “Small businesses are diverse and changing all the time, so it’s important for us to understand their needs so we can provide them with the best solutions for their businesses.” One can assume that this will hopefully lead to an increase in sales.

Large corporations can use their association with entrepreneurs to boost their image, especially if they are seen to be helping small firms with an ethical bias. For example, T-Mobile is particularly interested in helping socially responsible firms. The FSB’s Alambritis says that being associated with socially responsible start-ups is attractive for large firms: “A corporation might not be able to do direct social enterprise work, but if it can support social entrepreneurs then it will get some of the benefit through association.”

Corporate social responsibility could be re-named as corporate economic responsibility. But even if it helps the large firm as much as the start-up, it’s still good for entrepreneurs.