Old Hands and New Starts in Britain
Being born in Britain might explain my bias, but I find myself asking again whether we have overlooked the important leadership role of royalty in providing help from the top for bottom-up startup communities. I recently spoke with the Prince of Wales at St. James Palace in London and while he is from a different generation, I heard a man with his heart and mind fully in step with today’s unemployed youth and the path they must beat to create their own future as entrepreneurs.
I visited England earlier this month to participate in the Youth Business International (YBI) Global Summit—hosted by one of the Prince’s charities. As I am prone to do, I offered an optimistic message to the young and unemployed, namely that compared to 20 years ago it is in fact getting better for entrepreneurs. This meant delivering a slightly less encouraging message to those of us supporting them, specifically that there are ample support programs for unemployed youth—we just need to be smarter about what these efforts do and how they do it. We need to therefore measure more effectively in order to spend our time and energy on those educational interventions with the most impact.
YBI knows this. Naturally with the Royal Prince at the helm, they are very well run. Not only was the summit excellent but I left very impressed with the sheer scale of how YBI has grown over the years that I have been associated with them, helping not just organizations across the country but around the world. They understand investing only in approaches that work.
For example, YBI is leading Europe’s efforts to evaluate program performance in entrepreneurship training, business development support and access to finance. YBI and its partners have charged the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) with conducting a review of a broad range of sector evidence from around the world in order to produce a youth entrepreneurship program framework. Such cross-continent collaboration can lead to better designed and better implemented programs around the world.
One of their other major achievements of interest to me has been at home where their leadership in galvanizing Britain in part by running Global Entrepreneurship Week UK (GEW UK) has been evident. Whether throughout Britain’s high schools and universities or simply its cities and companies, GEW UK has set a gold standard for other nations to follow, attracting platinum private sector brands such as Barclays Bank. YBI’s work is also well known beyond GEW and unfolding with partners like Accenture.
The impact this Prince’s charity is having on the ground is very visible in terms of cultural capital for startups.
As Professor Michael Hay, from London Business School recently told news sources, Britain has traditionally lagged behind other countries in the number of young entrepreneurs. In fact, only 5% of 16 to 30-year-olds in the UK are currently self-employed). However, young people's attitudes to self-employment there are visibly changing. Hay was referring to new poll data from the Prince's Trust's Enterprise Programme indicating that 30% of people aged 16 to 30 believed they would be self-employed in the future. One in four (25%) said they expected to be their own boss within the next five years.
What I find exciting when I visit London these days is how the city is so focused on helping these younger nascent entrepreneurs think big. Just look at the Oxygen Accelerator, a startup bootcamp that just moved to London to take up residence in Google’s Campus London co-working space. Or look at the efforts of the big tech giants like Amazon and Facebook who are both building out their operations in the city.
London’s city government is also eager and keen to be a smart enabler in this story. Mayor Boris Johnson has a global vision for the city’s value proposition to entrepreneurs. This month, the mayor proposed a new “London visa” to attract talent from around the world. Under his proposal, City Hall would be given a yearly allocation of 100 of the government’s 1,000 existing “exceptional talent” visas – designed for world-class scientists, artists and performers. Mayor Johnson has clearly looked at the experiments conducted in Chile through Start-Up Chile and does not want immigration bureaucracy to stand in the way of his city nurturing the next Mark Zuckerberg just because he or she was born outside the UK.
Of course as I have noted before, enabling Britain’s entrepreneurship buzz is not limited to the mayor’s office. The latest developments since I last wrote about this include the government’s new Start-Up Loans to provide budding entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-30 with a range of support, including access to a business mentor and capital. To administer the program’s lending pot and to provide guidance and direction, the government created an entirely new body—the Start-Up Loans Company—chaired by respected British entrepreneur James Caan.
At the recent announcement of the £30 million boost to Start-Up Loans with Prime Minister David Cameron, Caan said, “It is only with this renewed focus on youth entrepreneurship, that we will create more jobs and wealth and see the economy flourish once again.”
Of course, the Prince of Wales and his charities are not responsible for all the great startup energy and excitement in London. But as I discovered in Girona last June, if the world’s entrepreneurial talent is going to come from a smart and motivated—yet currently unemployed generation—finding leaders like Princes and Princesses who are beyond the reach of daily politics might just be the potion we need to give tomorrow’s entrepreneurs the confidence, courage and appreciation of how history is likely to view them.