The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Xochi Balfour Headshot

Why Britain Needs a More American Attitude to Entrepreneurship

Posted: Updated:

In an article published last month entitled 'What is working? A bipartisan search for solutions to the jobs crisis', as part of HuffPost's recent  'Opportunity: what is working' campaign, Arianna Huffington described the current state of unemployment in the US as 'the American Dream deferred'.

For while hope, willingness and skills are all in abundance, paid jobs in which they might be put to use continue to lie thin on the ground. The purpose of the campaign is to renew the 'national focus on what is working, instead of  what is broken, by using the historic moment of national party conventions to put the spotlight on solutions'. So instead of moaning about the current lack of jobs, why not use every resource possible to create more space for corporate growth, creative opportunity and inspired entrepreneurship.

And the collapsing careers market is not a situation unique to the US - here in Britain, as well we know, millions of unemployed struggle each day to make ends meet. But while team HuffPo and political leaders are campaigning to actively change the way people think about jobs and opportunities in the US, here across the pond there is no such move. There is a tangible negativity towards young entrepreneurs in the UK - I myself have experienced it, and I think our country and society could benefit greatly from Arianna's negative-to-positive imperative.  

My own choice to set up a street food business was the result of both personality and circumstance in equal measures. On one level I always wondered if I was ever really built for Monday-to-Friday office life, and on another I grew increasingly demotivated and disillusioned after studying my guts out at Oxford and finding it impossible to get a paid job for some eighteen months after graduating. The entry-level blogging and writing jobs I did get left me unfulfilled both creatively and financially and one day it became clear to me that getting out and doing my own thing was absolutely imperative - a matter of spiritual survival, if you will. For the salary I was on, once the taxman had taken his due cut, I would have done better flipping burgers at McDonalds.

And so I quit and ran a chocolate van for a summer with my boyfriend. Immersed in the creative and vibrant London street food scene, we decided last autumn that we would be mad to leave it and this summer we launched our own gyoza van. Brimming with untapped talent and creative spirit, the street food world is attracting more and more people as a viable career - with low start up costs and overheads, you can start small and see where the wind blows you.

The work is tough and the hours are long, but we have finally found the self-respect and pride in our work that was so elusive in the corporate world we knew. Determined to give back to something greater than ourselves through our new found path, we are also connecting with new and inspiring people in Southern Nepal through our kitchen garden project, and the world continues to open up to us in different ways. It may all collapse tomorrow but there are no regrets to far.

A springtime trip to Washington DC last year revealed a monumental cleavage in the attitudes towards entrepreneurship fostered in the US and back here in the UK. When I gave in my notice here in London, friends, family and almost everyone I spoke to bar a precious and vital few were generally pessimistic. The  what ifs came pouring forth ' what if you make no money? What if you lose each other? What if you get bored and realise the grass isn't always greener? What about your degree?' My degree isn't going anywhere as far as I am aware. Over in DC, the response was one of wise encouragement. 'Good for you. Have you thought about x, y and z? My son's friend did something similar last year, he would be more than happy to meet you for a drink' and so on. The American Dream may be deferred but it is still very much alive. And here in Britain we need one of our own. Anyone who watched Dispatches: Tricks of the Dole Cheats on Channel 4 earlier this month will have seen this first hand when a bright young woman from East London was repeatedly laughed at by the Job Centre for trying to start a local nanny network. Needless to say, she went ahead with it anyway.

Job Centre aside, those who do foster entrepreneurial enthusiasm and a 'go for it' mentality here in the UK are sending out a vital message to millions of people just like me. Rob Symington and Dom Jackman's website Escape The City is devoted entirely to the often tricky process of getting out of the job you hate and into the one you dream of, while new London-based company Bathtub 2 Boardroom provides invaluable advice and resources for potential entrepreneurs, helping their lightbulb moments become a viable reality. These organisations may be small but they are changing the way we think about going it alone, and we need more like them.

And so to those struggling to find work, or perhaps work that they truly value or engage with, I would say this: find your passion, find an idea, go after it with all you have and don't listen to the people who tell you you are mad. For while many job doors are slamming tightly shut, faint outlines of others are appearing in the landscape, ready to be filled in and opened up. And if it doesn't work, well then at least you tried, and learned something along the way. You just have to suck it and see.