Entrepreneurs urgently need a digital helping hand

Originally published in Daily Telegraph – 8th October 2018

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/10/08/entrepreneurs-urgently-need-digital-helping-hand/

In 2016, nearly 660,000 companies were established according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs – an increase of 50,000 from the previous year.

Every year thousands of people up and down the country decide to take the leap and become entrepreneurs. Whether it’s the digital start-up in Brixton, the fledgling exporter in Dundee or the advanced manufacturer in Nottingham, the UK is one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business.

The numbers bear this out. In 2016, nearly 660,000 companies were established according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs – an increase of 50,000 from the previous year.

There are many factors to why the UK is home to such entrepreneurial zeal. Since the financial crisis, the Government has incentivised people to set up businesses. The StartUp Britain campaign, launched in 2011, introduced or increased tax breaks for investors and owners of small businesses. The British Business Bank, a government-owned development bank, provided more than £300m of loans to more than 46,000 start-ups.

Rapid changes in digital technology have helped make it easier than ever to set up and develop a business. Super-fast broadband connectivity, the widespread adoption of smartphones and platforms such as eBay, YouTube and Amazon have changed the way entrepreneurs and businesses market, invest, hire and sell. New technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the “internet of things” are continuing to transform every sector of the economy.

While we should proudly talk up the UK’s entrepreneurial appetite, it is also clear that the country isn’t meeting its full potential. New figures in a report we have commissioned highlight that there are over 70,000 people across the UK who could be encouraged to start up a business.

Super-fast broadband connectivity, the widespread adoption of smartphones and platforms such as eBay, YouTube and Amazon have changed the way entrepreneurs and businesses market, invest, hire and sell.

These are men and women across the country – predominantly under 50 – who have the skills and determination to start their own business but choose not to. Technological changes in the way people work are also leading to opportunities for people of all ages to try to commercialise an idea.

Starting a new business can be daunting and satisfying, stressful and energising, as well as every other emotion in-between. It is therefore unsurprising that so many people who might consider setting up a business decide not to.

There are multiple factors that prevent people from taking that final leap. Polling carried out for this project found the most common reason was financial risk. This is completely understandable. Another cited was the lack of information about where to start.

So, what can be done to improve access to and provision of information, advice and guidance for those budding entrepreneurs? Despite living in the “information age”, businesses overwhelmingly access advice face to face and tend to use consultants or accountants as their primary source of advice. This raises the possibility of providing information in new and innovative ways using digital technology.

While some would-be entrepreneurs need greater clarity and access to information before taking the new-business plunge, there are other viable businesses that already operate that could benefit from the adoption and use of new digital technology to grow.

Our research found that more than 1.6 million small businesses could grow radically if they became more digitally savvy. Micro-businesses especially often lack the digital skills, knowledge and know-how to take their business to the next level.

The barriers to growth – both for individuals looking to start their own business, and SMEs and micro-businesses looking to expand – are real and are holding back the UK. We need action.

One solution could be the creation of an online digital platform that provides people with all the relevant information and advice needed to set up and grow a business in one place. An enterprise account, which can be accessed on your smartphone and that contains everything from how to register a business, bookkeeping services, tax liabilities to how to access specific funds as well as mentor and training schemes, could make a huge difference.

Making it easier to set up and grow a business could boost economic growth across the country, increase competition and innovation and create thousands of new jobs. Quite simply, reducing complexity by using digital technology in an effective way could unleash the nation’s entrepreneurial potential.

Adrian Gregory is the chief executive of Atos UK & Ireland