When I was growing up I thought the sky was the limit. I was lucky. My parents were both entrepreneurs. They instilled in me the knowledge that I could support myself and earn my own money. Now I'm lucky enough to be working with other people hoping to realise the same dream.
I know that as initiatives like The Start Up Loans Company gather more speed we can start to shift our culture towards giving people the confidence to follow their own professional paths. Recently we lifted the age cap for our loan applicants, so now anyone of any age is able to apply for financial assistance and a mentor. The sky really is the limit.
Inspiration can be sought from all sorts of places. Yesterday we introduced three new entrepreneurs to James Caan. We know that one in three new businesses in the UK fails in the first year. We do all we can to keep this stat to a minimum; surely meeting with the Big Man himself is going to inspire?
James left school at 16, had fire in his belly, and went on to be on the Times Rich List and become a national TV hero. Nothing stood in his way and he has much to offer when meeting new entrepreneurs.
Audrey-Aiyela Kuklewski, 40, of Hackney, London, who recently started a vintage lingerie company; John Baldwin, 62, from Redhill, Surrey who has developed a business app to improve corporate performance; and Allen Hartley, 46, of Bromley, Kent who sells designer garden sheds were all lucky enough to spend an hour with James today, gathering business advise and entrepreneurial flair.
Each of them applied for a loan when the age cap was lifted earlier this year, and their businesses are now up and running. They seemed to be relishing their success -check out John Baldwin! He proves at 62 that it is never too late to start your own business.
Indeed, the recent lifting of the age cap has been an interesting time because our lending and mentoring scheme was originally aimed at a very youthful market.
But, as news of the scheme grew we started getting emails from increasingly mature applicants. They included mothers who wanted to get back in work but needed flexible working hours, former members of the armed forces, so many people who always had the idea but no finances to get going. It seemed only fair to give them the same chance the younger generation had - and the rest is history.
We believe that the real testimony to the success of our scheme will be seen over the years to come - an entire generation of entrepreneurs will look back to their humble beginnings and champion the opportunities given them.
Interestingly enough, I have started to see key differences between the older entrepreneurs I meet compared to the younger ones. Typically, the younger entrepreneur has less responsibility, they have fewer ties, they tend not to have the joys of children or mortgages and such like!
They are freer, and this is reflected in their decisions as entrepreneurs. I have spoken to numerous 25 year-olds who are able to sofa hop. They throw caution to the wind. And if it doesn't work out, the job market, although more fragmented than in previous years, is still there as a safety blanket.
Contrast this to an entrepreneur in his 50s with a family to support and a mortgage that must be repaid. If the business fails, the consequences are potentially more far reaching.
One of the biggest hurdles to starting a business in later life is the risk factor, which my team and I work hard to minimise.
It is widely recognised that the risk factor can be outweighed in many cases by the skill-set acquired over the years, and often the business being started up by the over 40s and 50s is a continuation of a previous trade, something in which they have gained significant experience, and with an attitude of 'I can do better' they come to us for financial assistance.
But what all our loan applicants, both younger and more mature, have in common is the desire to work for themselves and create an enjoyable and fulfilling life by running their own business.
It is now just over a year since The Start Up Loans Company backed its first business. We have since backed over 9,000 businesses and loaned over £47m.
Here's to the next 9,000 businesses, young, old. Whatever your business, could it be you?
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