Sir Richard Branson: Inspiring Britain’s new enterprise superstars

The Virgin founder on why entrepreneurship should be considered a valid career route

With the buzz around enterprise greater than ever, business and government need to collaborate to make sure our support is smart, effective and relevant. We need to listen to aspiring entrepreneurs themselves and react to the issues they face in the real world today.

There are many significant players in the enterprise space and together, our reach and influence has the power to tackle barriers head on. So let’s take on the challenge and help foster a new generation of business builders.

Back in 2011, we asked aspiring entrepreneurs across the UK a straight up question - what support would help your business prosper? Hundreds of people told us the barriers they were facing and we challenged them to come up with the solutions.

The result was the Virgin Media Pioneers Control Shift Report.

The Control Shift Report laid out five key considerations for business, government, and most importantly for entrepreneurs. Those recommendations to make British business thrive were:

1. Enterprise education should start early

2. Enterprise support providers need to collaborate

3. Big businesses should work more openly with small businesses

4. Society needs to rethink the funding support it offers young people

5. Entrepreneurs themselves need the right attitude.

 Getting on for three years later, we’ve made some fantastic progress. The strongest ideas were the simple ones - young people told us they were offered loans of tens of thousands of pounds to study business over three years, yet they were positively discouraged to seek funding to start their own business.

We recognised that lack of funding created a practical challenge for start-ups, but also it said a lot about the lack of status society gives to enterprise - in schools, college and wider society in general. I have long advocated that entrepreneurship should be considered a valid career route. Most ideas don’t need a lot of funding to get going, so why should it be a greater risk than making the decision to take out a student loan, which has never cost more in the UK than it does today. Looking back it was the £300 from my mum that really kick-started our Student magazine and the beginnings of Virgin all of those years ago.

We decided to tackle this issue of funding head on and it felt authentic because it came from the Virgin Media Pioneers themselves. To me, it seemed like a straight forward market correction and friends, colleagues and associates agreed. Excitingly, the campaign grew quickly and we were able to support Lord Young’s introduction of Start Up Loans in the March 2012 budget.

I’m delighted that as a result of the work Virgin StartUp is doing we are now playing a part in seeing those ideas through and as a delivery partner of these government-backed loans we are now able to offer the much needed support to young entrepreneurs.

Virgin StartUp provides successful applicants with a mentor to be on hand to offer business advice and general support and there are also unique opportunities to get involved with from across the Virgin Group. However, as much as the launch of Start Up Loans has started to feel like a victory there is still plenty of work to do.

Read more about Securing Britain’s Growth on Sir Richard Branson’s blog

Entrepreneurship has never had a greater profile and there’s a plethora of support out there from TV stardom via Dragons’ Den to high profile corporate support programmes, through to making it happen overnight with platforms such as Crowdcube. We do however need to ensure we don’t crowd the space, confuse the options and risk creating huge gaps.

The key reason that the Virgin Media Pioneers campaign successfully influenced the introduction of Start Up Loans was as a result of us working together across the industry to make it happen. We used the strength of our brand reach, the experience of organisations like the Prince’s Trust and the business expertise of partners such as the Institute of Directors. We simply couldn’t have made it happen on our own.

With multiple providers now delivering Start Up Loans, I believe there is a good case to revive the sort of collaboration we fostered during the Control Shift campaign. Let’s work together to understand the issues, the gaps in the market and the businesses we need in the UK. To do this effectively we must involve entrepreneurs to identify the right solutions. We need to ensure we’re tackling the right challenges – and put our influence where it is most needed to help Britain thrive.

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Now read:

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SECURING BRITAIN’S GROWTH: By Richard Branson, Boris Johnson, Martha Lane Fox, Kelly Hoppen & more business champions

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