A recurring theme amongst our politicians, particularly in the trying economic environment we find ourselves in, is the need to encourage and foster more enterprise and entrepreneurism. Entrepreneurs are lauded as heroes, possessing the skills, talents and raw enthusiasm to drag our economy out of the abyss and back to the happy days of endless growth.
Entrepreneurs are lauded as heroes, possessing the skills, talents and raw enthusiasm to drag our economy out of the abyss and back to the happy days of endless growth.
This belief in entrepreneurs as the magic bullet is hardly a new one, and yet ironically the conditions and structures which are in place often serve to suppress entrepreneurial behaviour, rather than encourage, with approaches demanded by support agencies without any input from the very clients they are hoping to work with.
Can a Nation Create Entrepreneurs?
It was because of this that the event I attended yesterday was so welcome and exciting. Organised by a dynamic Fellow in Scotland, Iain Scott, in partnership with EDAS and a host of other organisations, it brought together a diverse audience to debate whether a nation can create entrepreneurs. This was no staid academic exercise – the speakers were innovative practitioners, people who had been getting their hands dirty in the day to day entrepreneurial world. In the beautiful surroundings of House for an Art Lover in Glasgow, we were regaled with the rather rollercoaster experiences of entrepreneurs, filled with challenge, difficulty and financial hardship. Within the modern glamorised view of entrepreneurs as a combination of playboy and critic (fuelled by Dragons’ Den and its ilk), it was an eye-opener to hear the reality of the entrepreneurial experience, which can often be an incredibly challenging one.
Several key issues hit me from the day. Entrepreneurs require an incredible amount of perseverance. Iain had identified that the two biggest barriers to new enterprises were negativity and isolation, yet the experiences which were explored highlighted that negativity is a recurring aspect. Whether it be from banks tearing apart business plans or setting unrealistic expectations; or planning agencies attempting to force enterprises into ‘boxes’ with which they didn’t conform, there were a large number of negatives which needed to be overcome.
There is a huge need to foster entrepreneurial mindsets within our education system. Even if it doesn’t lead to huge number of new businesses (although growth would be likely), an increase in the distribution of entrepreneurial skills across society would benefit us. The entrepreneurial approach can encourage social progress and impact; community development; and innovation across the workforce. Our education system is currently designed to force pupils through the narrow prism of exams, with a limited desire to deliver a university place or initial job from it. However entrepreneurial skills and mindsets can have broad ranging and transferrable applications, which can be utilised throughout life.
Building from this, there is a critical need, in my opinion, to find ways to develop these skills within the delivery of public services. Local authorities and statutory bodies can be monolithic establishments, rooted in the traditional way of meeting their responsibilities, with little room for innovation or experimentation. Our speakers repeatedly emphasised that entrepreneurs frequently arise from necessity – whether it be a loss of job, a need to change direction or a family pressure. Our public services face a huge pressure just now in terms of meeting demand in an economically restricted environment; this challenge could be the very spur needed for innovative new ways of delivering the services, if the prevailing environment can be challenged and the relevant skills developed.
...this event was a fantastic example of the Fellowship in action.
Finally, this event was a fantastic example of the Fellowship in action. We are a Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, each of these equally important within our mission. Our history has been rooted in innovation and multi-disciplinary answers, entrepreneurial by their very nature. An event such as this allowed for RSA principles to be delivered, action fostered by the sharing of different experiences and skills.
The hope is that this will be the first in a series of events exploring aspects of entrepreneurship, and I would highly recommend that anyone who is able attends a future event and keeps up with the debate. All of the discussions from yesterday will be posted online and I will share the link when I get it – additionally you can check out #scotpreneur on Twitter for the various tweets which arose from the day.
Jamie Cooke is Senior Networks Manager for Scotland, Ireland and NE England – follow him @JamieACooke