Austin Flynn: I’m an entrepreneur, get me in there

Duncan Bannatyne would be many people's idea of an entrepreneur but most boast a lower profile.
Duncan Bannatyne would be many people's idea of an entrepreneur but most boast a lower profile.
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Small businesses across Scotland help to keep the spirit of adventure going, says Austin Flynn

While George W Bush is famously supposed to have said that the French don’t even have a word for “entrepreneur”, others have defined it over the years using words and phrases such as “start a business”, “business growth”, “idea”, “managing risk”, “assuming risk”, “exploiting an opportunity”, “problem-solving”, “initiative” and “profit”.

Like many things, it’s quite hard to define the concept, but you’ll know it when you see it. No-one would argue that Sir Richard Branson isn’t an entrepreneur, or Anita Roddick, Duncan Bannatyne, Arianna Huffington, Sir Tom Farmer, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox or Sir Tom Hunter.

You could pick almost any combination of four or five of the words and phrases in my list and apply them entirely appropriately to any of these people. However, one phrase that many people might add to my list is “rich and famous”. There’s no doubt that becoming rich and famous might be a by-product of being a successful entrepreneur but in my experience there are lots of successful entrepreneurs who seek neither wealth nor riches nor achieve them.

Of course, it all depends on your view of what being rich means, but I come across many people in my line of work who are definitely entrepreneurs yet who couldn’t afford a garage full of Ferraris, don’t live in a mansion, don’t own a yacht and have no interest in having a Lear Jet on permanent standby (even if they could afford it, which most couldn’t). However, they have founded and run profitable and thriving businesses that supply good-quality products and services that people want to buy, they work hard, employ people and they have some element of risk capital in the business.

If we ignore George Dubya’s ignorance of the French language and consider the literal meaning of “entrepreneur” it is “one who undertakes or manages a task”. Concepts such as problem solving and exploiting an opportunity are arguably more recent additions to the definition but the words “enterprise” and “enterprising” are derived from the French concept of entrepreneurship and no-one would say that you could be enterprising without seeing a problem and using the opportunity to make some money from the situation, often only by speculating with some of your own money in the first place.

You may assume you’ve never met an entrepreneur because an entrepreneur has to wear a sharp suit, sit at a big chair behind an enormous desk and tell people “you’re fired”. I disagree.

Next time you have your hair cut by the local barber, ask yourself whether the person with the clippers is an entrepreneur. They probably saw an opportunity to start a business because they observed a dearth of barbers in a particular part of town. They may well have borrowed money to buy their chair and other tools of the trade. They may have risked their own money to buy the everyday stock needed to run the business (shampoo, hair gel, clipper oil and the like) and may have signed a lease obliging them to pay rent to a landlord for at least the next five years whether their hair-cutting exploits generate any income not.

Next time you go to buy half a dozen sausages from your local butcher, working to stave off the competition from the big supermarkets, ask yourself what would happen to the butcher and his family if everyone stopped buying his wares. It’s unlikely that he could simply shut his shop and walk away without suffering some kind of financial loss in settling his liabilities to his redundant employees, his landlord and his suppliers. These people are unsung entrepreneurs and they comprise a very large part of our economy.

Scotland is a great place in which to be an entrepreneur: there are all kinds of support available from the public and private sectors; there are many well-organised and experienced funders who can invest anything from a few thousand to many millions of pounds as debt, equity and/or grant money; there are many expert advisers who advise everything from start-ups and spin-outs to fully-fledged businesses planning to float on the stock market. Whether you’re a would-be entrepreneur with a bright idea, or a seasoned campaigner looking for growth capital, the chances are you can find it in Scotland. As for the rest of us, we should support local entrepreneurs to ensure a thriving economy.

• Austin Flynn is a partner with Morton Fraser