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The Missing Ingredient in Britain's Tech Start-Ups? Mentoring

20/07/2015 12:24 BST | Updated 19/07/2016 10:59 BST

What is the missing link between someone showing early promise as a businessperson and becoming an ultra-successful entrepreneur? I think that missing 'something' is direct mentoring.

And I'm not alone: this view is supported by many business 'greats' based on their personal experience. Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin business empire, recently disclosed that he has personally benefited from mentoring at various points in his career. Crucially, however, his comments were not aimed at top business leaders - but rather young professionals right at the start of their careers who most need the additional support and guidance that mentoring can offer.

Let's face it, many of today's budding entrepreneurs really want and need good mentoring by senior business leaders. Last year almost 600,000 new businesses were launched in the UK, according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs.

Many of them, as highlighted by the incredible success of the recent London Technology Week, are tech start-ups, driven by some of the smartest (and in many cases, youngest) brains around. Those technologies being developed today may ultimately be used by businesses of every size across the country and even globally.

But it's not a guarantee of success, because a high proportion of start-ups today will either fail or never grow past small businesses. According to Theo Paphitis, former star of the BBC2 TV show Dragon's Den, almost 50% of start-ups fail in the first two years. Paphitis believes a key cause of such failures is not knowing where to go for funding and other advice.

Which makes it even more important that tomorrow's tech superstars are offered the chance to receive friendly, unbiased - and free - advice from someone who has already been there, done that and got the T-shirt to prove it. Someone willing to share insights into their own career successes - and also the mistakes they made, so that those they mentor learn how to avoid them.

This is particularly important for small start-ups, where the pool of internal experience is likely to be more limited. Having an outside mentor helps broaden horizons, providing a valuable diversity of viewpoints that usually can't be found within small organisations struggling to succeed.

Bringing tens of thousands of tech experts together to share their knowledge and compare notes at events like London Tech Week also matters. Large showcase events like this help affirm skills, learn new ones and put entrepreneurs together with the people who can help their businesses grow and enable the entrepreneurs to reach the next critical career step.

There are definitely opportunities available. For instance, I was really pleased to read about the recent launch of a nation-wide small business mentoring campaign by Start Up Britain. This programme involves a five-week tour on a double-decker bus where aspiring entrepreneurs, from all industries, can come on board and talk to start-up experts and champions and take advantage of one-to-one advice, workshops and local guidance.

This month also marks the start of the Stemettes Outbox programme, where girls who have a particular talent for STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects, or who already have a STEM-related business idea, take part in a residential incubator, where they can be solidly mentored and supported whilst they work to find the all-important seed funding for their start-ups. One of the key things about the programme is that the support doesn't end when the girls leave the incubator: mentoring continues as they launch and grow their businesses. That's a model for success.

Across all these initiatives, one thing is clear: if we want the next generation of tech entrepreneurs to be successful, it is vital that everyone in the industry - at every stage in their career - steps up to get involved in mentoring programmes on both sides - mentor and mentee. Mentoring is the secret sauce for Britain's tech future - and from my own experience, I can assure you it's a win-win for both the entrepreneurs and Britain PLC.