UK gets entrepreneurial boost

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

Bleak times no more. Data shows that Britain’s enterprising spirit is stronger than ever.

Many organisations, including StartUp Britain, Rockstar Youth and the government’s own Start Up Loans scheme (read our interview with the creative director) reported a raise in the applications, especially young people between 16-30. In fact, the Prince’s Trust startup helpline received +42% in 2012 alone.

Furthermore, since 2008, UK’s youngest entrepreneurs increased by a third and more than half of the new businesses were founded with less than a grand.

The internet has the potential to make entrepreneurs of us all – Annika Small, Director of Nominet Trust.

The weak economy and lack of job security, prompts more people to bet on themselves rather than seeking opportunities with bigger companies. “If you want the economy to change, we need more people to stand up, be bold and brave and create the jobs that are not there right now,” entrepreneur Kieza De Sousa, 19, told to the BBC.

And it seems that women have responded positively to the call for change. Figures highlight the growing role women are playing.

Women-led businesses annually contribute a whopping £70 billion to the British economy.

In the UK however there is a clear enterprise gap between men and women. Researches indicate that an extra 150,000 businesses would be created if female ownership levels were the same as men.

The UK ranks only sixth out of 17 countries for female entrepreneursa new study has shown, even though a recent report released by Sage UK revealed that half of young women aged 18-24 were keen to start a business, many wanting to break away from the traditional 9 to 5 to pursue their passions.

More women in the boardrooms bring positive change at a wider scale too. Bringing women into businesses creates what Michael Porter and Mark Kramer of the Harvard Business School call “shared value”—it helps companies while helping communities too. 

There is no doubt, that the increasing numbers of women in the economy has helped fuel significant growth everywhere. And economies that are making the shift more effectively and rapidly are dramatically outperforming those that have not. – Hillary Clinton

Feeling inspired yet? If you look for some more motivation, check out our Founder Talks and interviews with the top Girls In Tech. And you if you want to share your journey with us just get in touch on Twitter & Facebook.

In conversation with: Yasmina Siadatan from “The Apprentice”

Yasmina Siadatan

Every month, we catch up with London’s top girls in tech. In 2013, Yolina from Thoughtworks gave all graduates some useful tips, this month we chatted with Yasmina Siadatan.

Yasmina is an entrepreneur and BBC’s “The Apprentice” series five winner. When she is not running the award-winning restaurant she co-founded – Mya Lacarte – she is the Creative Director at Start Up Loans Company, a government funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs.

Q: How can one know if being an entrepreneur is the right choice?

A: If you’ve got a feasible business idea – because you need an idea – and if you are prepared to put in the hard work, I think you should definitely come forward and explore becoming an entrepreneur. Running your own business is not easy and not everyone is able to do it. If you can show in a business plan that:

a) you know where your revenue is coming from,

b) you know who your competitors are,

c) you know how you’re going to be able to supply that product to the market,

plus, if you’ve got the confidence and the streak of character to do it, then we definitely would urge you to come forward and apply for a loan with the Start Up Loans Company.

Q: What advice you would you give to a person at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey?

A: I think the piece of advice I’d give is “Don’t wait around!”. Time goes so quickly, because often when you’re at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey you think “I’ll put it off another year” but it doesn’t get any easier. If you have an idea, you should just go for it!

Q: Having been in the TV program “The Apprentice”, you must know media very well. What would be your marketing advice to startup entrepreneurs?

The Apprentice TV Lord Sugar

A: Nowadays, so many things are important. You need to get your branding right, social media is also essential. You need to have a good website and it has to be, in my opinion, responsive to mobile and tablets because so much traffic comes from mobile phones, so you have to consider that from the beginning. Having a good presence on Facebook and Twitter is a really easy and quick way to get the message out to the right client. And if you’re based on location I would strongly advise to go and speak to the other businesses and neighbors in your area and develop a strong network. Go and speak to people, meet with them, go to the right events, just put your face and name out there. At this stage in your business, because you don’t have a heritage, your business strength relies on your brand and you have to build it by PR-ing yourself. This is a very cost effective way to market your business and product.

Q: Let’s talk women and entrepreneurship.

A: Typically the percentage of entrepreneurs is always skewed towards males and it always has been. In the UK, women make up only 19% of registered company owners, whereas the number of women coming forward to the Start Up Loans Company is 37%. It’s a lot more than the national average and we’re of course very proud of that. We believe that the statistic is so much higher because:

  1. The job market is much more fragmented now, it’s much more difficult for everyone in general to get jobs now, including women, so more people are looking towards entrepreneurship as a viable career option
  2. The Start Up Loans Company scheme is particularly attractive to both men and women because it’s a government scheme. Everything we do, from branding to communication, we make sure to attract both genders and even though we talk about business, (often considered a masculine topic) we make sure that in our imagery we highlight more women than men, I would say, so that the scheme doesn’t feel targeted to men only.
  3. We also lifted the age cap, we were only offering loans to people aged 18 to 30, but now one demographic we’re very much interested in targeting is women returning to work after they have had children. Mainly professional women in their mid-30s and 40s that want to go back to work but not in a 9-5 environment. Because of the cost of childcare, they’d rather stay at home and set up their own business from there, so they apply for a personal loan. Being an entrepreneur suits the modern mum lifestyle.

