Monday, November 21, 2011


For a man who is not shy in courting publicity, it is not surprising to see Sir Richard Branson in the business press again this week.

Yet his audacious purchase of Northern Rock, soon to be merged with Virgin Money, may have overshadowed another more important development namely the publication of a report sponsored by Virgin Media entitled “Control Shift: the Rise of Young Entrepreneurs”.

Through the Control Shift campaign, hundreds of young entrepreneurs have been consulted by Branson’s team on what can be done to develop and encourage a new generation of businesspeople in this country.

By challenging current thinking, they have developed a set of proposals that are a wake-up call to all politicians and policymakers who want to reinvigorate the economy.

For too long, entrepreneurship has been seen as a last resort policy by many to economic development and unemployment. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that start-ups are the job creators of the economy and whilst entrepreneurs need courage, conviction and commitment, they also need investment and, more importantly, support.

So what do young people themselves believe could be done to help develop a more entrepreneurial climate amongst their peers?

First of all, they propose that the way that entrepreneurship is taught in schools should be transformed to ensure that self-employment is promoted as a viable career option for students. This can be done through increased exposure to real life businesses and utilising local businesspeople as mentors.

Secondly, a greater culture of collaboration should be encouraged in enterprise support for young people so that information is not split amongst different organisations, thus creating confusion and duplication for those wishing to start a business. Instead the public, private and voluntary sectors need to work more closely together so that potential entrepreneurs can be supported effectively and efficiently.

Thirdly, big business should be encouraged to support new start-ups by adjusting their processes and making smarter use of their assets, such as better procurement, using staff as business mentors and opening up office space for new firms.

Fourthly, society should look at the way it invests in young people. Whilst it is relatively easy for an 18 year old to get a student loan to go to University, it is almost impossible to get a loan to start a business. Government could change this by ensuring that the student loan company makes start-up loans available to young people on the same terms as student loans.

Finally, young people should be encouraged to do it for themselves. Whilst most of the news is about the rising unemployment and the lack of job opportunities, there is a requirement for everyone to encourage young people to take full advantage to explore and exploit the opportunities in the market.

At a time when unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds has passed the one million mark in the UK, it is critical to support those young people who want to start up a business and contribute to the economic wealth of this nation.

With the right advice and support, they could develop the next big thing and many of the superstar companies of the last decade were developed not by experienced managers but by young people. Sergei Brin and Larry Page were both in their mid twenties when they established Google and Mark Zuckerberg was only nineteen when he launched Facebook in his dorm at Harvard University. 

Even Branson himself started off his entrepreneurial career in his teens by establishing a student magazine whilst at school.

However, whilst the vast majority of young people have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and display incredible drive and enthusiasm, they still need support on their business journey. If government, as well as large firms, would do more to help nurture young entrepreneurs and maximise their potential, then the UK can emerge from this austere era into one of opportunity, enterprise and growth.