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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine