Cameron’s saying it. Lord Sugar’s saying it. Even Danni, last week’s page 3 model, is ‘glad to hear the government’s plans to encourage entrepreneurship by cutting red tape and lowering corporation tax.’ The message is, this country needs more entrepreneurs to raise UK innovation and give a much needed boost to the economy, and the conveyor belt from Oxbridge to the major banking and consultancy firms isn’t exactly helping encourage original thought. So put down that PWC application and listen up.
You may be wondering why in a money saving column I’m banging on about the next Richard Branson. Yet even if we disregard the cut in pay from a decent starting salary of £30k upwards in a cushy graduate job to effectively zero working for yourself, the large amounts of stress, lack of sleep and the physical and financial drain that a new business poses, there’s never been a better time to go it alone.
You might not be aware that we’re in the middle of a boom for online tech start-ups, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the late 90s. Then, the bursting of the dot com bubble followed astronomical valuations of online businesses relative to their profits, with the fall-out being felt in stock markets worldwide. Since Facebook started their march to worldwide domination in 2004, the social landscape online has been gradually divided up between different sites which each want to manage a different aspect of our online life – micro-blogging with Twitter, content discovery with StumbleUpon, business connections with LinkedIn and so on. New music sites are popping up and drawing in the masses – out of the top players, Spotify is probably the most well-known, with Soundcloud, Mixcloud and Wonga being the other front runners.
All of this is in the face of a concerted effort by the government to encourage entry to the market with a wide range of financial stimuli for budding-entrepreneurs. A quick search on the internet reveals plenty of investment boards offering grants for innovation in their particular sectors, with some ranging from £25k for proof-of-market to £250k for prototype development – if that isn’t an incentive to get out and do your own thing, I don’t know what is. In addition to grants, there are a growing number of ‘start-up incubators’ popping up. These provide funding to early stage start-ups, and provide support to get the product from an idea to a fully-fledged company. The most well-known of these are the US-based Y-Combinator and TechStars, but aside from the big boys with multi-million pound budgets, there are plenty of smaller players out there, which are, by necessity, more likely to specialise in much more restricted markets, and thus present a greater likelihood of investment.
A perfect example of this dropped into my inbox this morning with the JCR notices – a start-up incubator especially for Oxford students, BetaFoundry, offer the usual gubbins; funding (admittedly barely more than expenses), office space and mentoring, with the bonus that they’re only considering teams from Oxford Uni. This is just the kind of limited market in which your likelihood of being picked up is massively increased, and with the market in its current state, I would wager there’s more than enough room for some decent UK based entrepreneurs to break out. That, or you’ve already stopped reading and are back to consultancy applications.