Adventures In Micro-Business: How can I support local food producers?

Each month Professor Russell Smith answers your queries
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The Independent Online

Q. I'd like to start a business that supports local food producers in my area and use the profits to promote their produce. I've been told this is a form of social enterprise – where can I find out more?

A. What you propose could indeed be set up and operated as a social enterprise – a business that has a social objective as its primary aim and that reinvests any profits it makes for that purpose. You can read an overview about social enterprise on the Cabinet Office website ( www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk) and the Social Enterprise Coalition provides a comprehensive guide which is available on their website ( www.socialenterprise.org.uk).



Q. Having watched Dragons' Den I am inspired to try and raise investment for my new business venture. Where can I find "Dragons" in real life?

A. While Dragons' Den has raised the profile of equity finance (raising money by selling shares in your company), its format does not reflect how all investors operate. In real life, you should look for "Angels" rather than "Dragons". Business Angels are wealthy individuals who make investments in early-stage companies. Also, they can often provide practical advice that will really help your venture. Many Business Angels act in groups and there may well be a network near where you live. The easiest way to find out is to speak with your local Business Link Adviser – visit the Business Link website ( www.businesslink.gov.uk) and enter your postcode.



Q. I have completed an MBA and would like advice as to whether it would be good to get some experience before starting my own business (perhaps with a franchise) or to jump straight in?

A. While the Master of Business Administration (MBA) is undoubtedly a fine business education, it is geared more towards training senior managers rather than entrepreneurs. Having said that, a franchise business may be too restrictive for someone with your business knowledge. A sensible approach would be to find a young business with growth potential for you to work within as part of a team; for example, a "high-tech, high-growth" business. A good starting place would be the university where you undertook your MBA since researchers are often looking for business people to help commercialise their ideas – talk to the technology transfer office. Gaining experience of building a business around someone else's ideas would be good preparation for later building a business around your own ideas. One conference that matches inventors with business people like yourself (and, indeed, with investors) is Venturefest. The 2008 conference will be held in Oxford on 30 June and 1 July and is free to all (see www.venturefest.com).



Q. Where can I find out about the tax advantages available when starting up in business?

A. New businesses can qualify for a range of schemes that will help reduce their tax bill. These schemes include writing off the costs of capital purchases (equipment and premises) against taxable profit, stamp duty relief in certain, designated areas and tax credits for spending on research and development. You can find out more about all of these things at the HM Revenue & Customs website ( www.hmrc.gov.uk) but you must discuss your plans with an accountant so as to ensure that you make full use of all the schemes available.

QUESTIONS PLEASE

Send your questions to Russell Smith at independent@businessboffins.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice. Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent and Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discount rate; see www.businessboffins.com/independent

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