Entrepreneurs have no lack of recognition in popular culture today: there are movies about icons like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and Lord Sugar has now uttered “You’re fired” over 120 times on our TV screens. Politicians, meanwhile, grab any opportunity to sing business owners’ praises – with David Cameron describing them as “national heroes” in his 2013 party conference speech.
So it should come as little surprise that big business is also eager to get a slice of the action. Perhaps the most obvious manifestation is the hundreds (literally) of entrepreneur awards taking place in Britain today, each broken down into dozens of categories spanning sector, location, size and age. Cynics might view these competitions as little more than a box-ticking exercise, but the reality is that they do far more than provide great PR for the large corporates who sponsor them. Entrepreneurs work long hours, rarely take holidays, and can wait years before seeing tangible rewards. It’s vital that they continue to receive the recognition they deserve.
But these competitions are about more than a few minutes of glory. The application process alone can bring much-needed introspection, allowing business owners to step back and look at their companies. And as any entrepreneur will attest, the key to a successful business lies in making the right connections. At last week’s EY UK Entrepreneur of the Year awards, for instance, I sat next to the general manager of a social enterprise – a furniture supplier which provides career opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged employees. A former EY sector winner, the greatest reward lay not in the media coverage the next day, nor the gong now sitting in his company’s offices, but in a chance meeting with the non-executive director of one of the UK’s largest home and general merchandise retailers. That company has recently begun stocking his products.
Of course not all networking opportunities require a champagne reception and Jeremy Vine on the mic, and thousands of small business owners will never make headlines. Fortunately, however, there’s something for everyone – from our regular policy roundtables and evening seminars, to Enterprise Nation’s practical workshops aimed at home businesses. These events can give entrepreneurs more than enough opportunity to access the new customers, partners, suppliers – or even just the advice – they need to turn their good ideas into great businesses.