Q: What role does technology play in startups nowadays?

A: It’s hard to define technology. If by technology you mean a business involving technology, there’s not one that isn’t. Mainly all of our businesses have websites and use computers and generally all of them have a presence on social media. Tech is at the heart of any startup. But if we talk about businesses where tech is the core of the business itself, like businesses revolving around an app or software, then we’ve seen at the Start Up Loans Company that the technology sector ranks 2nd. It’s a growth industry here in the UK and we’ve got the skills set in this country as well, with people coming out of university having degrees in that area and turning their hobbies into a business, which is great.

Q: How does the Start Up Loans Company work?

A: It is an independent company fully funded by government, which we’ve been set up to provide loans and mentorship to people who want to start their own businesses. These loans are small-sized loans; the average loan is £5,700. Loans are repayable over a 5-year term at a 6% interest rate. We require no collateral or security on these loans, which are not provided by traditional financial routes (i.e. banks), but are provided in order to get people off the ground who want to start businesses. So far, we have loaned to 9,800 businesses and we’re aiming to reach the 10,000 goal quite soon. In only 13 months, this is quite an achievement. Our goal is to help 25,000 businesses by 2016, as we’re working at the pace of 30 businesses every day.

Startup loan company

Q: What are the requirements to apply for a loan?

A: We accept people into the program at the very beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, those who have a fully prepared business plan, or those who are already trading. However, we only accept businesses that haven’t traded for longer than 12 months. If they have an idea we help them turn it into a business plan and get it funded, as well as provide a mentor for 12 months. Every loan gets a mentor based on the need of that business.

Know someone who could be featured in this series? Get in touch!

#LeWeb 2013: the future of the internet

LeWeb Paris 2013

This year #LeWeb focused on discussing the future of the Internet. Leaders shared their views on what they believe will drive the next generation of digital businesses. Girls in Tech London was there (see our tweets here!) and here’s a first recount of the ideas bounced around during the prestigious 3-day event by Josephine.

I will start by a quick not on the concept of “the internet”. I find difficult to understand it as a comprehensive object or concept. I have a hard time putting in the same box Snapchat, Ebay, Microsoft and Uber. Of course, all of them are connected because they relied on the world-wide web infrastructure. However, the business models and the products/services that they offer are dramatically different. Therefore I think it’s hard to find consistency and to identify trends & patterns across all of them.

Guardian’s columnist once wrote that the internet is about everything now, and so does no exist anymore as such. His article presented a valid point and at the time it was visionary because they were still were boundaries between online and offline. However, today, when I go home with a Uber cab, when I look for directions to a new address or when I tweet pictures of friends, it is no longer clear what offline life is. So what do we talk about when we talk about the Internet? Technology conferences too often focus on presenting tech as one thing consistent when I think what they describe more and more nowadays is the implementation of computer technology into businesses. Said differently, it is not anymore about tech, it is about innovation in businesses via the use of computer technology and people’s daly use of it. So to speak: the internet is no longer for geeks only.

This however, did not prevent anyone from speaking on stage and make predictions on the future of the Internet in general terms. Many speakers went on to discuss how their domain of the Internet is going to evolve – following the big common trends. They illustrated that without context and the sort of technology on which this future projections are built on.

The idea of the Internet that was left in me after #LeWeb was not clearer: crypto-currencies like Bit-coin will play a bigger role, more will choose entrepreneurship as their career path and of course mobile will be increasingly essential along with cloud-based technology.

Everyone seemed to be blind to the fact they were talking for the people that use tech and see internet as part of their lives. No one asked about the internet as an experience and hard-ware technology at the very source. It was assumed that new internet user consume internet like geeks do. My problem with that is less ethical or social, but really demographical. The people that will use internet tomorrow in bigger numbers will be from Asia and Africa, not the West. As such they will have a dramatic influence over the way the internet stretches and develop, no? So no one talked about what will be the impact and take up of the internet in countries and from people that do not have access to it yet. Or that use a common computer or same mobile phone for a whole family.

Except for one speaker – the very first to open the conference – Fred Wilson, venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures.

Fred Wilson LeWeb Paris 2013

He laid down the macro trends pushing people and societies that will direct and drive the internet. He summarised them in 3 categories with concrete examples.

1 – Bureaucratic hierarchy is being replaced by digital technologies and networks. Twitter, Youtube or Airbnb are changing media the entertainment and leisure industry. The pyramidal hierarchy in business is being challenged by quicker communication and lower transaction costs. Bureaucratic process won’t be needed anymore and will be replaced because of inefficiency.

2 – Unbundle of services. Before, services were provided by one business (i.e. Royal Mail, or banks). It was expensive to produce and deliver and that’s why businesses were structured as a single full-service entity. Nowadays, with network and communication technology, it is cheaper to set up highly targeted services such as Netflix to buy movies, e-libraries to access books and Tinder to find love.

3 – Personal involvement in the network. Everyone of us is now personally involved in the network because enabled by mobile devices. From Uber, Tinder to Taskrabbit, people are using the internet more often for local search, to assist them with their daily life.

In a few words, he concluded that the internet just follows life, not the contrary.

That for me smartened the evening discussions: humans are shaping the future, including the internet, not the other way round. We are restlessly asking technology to answer our crazy imagination and desires, so ultimately the future of the internet will be what the most of us want and make it be.

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