I do love a good political party conference. I’m attending the SNP Conference next week. I’ll be manning the Entrepreneurial Spark stall. I’ll be wearing my company uniform. I’ll have my hair gelled and I’ll be clean-shaven. There you go, the whole world knows where I am now that I’ve telegraphed it. But I won’t be wearing a $5 million ring, so if anyone is thinking of robbing me the best you will get is a flyer and a badge. And my minders will be two fabulous Scottish early stage entrepreneurs who will sell you all they can.
This week however, I attended the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. With police marksmen on rooftops and more security than Heathrow airport. I flashed my badge, whizzed through the body scanner and jumped into a world of what I can only call ‘optimism’.
With the hacks, the radio journos and the TV folks all set up and all over the place, it’s a game of spot the interviewer. And of course, spot the MP.
I spoke with 10 Conservative MP’s who kindly visited our stand. I was banging the drum loudly for entrepreneurs and enterprise. I always like their questions and learn something new. It’s fair to say that, as Conservatives, they all get the need and value for promoting entrepreneurship across the country. But, what I like most is when a light bulb goes on for me.
And it did!
Even within this party, and conference, there is still a slight reticence over the word ‘entrepreneur’. And I get it. With the whiff of Sir Philip Green still hanging in the air - albeit on his yacht somewhere in the Med - the view is that we need to create a new word that expresses ‘entrepreneur’ in a more positive light. And I agree wholeheartedly. Why? Because if we put people off becoming entrepreneurs, or if we have politicians slightly nervous of the term, then Scotland and the UK will lose out in the next 25 years.
I’m afraid that I am the bringer of bad news. Some of you with kids at university or college may wish to sit down at this point. Here goes: the generation of the job for life, long-term corporate career and gold plated pension is well and truly over. Technology is changing daily. 3-D printing is coming of age, driverless cars are on the horizon, the sharing economy is just starting, but already booming and millennials want more from ‘work’.
When this is all stewed together with the new uncertainty in corporate land and global markets that are going nowhere fast, then we have a perfect storm brewing. The employee society is coming to an end. The jobs market at the top will thin and the reality is that startups and small companies will be the backbone of employment. And who will run these new mini-titans of economic growth? Entrepreneurs. So, we need more of them and more people willing to take a risk.
The fable of the young guys in a garage or basement building being the next unicorn is over.
That’s all it is: an allegory that in fact skews the reality of what entrepreneurship is all about. Firstly, it’s not all men, and just like the Bible and most religions, they would have us believe that the male of the species creates all things good. Rubbish. To give you a barometer of what is happening throughout the UK, Entrepreneurial Spark has 12 Hatchery spaces with about 50-60 startups in each space.
And no, it’s not all young guys coding into the early hours. We have a 50:50 split of women and men - and the average age is 37! This is typical, but not widely reported. The media can therefore have a negative effect on many who would consider becoming a business owner, but have always seen it as a man’s world. Not so…
But, if we don’t change the definition or the word ‘entrepreneur’, we are in danger of putting off so many people who have the ability and capacity to create a new business. Call them what you want, but don’t call them ‘unicorns’.
They are simply people who are willing to work hard, move outside their comfort zones, live with risk, want to build a team of people (not employees) and have ambition and a degree of optimism. They are not simply a club of crazies that one needs to become a member of. I hate that notion of elitism. They are regular human beings with a burning desire to do something differently, create a few jobs and contribute to society.
So what’s the answer? How do we ensure that within the next 25 years Scotland and the UK create and support new entrants into the entrepreneur landscape? Well, we stop looking at the so called uber rich role models living on yachts and focus on those building new ventures right now.
Role models like Petra Wetzel who runs West Brewery in Glasgow. People like Rose Ginday of Miss Macaroon who is about to open her new prosecco and macaroon franchise in Birmingham. People like Kieran Kelly from Arcnet, who is championing block chain technology in food and people like Leah Hutcheon who has just closed a multi-million-pound deal with her booking software.
Ordinary people with a story to tell as they write the next page each day.
Let’s stop highlighting the wrong definition of entrepreneurs – the 1990’s definition - and start trumpeting the 21st century business builders who are on it day in day out, but have a truly human story to tell.
That’s what an entrepreneur is all about folks: ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.
Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark.