Recently, David Cameron said that he wants to change attitudes towards enterprise in Britain. Along with this, he wants to spur enterprise in the country, to create a legion of start ups. Why? Because we are at serious risk of falling behind and one only has to take a look over the Atlantic to see how good things can be.
There are a lot of things that we are better than America at- music, food, culture and generally being cool. Our cheddar is miles better than their Kraft Cheese Slices. And Katy Perry doesn't hold a candle to Lily Allen. But for all their failings, the US makes it all back (and more) with their successes in business. America has churned out more multi billion dollar companies in the last 20 years than anyone else. Amazon, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Facebook, Paypal, Priceline, Salesforce and many more. Going back further, we have Exxon and Apple, two of the world's most valuable companies. Simply put, America has won at everything from commodities to the internet.
And this has great repercussions on the rest of the economy. The GDP per capita is nearly 50% higher than in Britain. This means higher standards of living, higher tax revenues and more investment in the future.
So where are our equivalents of these technology behemoths? They are few and far between across all sectors. Broadly speaking, we are not as entrepreneurial as America - and I think I know why this is.
While there is an inherent attitude issue against enterprise and entrepreneurs in the UK, I am going to focus on where this cuts deepest, and where is most influential: universities. I recently graduated from Manchester University and the whole time I was there I was shocked to see how sidelined entrepreneurship was.
Throughout my degree, entrepreneurship was never touched upon in any academic format; it was never mentioned by the careers department, rarely encouraged, and definitely not celebrated. Starting up ones own business was seen to be, at best, a hobby, and it was never recognised as a viable career path. This experience is the same across many universities, especially the higher rated ones, all over the country. Yes, there are some small measures, such as the odd competition and the odd university does excel - but on the whole, it is pretty bleak.
All in all, this results in the brightest and most gifted of our young generation being passively discouraged from enterprise. Coupled with a negative national attitude against business, the only people who end up working for themselves are the ones that decide to go against the crowd and defy the advice of their careers departments. This is different in America. Universities across the country offer modules in starting up a business, and enterprise is fully encouraged from start to finish.
A nationwide policy to fully, wholeheartedly embrace enterprise in universities is what we need desperately. Vocational business skills modules, career departments showing that it is an option, talks by business leaders and measurable targets for enterprise promotion - similar to the academic league tables - will have a monumental effect on the quantity and quality of start up businesses in the country.
Here is why:
We would have the skills to start up a business. A module on enterprise, such as that recommended by the All-Party Group for Micro Businesses , would teach students basic accounting, how to write a business plan and how to get started. This would be made available for everyone, anyone who is interested would have the basic skills to get started.
It would become a socially acceptable - even socially celebrated - path. By university wide pro enterprise activities, and career departments listing it as a viable option, you encourage potential entrepreneurs that it could be a good idea to take the huge financial leap in to personal enterprise.
It is necessary now more than ever. Whilst I have massive respect for Richard Branson and Alan Sugar, leaving school at 16 to cut their teeth in retail and manufacturing, they would have massive issues in setting up the huge modern corporations that I mentioned earlier. Many of the future business leaders will come from the fields of biotechnology, computer science and nuclear physics and the like. My proof?
Larry Page and Sergey Brin - Google founders - both have Ph.D.'s in Computer Science.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook - was mid way through a computer science degree when founding Facebook.
Peter Thiel - Paypal - whilst succeeding in the technology field, Thiel studied Law at Stanford, showing that it is intelligence that is key, regardless of the discipline studied.
Jeff Bezos - founded Amazon after studying Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Princeton.
Pierre Omidyar, eBay founder - and has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science.
And more recently, Jan Koum and Brian Acton of Whatsapp were both computer scientists.
While it is not necessary to have these degrees to set up a business, this information definitely suggests that the companies that experience rapid growth and huge valuations are the ones with a scholar at the helm.
Creating vocational modules on enterprise will create entrepreneurs. If you assemble a large number of aspiring entrepreneurs, these like minded individuals will collaborate, create and innovate together.
And finally, culture change can start at university. Universities are huge melting pots of ideas and culture. The students of today are also the journalists, educators and parents of tomorrow. If we can change the culture at universities, towards one that embraces business and enterprise as the powerful economic force that it is, we may just change it for the whole country.
So, Mr Cameron, I implore you - if you really want to kick-start enterprise in the UK, start at universities. Encourage our best and brightest that they could be the Zuckerberg, Page, Brin or Bezos. And more than anything, spend just a little bit of policy money here, and see returns beyond belief.Suggest a correction