Yesterday morning we took 20 Enterprise Nation Club members to No.10 to share their views about small business support with Government. Here’s what we had to say…
||What happens when you put a bunch of 20 unruly start-up entrepreneurs in front of a business minister and an adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron in the State Room at Number 10? asks Enterprise Nation’s head of media, Lizzie Slee (left). Well, some very constructive conversations, as a matter of fact.
Enterprise Nation Club members were invited to be an exclusive independent small business voice by top Government adviser Daniel Korski, who wanted to understand the issues and genuine problems start-ups face.
Basically he was on a fact-finding mission. And he called in Under Secretary of State for Further Education and Lifelong Learning, MP Matthew Hancock, whose post is split between the Department for Education and the Department for Business and Skills, to join in the open round table debate.
Matthew Hancock told the gathering: “We want to hear the things that we should do more of, as well as the things we should do less of.”
He was not disappointed.
Eight messages to Government
During this first in a new series of unique hour-long sessions on the nitty gritty of start-up life, convened by Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones, some compelling issues emerged. We’ve outlined a few of them here:
1. You don’t need ‘employees’ to grow
Start-ups and small businesses that grow by making use of an already-skilled workforce of freelancers, rather than taking on permanent staff, should still be classed as growing. The PR Network
, represented on the day by co-founder Georgina Blizzard, has a staff of more than 600 specialists worldwide, with just five people defined as ‘employed’.
2. We’re not big businesses – don’t expect us to behave like them
Big businesses should not be allowed to fund their own ‘growth’ and profit margins by making start-ups act like big businesses and take all the risk. Some big companies make small businesses agree to payment terms of 90 days, it was said. New mum Becky Westaway, who is just setting up baby blanket business Little Bear, said this was part of the reason start-ups have to cut costs by manufacturing overseas. She said: “Big retailers demand such a low price, you couldn’t afford to use a more expensive British manufacturer. They just focus on the cost and don’t seem to care if it’s made here or not.”
3. Help us out when we’re bootstrapping
There should be more support for businesses that decide to bootstrap their way to growth. Lois Ireson, from management consultancy MSB Executive
, said if she had not been bringing in a corporate wage while her husband set up the business, it would have folded in a year. She said: “I was bankrolling his company.” It now employs both of them full-time and they have flexible working relationships with freelance specialists. Their business is growing quickly.
4. Make it easier to take on part-time staff
It should be less complicated to take on a part-time member of staff. Busi Buchan from African street food company Shebeen Queen Supperclub
said she had been overwhelmed when she wanted to take on a friend to help with her market stall and paperwork. “I just wanted to hire her for four hours a week for £6 an hour. It looked like it was going to take me over four hours to complete the forms,” she told the Minister.
5. Help us find the right manufacturers
Manufacturing in the UK was an area where the consensus was that there could be some good Government intervention. Janan Leo, founder of Cocorose London
, said it had taken her a year to find a British-based manufacturer for her shoes. Janan, whose business has shops in London, Milan and a soon-to-be opened outlet in Manila, admitted the bulk of her shoes were still made overseas – and that the smaller proportion of her UK-made shoes were more popular with overseas markets. “There wasn’t a lot of help out there to help find the right manufacturer,” Janan explained.
6. Let’s cultivate a better start-up culture
Stephano Tresca from iSeed
said that there was not a legal obstacle to start-up growth in the UK – but there was a cultural problem. The tech start-up investor said that there is an international consensus that if businesses want to scale they need to move to New York – and if they are tech-based they should move to San Fransisco. London is the preference in Europe, he said, although he had placed some start-ups in Berlin.
7. It’s too hard to get seed funding in the UK
Raising finance is more difficult. In the US, Nick Russell, co-founder of We Are Pop Up
, said that he could have raised more money to fund his pop-up shop platform much more easily had his business been based in the US
8. But we do have good healthcare…
On the plus side, it was suggested that the National Health Service was an advantage for bootstrapping start-ups. In the US, affording healthcare can be a problem.
We’d like to hear from more start-ups and new businesses that think they have any bright ideas that the Government should hear about. Or something that makes them rail against the machine. We’ll be whisking new Enterprise Nation Club members in and out of Number 10 over the next few months to keep the dialogue open, and a foot in the door for small British businesses. Join us.