It was something of a surprise when I was invited to join the China Trade Delegation - and that is putting it mildly.
As Founder and CEO of a high-growth tech company in London, which is part of Tech City'sFuture Fifty, The Sunday Times Tech 100, and SVC2UK 100, I relish the daily challenges and high expectations that Green Man Gaming is used to, but this trip was in an entirely different league. Here was the Prime Minister, Lord Livingston (Designate Minister of Trade & Investment), Steve Varley (Chairman EY), Allan Cook (Chairman Atkins), a host of other Cabinet Ministers, and leaders of Industry, including me.
Whilst trying to work out why I was included in the Delegation, I remembered something from another life during my time as a Captain in the British Army.
The British Army, when recruiting attack helicopter pilots, look for one of two personality types. First they look for bright, focused conformists who operate the within the framework of the handbook. These guys form the mainstay of the pilots used, as are the key to bringing aircraft safely back home in one piece. Secondly, a much smaller portion of pilots are deliberately selected to be the polar opposite. Unruly, creative, and adventurous, these guys take the rulebook and twist it to find ways to deliver the objective - often to the despair of their Commanding Officers. By being unconventional thinkers and risk takers, these candidates have a much higher chance of damaging an aircraft, but also have spectacular success.
These are the dreamers and poets who win wars - or create companies.
This is what entrepreneurs represent to the economy.
The Government was supporting the big players in China; Sir Andrew Witty from GlaxoSmithKlein, Chris Frazer from Sirus Minerals, and Richard Scudamore of the Premier League, as they will make an enormous difference to thousands of people in the UK and consequently Europe. Through his invitation to China, The Prime Minster, as the British Army helicopter pilot recruiters do, played a wild card and was also sharing this opportunity to the SME entrepreneurs of Great Britain.
And what an opportunity it is.
With 1.3billion people, China is a massive market. According to former Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jim O'Neill, who coined the term BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China), in a few years China will have 600 million people in its middle class. Even though its growth rate slowed to 7.5% this summer, China is still growing by the size of the entire Greek economy every three months.
More impressively, in the past two years the Chinese economy has grown by the size of the India economy, and in the next decade if it continues to grow, it will deliver more than the US and EU together.
There are 102 cities in China with a population of over a million (whilst there are only 32 in Europe), and this is set to expand to 221 by 2025, when there will be over 8 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants (London had 8.1million in 2011). For an entrepreneur, an opportunity for growth gets no better than this.
If one can cut through the smog and political tension (and there is plenty of that), the Chinese market represents the greatest chance and challenge for every entrepreneur in the Western World, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I have seen it first hand and it comes as no surprise to learn that if you run a business and you want growth, you need to be in China.