“Don’t just get a job, why not create your own job”!
This was a phrase I often heard propagated during the last recession in 2009.
Most of us would admit this is easier said than done, most especially in tough economic times, and following last month’s GDP negative growth figures, it is increasingly feeling like we are entering choppy waters, including a possible technical recession later this year.
In this context, we should remember that the foundation of our economy for centuries has effectively been brave people taking a punt on designing and starting a new business.
Often, the risk doesn’t pay off – closures of new start companies can be brutally high - but when it does work, new companies eventually flourish, many becoming household names.
The giant employers of today - such as Rolls-Royce, Boots or Sainsbury’s – were all initiated by an individual or two having a business idea and deciding to have a go, effectively creating their own job and eventually jobs for many thousands of people.
Of course, we now call them entrepreneurs and they are rightly celebrated as such. Without entrepreneurial energy any economy will flatline and eventually fail.
A key indicator of the health of a modern economy is the rate of business start-up, survival and growth and last week I was privileged to chair a Marketing Derby roundtable made up of ten new business Bondholders.
I say privilege because, as each entrepreneur revealed their very different story, it became obvious that there is no template, that each story is unique and very personal, albeit with commonalities in approach and experience.
Words I’d use to describe their stories included; dreams, aspiration, provenance, serendipity and most importantly, passion.
Three main learning points jumped out for me.
First, this is not an issue of big versus small.
Derby is well known as a big business city, home to some of the world’s largest players in aerospace, rail and automotive. One could argue that traditionally the city was not especially welcoming to new starts and ranked poorly on measures such as new VAT registrations and the like.
This is no longer the case.
One of the entrepreneurs described Derby as ‘a city that embraces business’, providing a warm welcome to sole traders, through micro-businesses and larger SMEs.
This is good to hear as for some time Derby has been trying to diversify its economic base and encourage a mixed ecology in size, sector and shape. The city’s big business provides a platform for confidence in new starts - not only as source of customers and contracts but also spin-outs and skills.
This, plus the fact many of the city’s entrepreneurs themselves originate from big business, leads to this sense of complementarity between the two.
Second learning point was that of the importance of support structures.
No-one it seems can set off and create their own job without some of this being in place, whether via families, professional advisors, agencies or others have been there and got the T-shirt.
Once a business idea leaves the proverbial bedroom a plethora of options need navigating, from location through to overcoming the challenge of managing finance, legal, marketing, personnel and the like.
Any small business very quickly becomes exposed to these and the experience of help offered and received from all quarters – local authorities, business agencies and the university to quote a few – was very welcome.
The third and final learning point for me was that of the unique character of the entrepreneurs themselves. Believe me, these are very special people.
There was no single route and as many back stories as there were businesses. This group was not parochial, they were well travelled, holding global perspectives. Some had degrees, others had left school early. All had hunger and desire.
Those represented were, what I’d call, very Derby – innovators in sectors such as tech and leisure – ranging from a new yoga house to designing flying cars.
Their decision to start a business was a positive, conscious choice. They were exercising control of their lives and, as one person put it, being the ‘best version of ourselves’.
I see this group of entrepreneurs, and countless many like them, as the engine room of our economy.