Journal Business Column: March 2018

Posted on the 21 March 2018

Journal Business Column: March 2018

Read our Chairman James Robson’s latest column, published on 21 March in the Journal.


Britain was historically derided as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, but I have always believed we have a better reputation as a nation of entrepreneurs.   That said, a new survey from NatWest questions that belief and reinforces the importance of consistently encouraging entrepreneurship wherever and whenever we can.

According to the study the number of people wanting to start their own business has dropped significantly with just 14 percent of Britons wanting to become an entrepreneur compared to 39 percent three years ago.

The bank also found that only 17 percent think now is a good time to start a new enterprise, while the current economic climate and fear of failure were among the most common concerns.

While this is just one survey, its indications are concerning.  Entrepreneurs are the wealth generators, job creators and the life-blood of the UK economy. Therefore, we cannot afford to let the next generation entrepreneurs become an endangered species.

To its credit, NatWest is doing something about it and has set a target of supporting 5,000 entrepreneurs this year through its free business accelerator scheme, double the number it helped in 2017.  It is one of a number of programmes out there designed to support entrepreneurs and has had positive impact helping a number of businesses in the North East. 

Offering support, guidance and peer-to-peer learning is a key element of guiding budding, new and developing entrepreneurs.  Networks like the Entrepreneurs’ Forum are invaluable resources because they additionally provide important connections to help businesses flourish.

Also among the concerns of those questioned for the NatWest survey was a lack of the right skills to be an entrepreneur and this will include where to source the right funding.

I recently spoke to a group of PhD students at Newcastle University who are keen to start businesses on the back of their research projects but where unaware of the different funding opportunities available.

We discussed angel investment, which brings with its funding the active involvement of experienced investing entrepreneurs.  There are a suite of options to consider, which highlight the appetite there is to support entrepreneurial businesses.

For example, in the last five years, the Jeremie 1 Fund in the North East and Tees Valley made more than 160 investments of more than £300,000 of which 27 were in excess of £1milllion.

Prospects for more investment through the new £120m North East Fund are also positive and bode well for the future of entrepreneurial businesses in our region.

Add to this the emergence of crowd funding, which has helped all types of the region’s businesses, from The Lakes Distillery to Tea Ventures, raise cash through this route, and organisations such as UK Steel Enterprise, which has made a quarter of its larger investments in North East firms over the last five years, it is clear there is the financial support available to turn entrepreneurial ambitions into reality.

And highlighting this accessible range of proactive funding sources should play a part in fanning the entrepreneurial spark that exists in people who have the inspiration and ideas to establish and scale-up a business and lead to an increase in the number of budding entrepreneurs.