On my way to Manchester, I couldn't help but stare outside the train window and wonder - "is taking 3 days away from my business to attend UKTI's Entrepreneurship Festival really worth it?" In that rare moment of solitude, while enjoying the unusually sunny British countryside, I smelled the burned coffee available in trains, planes and conferences, took a sip and decided to make the best of the festival. And, boy, am I glad I did!
The most motivated group of graduates came together in Manchester from the four corners of the world to share, collaborate and build their businesses. Following three days of intense coaching, we had heard from amazing speakers including Lord Karan Bilimoria, and split up into teams to deliver competitive pitches for our businesses. This "business hackathon" was only interrupted by the announcement of UKTI's Sirius Programme that offers financial aid and support to attract entrepreneurs to the UK (we had some fun too!).
After winning the Social Entrepreneurship award with my team, Footy For Food led by Richard Loat, spending days to complete my Sirius application and reflecting on my experience in Silicon Valley among other entrepreneurial environments, I find myself asking a very similar question to the one in the train "will Britain establish itself as an entrepreneurial hub or am I stuck in a bubble and all this is a waste of time?"
1. Access to talent
Britain, historically driving its economy through finance, commerce and business, has a significant edge over other entrepreneurship ecosystems given the diversity of its workforce. More so than established businesses, startups need access to an amazing talent pool to be successful. Combined with the recent foundation of the Silicon Roundabout and initiatives such as the Entrepreneurship Festival, Britain has started to attract A-players from diverse backgrounds. With that in mind, if I could summarize the key lessons from my MBA at Wharton Business School in one sentence, that would be "the right people get the right results"
Britain is the cultural bridge of the West, bringing together the best from Europe and North America and acting as a springboard for global businesses. When I was in Silicon Valley with Wharton West, I noticed that San Francisco has an awesome entrepreneurial culture but lacks external stimuli and suffers from groupthink. Only a specific kind of tech business has a place in Silicon Valley. That is fine as that ecosystem flourishes with this strategy. However, Britain has a completely different culture that will drive growth not only for a tech niche but entrepreneurial businesses overall. Hence, not only should the two ecosystems not be compared but also they are mutually exclusive and complementary.
3. Growth potential
While working as a consultant in London a few years ago, I remember it as a "suit city" like New York. However, over the past two years, a lot of investment has been committed to change this - as evidenced by the Sirius Programme. This shows that the British government is taking this movement sirius-ly and will support its growth over the coming years.
Some may argue that Europe and Britain (by extension) don't have the risk appetite for launching businesses and failing fast. I would also agree that more conservative societies will find it difficult to build a budding entrepreneurial scene. However, the recent move of the British government and the success stories from the US are shifting people's perceptions. Given entrepreneurs get the right support (financial, emotional, advisory, etc), which they have started getting, a conservative society may affect the ecosystem but will not slow it down.
When considering the above, I am convinced that London will be the go-to place for all of the entrepreneurs among us. The only challenge I see is to ensure that London maintains some of the early start-up vibe rather than be inundated with established startup giants.
Reflection time is over, time to submit that Sirius application and I urge you all to do the same before the deadline in early 2014. Let's build this promising ecosystem together...