Well Startupbritain.org certainly splits opinion, at least amongst the twitterati and the blogger community.
Start Up Britain: Some love it, some hate it and some are just indifferent. In 25 years of working on business support and enterprise in the UK and overseas I have never seen anything like it given such a ringing endorsement by Government.
Credit where credit is due.
They have shipped and made things happen. And what a launch! The Prime Minister, The Chancellor of The Exchequer and The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade all turning out along with assorted Dragons and celebrity entrepreneurs to offer their support and endorsement.
All of them want to see a more enterprising Britain.
More businesses starting up.
More businesses surviving and more businesses growing.
Now we might have an interesting conversation about the balance between economic growth driven by an enterprise led recovery, national well-being, and an environmentally sustainable future, but that would need us to take a holistic perspective on enterprise policy in the UK. And I suspect, for the moment at least, this is all about wealth creation, employment, tax take and ‘a private sector led recovery’ rather than the wider role that enterprise can play in creating communities that people want to live in.
Startup Britain have shipped, and they have had feedback. The makeover has begun. Some of the typos have already been picked up and corrected. I am sure the broken links (HP offer for example) will be mended and the links to malware (Growing/Staying Inspired/a bit of motivation/Warren Buffet) sites removed. (Although more than 24 hours since I first blogged and tweeted there has been no acknowledgement of the problem and no resolution)
I also suspect that a bit of a site makeover might be in order to make it a little less political and move the discount vouchers and special offers to a more discrete position.
But I think the challenges go a little deeper and wonder whether they will be addressed.
Surely Anything is Better than Nothing?
I do not subscribe to the school that says ‘anything is better than nothing’ – especially when that ‘anything’ is launched by half the cabinet and a host of celebrity entrepreneurs. I work at the coal face of enterprise support in the UK, where regularly people lose their houses, marriages and occasionally their lives because the business that they were encouraged to start has left them in more debt.
And many more struggle on day after day living hand to mouth because they were encouraged to start a business that was at best marginal. I have talked with many an adviser who have told me about the pressure they come under to make loans to would be entrepreneurs against their better judgement, because they have start up and loan making targets to hit.
Enterprise really is a double edged sword. And if we choose to promote it in our communities then we must do so with care, competence and compassion. Entrepreneurship is not all about computing in the cloud, venture finance and making the first million. We love to promote the upsides of enterprise – but it also has a dark side.
A little more curation please…
If Start Up Britain wants to be a serious player in the long term they really do need to develop a professional approach towards site curation. At the moment there are too many links to the same few sites, many of which are businesses affiliated to Startup Britain’s founders and more vocal celebrity supporters with books and other products to shift. When offering advice and support, impartiality matters.
I would strongly recommend that they appoint a credible curator/editor and possibly an editorial board that can ensure impartiality and quality of what gets listed on Startup Britain’s web directory and then a good folksonomy system that will ensure that the most useful content gets clearly flagged by the people that use it. I used to argue that Business Link should have a folksonomy approach to rating both its own advisers and the third party service providers that they brokered out to – but this was seen as just too risky!
Sort Out an SEO Strategy…
At the time of writing if you Google ‘startup britain’ the main www.startupbritain.org site does not appear at least not on the first half a dozen pages, after which I gave up. Instead www.startupbritain.co.uk and www.start-up-britain.co.uk take pole position. Now that is enterprise. Perhaps time to use some of those free adwords that you are entitled to…
Oh, and it would be lovely to actually link to a specific piece on the site. But we can’t. Think of all those lovely referrals that you are missing out one.
Re-think Peer to Peer and DIY Support
The Start Up Britain ‘peer support strategy’ needs a bit of a rethink. It is great that the Supper Club and Prelude (both founded by Start Up Britain co-founder Duncan Cheatle) are offering free mentoring. (Free as long as you agree to provide 2 hours of free mentoring for every hour that you receive: it will be interesting to see the pathway through which mentee becomes mentor).
However we know that mentoring is not right for all, and a quick look at Prelude and The Supper Club suggests a certain emphasis on high growth strategies. If I want to become a self employed window cleaner will I still get the mentoring? Will I be invited to mentor others?
What about encouraging other forms of peer to peer support and an ethos of DIY?
What about helping entrepreneurs to become much more effective at managing their own learning rather than spoon feeding them courses and mentors?
What about helping entrepreneurs to figure out the type of support that they need and how they can best access it?
A truly British Campaign?
Start Up Britain needs to think a little more about developing a genuinely British presence. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland? I am not sure yet that it really covers England. It needs to quickly move on from being Start Up London and the South East – remember that stuff about re-balancing the economy?
For example I spent a bit of time trying out Enternships.com (another Founding Partner of Start Up Britain) to see what enternships might be available in my home city of Leeds. Answer = 0. Bradford = 0. Yorkshire = 0. A search for enternships in Manchester did turn up 4, albeit 1 of them was actually in London. 2 were for telesales positions and one was to do social media for a recruitment agency.
A Little More Transparency Too…
Start Up Britain is variously referred to as ‘a not for profit company‘, ‘an independent collective of UK entrepreneurs and big business’ and a new campaign run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. It is described on the BIS website as ‘representing the private sector response’. This leaves me confused.
So there we go.
I have been positive.
I only hope that we see a response.