Overview: Don't get drunk on entrepreneurial spirit

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The Independent Online

Sometimes these days it almost seems as if the internet bubble never burst. The end of the technology boom brought an inevitable backlash that made it suddenly okay to again wear a suit and tie to the office and to seek a job that carried, if not a pension, then a certain amount of security. But just a couple of years on, the public mood appears to have changed again.

Sometimes these days it almost seems as if the internet bubble never burst. The end of the technology boom brought an inevitable backlash that made it suddenly okay to again wear a suit and tie to the office and to seek a job that carried, if not a pension, then a certain amount of security. But just a couple of years on, the public mood appears to have changed again.

True, the stock market's continuing volatility means there is not the heady, end-of-the-Nineties confidence that created the impression that anybody not involved in a dotcom was missing out on a gold mine. But there is a clear sense that a growing entrepreneurial business is once more the place to be.

This is partly the usual response to hard times: established businesses are letting people go, thereby creating the conditions for many people to act on that dream they say they have always had of working for themselves.

But it is arguably more likely that the change reflects a realisation that growing businesses fit better with the aspirations of a generation of workers that seems to be rejecting the work habits of its immediate predecessors. It appears that everybody - from frustrated recruitment personnel to exasperated parents - has a tale to tell of young people's refusal to work as hard as is expected.

This is not to say that setting up a business is a quick route to the easy life. But there is a feeling that young-and-growing businesses are likely to have the flexibility to embrace different people's work aspirations. Add into this the steadily growing number of women who are setting up their own businesses in order to create some sort of balance with their home lives, and it is simple enough to see where the growth in new businesses is coming from.

A book setting out to help such ventures, Start Up & Run Your Own Business (Kogan Page, £12.99), claims that this year alone more than half a million people are expected to set up new businesses. This is no doubt good news for the Chancellor Gordon Brown, for whom "enterprise" is as much a watchword as "prudence". It will also please the Department of Trade and Industry, which is no doubt smarting at suggestions in some political circles that it is unnecessary and should be scrapped; it has nailed its colours to the enterprise mast.

However, a note of caution needs to be sounded. Just because lots of businesses are being created, it does not mean that they are going to last. Even in times such as this - when acceptance of entrepreneurs is high and interest rates are low - many businesses collapse after a short period.

Some might say this is hardly surprising. If big businesses - with their greater resources and experience - are struggling, why should much younger enterprises succeed? This is a fair point, except that in the modern business world, it is generally accepted that innovation, flexibility and speed beat those other attributes.

There are probably as many explanations as there are businesses. But it is worth exploring the notion that at least part of the problem might have something to do with some of the people who are choosing to go it alone.

One gets the impression that in the not-so-distant past, business people did not seek to become entrepreneurs. Instead, they came up with ideas or invented things which - presumably after lengthy struggles - grew into businesses and, in so doing, they became entrepreneurs.

Nowadays, there are all kinds of things going on, for example seminars in coffee bars targeted at different groups, as well as books such as the Kogan Page guide and its companion, Working For Yourself, designed to, in the words of the publicity, "encourage entrepreneurial spirit". This is all very well and no doubt useful, but there must be a danger that - just as in the recent internet boom - running your own business might be seen as another "lifestyle" decision, like choosing which club to attend and what style of furniture to buy. Such an approach is unlikely to produce the sustainable, job-creating enterprises everybody craves.

While applauding the fact that in modern Britain being an entrepreneur is becoming as acceptable as being a surgeon or a top barrister, we also need to ensure that those who wish to take this route realise that, just as reaching the top in the law or medicine requires years of hard work, so setting up a successful business is rarely as straightforward or as glamorous as it is often portrayed. Without putting them off altogether, of course.

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