‘Pop-Up’ British Consulate Discusses Entrepreneurship and Innovation

During a recent visit to the Kauffman Foundation during its “Pop-Up” visit to Kansas City, the British Consulate participated in a panel discussion to discussed similarities and differences in entrepreneurship and innovation between the U.K. and U.S. The audience included a blend of policymakers, entrepreneurs, and entrepreneur support organizations.

The panel included:

  • Stephen Bridges, British Consul General, Chicago (Moderator)
  • K. Thomas Stevens, President, British American Business Council Chicago; Board Member, The Chicago Lean Startup Circle
  • Nick Fox, Director of External Relations, Virgin
  • Doug Krebs, President, Health and Wellness Ascend Learning
  • Chris Jackson, Researcher, Kauffman Foundation

Panelists from left to right: Nick Fox, Doug Krebs, Stephen Bridges, Chris Jackson, and K. Thomas Stevens

The panel highlighted ways in which the public and private sectors can support and guide innovation and the importance of entrepreneurial thinking in economic development.

A number of themes emerged from the conversation, including what makes an entrepreneur, the view of risk-taking, and the role of the government in supporting entrepreneurs.

What Makes an Entrepreneur?

Are entrepreneurs born or bred? The panel addressed this popular question. Kauffman researcher Chris Jackson suggests that the answer is too nuanced to fit into one answer—that some entrepreneurs are born and some are made.

Successful entrepreneurs are a combination of the environment, education, and skills that determine if they succeed or fail, he says. Doug Krebs agrees; it is the culture, as well as the policy environment, that helps entrepreneurs succeed.

Risk-Taking

Nick Fox began the conversation by highlighting the different view of risk-taking in the United States and the United Kingdom. He said the United States’ history of taking risks, for example during the Westward Migration, has led to a greater cultural acceptance of risk. In U.S. entrepreneurship, it is a badge of honor to fail, and failure is not seen in a negative light.

In contrast, the United Kingdom has a more formal education system. This has led to a culture where you are put on a track to go into a profession—not create your own business. For people who do become entrepreneurs, the trend is to sell the business and enter retirement, compared to the U.S. where people are more likely to become serial entrepreneurs.

However, Fox believes this mindset is changing in the U.K. He thinks three key aspects of entrepreneurship need to be addressed.

First, young entrepreneurs are not taken seriously by the older generation. Second, young entrepreneurs do not know where to get mentors. Lastly, there are not channels to access funding. Access to funding also relates to the view of debt between the two countries. In the United States, where student debt is widespread, going into debt is a more accepted practice than in the U.K.

The Role of Government

Discussion on this topic centered on a variety of ideas, including whether the welfare state in the United Kingdom was a hindrance to entrepreneurship. The panel did not come to a consensus on that question. However, there appeared to be agreement about the need for policymakers to act as conveners in creating spaces where entrepreneurs can connect and learn from each other.

The event highlighted the similar challenges and opportunities facing entrepreneurs, whether in the United States or the United Kingdom. We left the panel with a greater understanding about the differences in support for entrepreneurs in the U.K. and U.S., with a focus on culture, funding, and effective policies.

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