Roger Trapp: You don't have to be special to be an entrepreneur

It's possible to succeed without the TV-endorsed combination of brilliant ideas and gung-ho spirit
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The Independent Online

Television programmes such as The Dragon's Den and The Apprentice are generally welcomed by the business community as both a sign that the British public (or at least that section responsible for making television programmes) is more interested in business than before and a means of encouraging young people in particular to consider careers in business.

The first part is probably true. Various factors, including wider share ownership, greater involvement on the part of individuals in their pension planning (and hence a greater interest in the working of the financial markets) and the arrival of a new generation of successful business people who do not conform to the old ways, have made enterprise if not exactly cool then certainly better understood and appreciated.

The second is probably more doubtful. For some time, young people have seen going into business on their own account as a realistic option. For example, Shell Livewire, which helps people aged between 16 and 30 to start and develop their own businesses, is about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition after helping hundreds of businesses get started. The recently announced 24th winner of the contest is a company called Built From Scratch Designs, which has developed the "cyclepod", a means of securing bicycles in town centres in a more efficient and eye-pleasing way than was previously the case.

Indeed, it is arguable that school and university leavers have been more interested in such a route than their parents. All too well aware that life is nothing like as secure as it used to be, many are making conscious decisions to take control of their own lives rather than be at the mercy of others. Some are even savvy enough to take jobs in established businesses in order to learn about the mechanics of business or to find out more about particular markets before setting up on their own.

Such a rational approach to going into business is echoed in the tone of a new book that challenges the received wisdom surrounding entrepreneurs and their businesses. As the title, Never Bet The Farm, indicates, the book sets out to demolish a few myths. After all, the received wisdom is that being an entrepreneur is all about the opposite - having the courage to take big risks.

Written by Anthony L Iaquinto and Stephen Spinelli Jr, who have moved between setting up businesses and academia, the book starts from the premise that there is more to being an entrepreneur than the usually touted qualities of confidence in your ideas, the courage to give it a go and a capacity for hard work. Being a successful entrepreneur also involves acknowledging that entrepreneurship is a career and that luck is part of the equation.

Perhaps even more important, Iaquinto and Spinelli seek to disabuse readers of the idea that entrepreneurs are special people and that unless you combine brilliant ideas with a gung-ho spirit you cannot succeed. Iaquinto relates that he used to think this until he discovered that "under the hype, entrepreneurs are ordinary folks - someone who could be one of my teachers, a friend of the family, or a neighbour from down the street."

This is a welcome insight, since - although literature still suggests that there is an ideal list of attributes every entrepreneur should have - practical experience is increasingly showing that many successful entrepreneurs are wanting in many areas. Indeed, many may not see themselves as entrepreneurs as such; they merely followed a hunch or even got lucky and found themselves heading a successful venture.

Certainly, this is the sort of message that the Government and the various bodies seeking to promote enterprise are aiming to convey. Even teachers' bodies are talking about the need for time to be carved out of the National Curriculum for pupils to learn about enterprise. The success of initiatives such as Shell Livewire indicates that the interest is there in at least some of the target audience. And, as more of their contemporaries learn that supposedly conventional careers are not so straightforward and easy to follow as was once was the case, enthusiasm is likely to grow.

The key is to demonstrate that enterprise is everywhere - even in established businesses. That way, the public will realise that - while television and other media can suggest that entrepreneurs fall into a particular category - the reality is less extreme and more attainable.