Learning from great Entrepreneurs

Thursday, November 18, 2010 10:23

Questions for Business Angels

Last night I attended the keynote event of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), yes it’s this week, how could you miss it? Sitting in a packed conference centre of the British Library, I looked around at the alert eager faces of budding Entrepreneurs and thought this has to be the future for Britain.

Tom Bewick, the CEO of Enterprise UK, who have organised GEW put the feeling into words “Make a job, don’t take a job”. This also fits nicely with the Government’s need to increase private sector employment to compensate for the coming job losses in the public sector.

Called “Question time for Entrepreneurs”, it followed the traditional format of a panel of eminent and famous figures asked questions by an audience hanging on their words of wisdom.

On the panel was Deborah Meaden, (Dragon’s Den), Cath Kidston (Cath Kidston Ltd), Brent Hoberman (Last Minute.com & Mydeco), Tom Bewick (Enterprise UK) and chaired by Adam Shaw (BBC’s Working Lunch).

As always, well organised by the British Library’s Business & IP Centre. However I left feeling a bit frustrated that the questions and responses were really just skipping round the edge of what most entrepreneurs wanted to hear about.

Most questions seemed to centre on the way that entrepreneurship could be fostered and at times the answers became a fraction obvious. “Should we encourage youngsters into being entrepreneurs?” Yes was the reply. “Are entrepreneurs born or can they be made?” Deborah Meaden thought they had to be born with the right characteristics. But Cath Kidston believed they could develop the skills.

Interesting intellectual issues, but I felt an opportunity was missed to have the practical questions answered by this famous group that would be on most entrepreneurs minds.

“How can I find funding?” “How do I get visibility for my fledgling company with little money for marketing or PR?” “What should I do to find customers?” These were barely covered.

So what nuggets did I pick out of the event?

  • Everyone agreed that government should assist companies to provide apprenticeships, or internships, which would give youngsters a kick-start in business life. At the moment it is left to individual companies and the quality and even whether the young person gets paid varies a great deal.
  • The best time to start a business is always right now. Do your research and business plan, but don’t wait forever.
  • Get the summary of your business plan succinct and hit the key points quickly. What is your business concept, what differentiates you, why will you make it work, how much do you need and what will you spend it on? The revenue and profit of the business and what does an Investor get out of it?
  • Deborah Meaden gets 200 plans a month (or was it a week) and now has to employ an assistant to sift through them. The Exec Summary is all important; unless that is right the rest of the plan never gets read. No fancy tricks, just a solid, thought out summary that ticks the boxes quickly.
  • Check the interests of who you are sending it to, not all Investors are interested in every market sector. Find out their background, Investors more often put their money into concepts they understand and are comfortable with.
  • If a plan is turned down, by a bank or an Investor, ask why. Learn from that. Also ask if they know of anyone else to approach.
  • Get a partner. This is one of the reasons I set up Company Partners, to help people find a business partner, so I was gratified that this came out. Even the famous entrepreneurs that we all know had partners. It may be that one took the lime-light, but the other was there with complementary skills, to bounce ideas off. It’s lonely by yourself.
  • Get good people around you. Choosing your first employees is difficult, but always get the best you can.
  • Contracts for partners and employees are needed, but it is much more about the relationship. That must be right.
  • Cath Kidston started her business part-time, while working to pay the bills and thought that was acceptable. But Deborah Meaden said: “As an Investor I want to see that the entrepreneur is fully committed” and wouldn’t invest unless the entrepreneur was working full-time on the project.

Finally, all felt that the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur was ambition and that you need to have a passion for what you did. I agree, you can teach many things, but you can’t put a fire in the belly unless it’s already there.


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