By Alex Schey
What can we do here in Britain to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in order to give our companies the best chance to succeed on the world stage? This is a question that we as a country need to answer if we are to remain an economic powerhouse, and with a multitude of emerging economies breathing down our necks, it's a question we need to answer quickly.
I co-founded my company Vantage Power two and a half years ago. This was preceded by two years of building and driving an electric car (down the longest road in the world) following an engineering degree at university. This puts me at the tender age of 25, and while I've certainly had experiences beyond my years, I wouldn't exactly say I'm a fountain of wisdom.
But when it comes to sparking innovation and nurturing entrepreneurship, I believe a large part of the solution lies in appealing to generation Y, teenagers up to those in their mid-20s, because their mind-set and preconceptions will be what dictate this country's future. I have a few observations which I hope can be acted upon to help give British companies, both those existing and still to come, the best chance of success.
The big thing that needs to change is our general attitude towards risk. Innovation and entrepreneurship are all about taking risks in order to create something new and then profit from it, be it from a monetary, scientific or social point of view. The higher the risk, the greater the chance of failure, and I worry that the act of failing is viewed too negatively in this country.
We need to teach the next generation to accept risk and learn from failure, rather than shy away from risk in order to avoid failure. If this ethos were to be spread throughout schools and universities, it would help create a generation of resilient young thinkers and doers.
These qualities are valuable in companies ranging from small start-ups to huge multinationals, and as such I believe there is a collective responsibility to bring about this change. Government and the education system have a large part to play in showing students how to manage risks, seize opportunities, and learn from failure.
Big business ultimately benefits from a teaming pool of innovative recruits and entrepreneurial startups, and so they should be central to incentivising and rewarding risk and success. This is happening already with competitions such as the Shell Springboard Awards and Lloyds TSB Best Enterprise Awards. These competitions aim to find the most exciting young companies and to reward them with no-strings-attached cash - there's no doubt that more of this financial and mentoring support will help catalyse the next wave of great British businesses.
In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though chequered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
To answer that question of what Britain needs to do give companies the best chance of success - don't settle for grey twilight - dare mighty things!
Alex Schey is the 25 year-old winner of the Shell Springboard 2013 competition and co-founder of Vantage Power, a start-up developing a hybrid-electric powertrain for retrofitting in buses.
Hear Alex speak in London on the 8th July at "Innovating for Success: How to Create the Next Generation of British World Beating Companies", which is part of the Switched On series of talks and debates from Intelligence Squared, supported by Shell.