Small Talk: Few entrepreneurial role models for risk-averse British

Who are the role models for Britain's aspiring entrepreneurs and small business founders? There are surprisingly few – anyone who works with small and medium-sized enterprises will quickly become accustomed to the same faces used to promote the sector's campaigns.

That's not to suggest there's anything wrong with, say, James Dyson, or the Dragons' Den judges, who have become ubiquitous as champions for small business. Lord Sugar does his bit and Sir Richard Branson is a strong supporter of enterprise. Good for all of them.

There are, however, far too few people in Britain who are known and celebrated for setting up and building successful businesses. Indeed, with the exception of Mr Dyson, the list above comprises people who have become known because of television appearances or publicity stunts – they're feted as much for their celebrity as their entrepreneurialism.

Maybe, though, that reflects the British attitude towards entrepreneurialism: it's something many of us like the idea of, but don't actually engage in. And when others take the plunge and succeed, we're not always terribly generous about applauding them.

Last week was Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual initiative that takes place in more than 30 countries around the world. The idea is to encourage more people to set up in business for themselves.

There were many successful events in the UK, but new research released at the end of the week was telling. It suggests that people in the UK are, on average, much less likely to take risks than in many of the other nations taking part. We also score poorly on encouraging innovation, and in addition, on average, we do not tend to think of being an entrepreneur as a "respectable" career.

The odd thing, at first sight, is that Britons do say they want to promote entrepreneurialism. The data shows, for example, that we're much more positive than people in other countries about the growing number of policies and incentives which encourage small businesses.

In practice, this is the difference between talk and action. There may be widespread acceptance that entrepreneurs are a vital engine of economic growth, but not too many of us want to be one. Nor are we terribly impressed by those who are prepared to take the plunge.

Why should this be the case? One answer may be the traditional British reluctance to make a fuss about success – particularly financial success.

Another is that shortage of role models. There simply aren't enough successful entrepreneurs out there whom the rest of us would like to emulate.

Fictional portrayals of small business people are interesting too. One might applaud the ceaseless determination of Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses to make it big with just one of his imaginative business ideas, were it not for his incompetence and dishonesty. It's a common message – running a small business is all about ducking and diving.

In addition, our educational structures are not set up to support entrepreneurialism. The relentless focus on the importance of university education and exam success has something to be said for it, but those who make a positive choice to follow a different route, including entrepreneurial endeavour, are widely seen as having failed. Those who stick with convention, meanwhile, invariably have the entrepreneurial spirit drummed out of them.

In the end, you get what you deserve. The shortage of British role models for entrepreneurs reflects our attitudes towards entrepreneurialism.

Until our theoretical desire to promote business creation is matched by practical respect and status for those who do so, we'll be disappointed by the results.

Alternative Investment Market: Investors have benefited from floats of Asian firms

The Alternative Investment Market has become something of a magnet for small (and not so small) Asian businesses looking for a stock market listing. Partly that reflects the attractions of Aim itself, including its streamlined processes, and partly it reflects the London base, which is also desirable.

While Aim needs all the business it can get, there has been some concern about the number of overseas companies floating on the market. Still, although the debate about governance standards and connected issues will no doubt continue, investors in Asian Aim IPOs this year haven't done too badly.

New figures from the broker Allenby show that the three Asian businesses which floated on Aim during the third quarter are up by an average of 41 per cent since their IPOs. Over the year to date, the average performance of all IPOs from Asia has been 11.2 per cent – Aim itself, meanwhile, is up by just 1 per cent.

Small businessman of the week: Gerald Pountney, founder, Unclesmoney

I first got interested in pawnbroking in the Eighties when I was running a builders' merchant and people used to offer me bits and pieces such as jewellery in return for stock when they were short of cash. Eventually, my own business ran into difficulties and we closed it down – it was then that we opened our shops in Birmingham.

"They have been trading since the late Eighties, and two years ago we opened online too, which has really expanded our business.

"This is a family-run firm – my son looks after the internet operation, and lots of other family members are involved too.

"Business is doing well, which reflects the state of the economy. What's really interesting is how much trade we're doing with small business owners who just can't get the finance they need from the banks.

"Not everyone thinks particularly highly of pawnbrokers, but it's these payday loan companies that are really dangerous – they can bankrupt you, whereas we can't. The worst thing we can do to you is sell your item, but in fact 94 per cent of our customers redeem their goods.

"For long term borrowing we are expensive, but for small loans over a short period, we're really good value.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness