Volume 2, Number 2 – July 2005

Notes from a Small Island: Enterprise Culture in the British Isles

We Americans can be somewhat smug when it comes to entrepreneurship. Many of us tend to think that entrepreneurship is an inherent trait that just exists “naturally” in the U.S. While policy actions (such as taxes or regulation) can affect levels of entrepreneurial activity, when it comes to entrepreneurial culture, you either have it or you don’t.

This perspective can work when you do indeed “have it.” For a variety of reasons, America’s business culture is quite entrepreneurial. But, what if this entrepreneurial (or enterprise) culture is not thriving? This is the situation that faced and is facing Great Britain’s economic leaders over the past decade or so. To their credit, they have not simply bemoaned their fate. They are aggressively working to instill a new enterprise culture among Britons, and their experience offers many lessons for the rest of us.

British interest in enterprise and enterprise culture first began bubbling up about ten years ago. Much of this interest was generated by Britain’s poor performance on various measures of entrepreneurship and innovation. It was further accelerated by the strong interest of Prime Minister Tony Blair, and even more importantly, Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Blair’s heir apparent. This high level support has made enterprise and enterprise support a key part of Labour’s economic plans and strategy.

These Labour Government actions follow even more ambitious and aggressive programs started in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland’s enterprise strategy dates back to 1991 and was recently revised in 2002.

In Britain, policy makers have implemented a number of different initiatives to support and encourage enterprise. Small business support services are now part of a Small Business Service (SBS) modeled on America’s Small Business Administration (SBA). New financing schemes have been announced, and special outreach programs for youth, minority and women entrepreneurs have been developed.

All of these activities are exciting, but they are mainly focused on government programs. A more exciting and perhaps more important set of efforts concerns the wide range of media, cultural and educational activities now underway to foster an enterprise culture. Through a variety of tools, the British government, regional development agencies, business and community leaders, and other stakeholders are engaged in a multi-pronged effort to encourage entrepreneurship and to generate public interest and support for entrepreneurs.

Three interesting sets of activities warrant further mention:

  • The use of competitions to stimulate activity and interest
  • Aggressive outreach to youth
  • Effective use of popular media

Use of Competitions

Competition helps improve the competitiveness of businesses and nations; it also helps generate interest and enthusiasm. As in many nations, hundreds, if not thousands, of business plan competitions are regularly occurring across Britain. But, the UK government has tried to take this effort one step further with its annual Enterprising Britain competition. This effort is designed to stimulate regional interest in enterprise. It requires communities to compete according to three criteria: the quality of local efforts to promote entrepreneurship, the use of innovative partnerships in this effort, and the outcome of such efforts in terms of generating new and growing firms. Competition for the 2005 award was intense, with the eventual winner being announced in February. Ollerton, a village in North Nottinghamshire, took the prize thanks to its Sherwood Energy Village (SEV). SEV is a social enterprise that re-developed a former coalfield into a mixed-use development, employing sustainable energy technology that is expected to create up to 1,000 jobs in a previously distressed community.

Aggressive Outreach to Youth

Effective long-term enterprise development requires that youth become engaged and interested in entrepreneurship as a career option. Youth have been a prime target for Britain’s efforts to date. A great example is the Make Your Mark-Start Talking Ideas campaign developed by Enterprise Insight, a coalition of twelve business support organizations. The coalition developed an excellent website (www.starttalkingideas.org) that is designed to get young people interested and excited about enterprise and new ventures. The effort was timed to coincide with the 2004 Enterprise Week (held in November 2004), a major initiative that included participation by 481 organizations that held 1,172 events with 158,000 participants. Enterprise Week 2005 is now slated to happen during the week of November 14, 2005.

Effective Use of Popular Media

The Make Your Mark-Start Talking Ideas campaign and its well-designed web page are but one part of a media blitz around enterprise. The BBC has gotten into the game as well with a popular show entitled Dragon’s Den (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dragonsden/). Unlike Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, which may be entertaining but not very informative, Dragon’s Den can be both. It is fun to watch, and it reveals some interesting lessons about the process of developing a new venture. In Wales, the BBC produced another excellent show, The Biz (http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/thebiz/) where viewers voted on business ideas in a manner like FOX TV’s American Idol.

Strategies in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland were even more aggressive in terms of media outreach. Each region created a powerful brand around the promotion of enterprise, and used this brand to encourage interest and support for entrepreneurs. In Wales, the brand was “Because You Can.” In Northern Ireland, residents are urged to “Go For It,” and Scots are pushed to “Think, Plan, Do.” In all cases, these media campaigns had a significant impact on interest in starting a business and attitudes toward entrepreneurship as a career option.

All of these efforts recognize a critical reality: you can’t have enterprise without an enterprise culture. While it’s true that exceptional entrepreneurs can arise anywhere, their emergence is more likely in places that respect and support such activities. While business culture cannot be changed overnight, it can be affected by serious and sustained public education campaigns. These efforts, while still in their early stages, show that fostering such transformations is both desirable and doable.

To learn more about what’s happening in Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, visit these websites:

Miscellaneous Plugs: Books and Articles

In our travels around the world and around the web, we regularly find some very cool stuff that might interest our readers. This edition of EntreWorks Insights examines recent books and articles that might interest our readers. Look for more “plugs” in future editions:

In our last newsletter, we noted emerging trends that are changing how economic development organizations operate. Networks and closer cooperation between the public and private sectors are becoming the norm. Since then, we’ve been swamped with interesting books and articles covering similar themes. Some of the more interesting items include:

Accenture, Leadership in Customer Service: New Experiences, New Expectations, 2005. Each year, Accenture’s government consulting division examines the state of e-government to note progress and identify future challenges. This year’s assessment is especially interesting because it highlights a crisis in e-government. It is no longer enough to simply move services on-line; government needs to provide services in a different way. The report calls for new types of “citizen-centered” services that break down organizational boundaries and reach out proactively to customers.

Sylvain Giguere, New Forms of Governance for Economic Development, (Paris: OECD, 2004). This report, written for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) looks at new organizational models emerging in a diverse set of countries including Belgium, Mexico, Norway, and Spain.

John M. Kamensky and Thomas J. Burlin (eds.), Collaboration: Using Networks and Partnerships, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). This book was produced under the auspices of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. It’s got a heavy focus on federal agencies, but offers some unique insights into how federal managers can more effectively operate via networks. It also includes case studies of such practices at agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Luke Pittaway, Maxine Robertson, Kamal Munir, and David Denyer, Networking and Innovation: A Systematic Review of the Evidence, University of Lancaster Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development, Working Paper 016, 2004. Available at www.lums.lancs.ac.uk. This academic paper can be heavy going, but it is a truly systematic look at what current research tells us about the links between business networking and innovation. Very comprehensive.

What’s Happening at EntreWorks Consulting?

EntreWorks President Erik Pages has been hitting the road with numerous speaking engagements. Recent and upcoming presentations include the following:

  • Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Conference, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Governor’s Rural Policy Forum, Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • International Council on Small Business, Arlington, Virginia
  • International Rural Network Conference, Abingdon, Virginia
  • London Development Agency, London, England

For new articles posted in the EntreWorks Library, visit www.entreworks.net/library. The latest offerings include:

“Building Systems for Entrepreneur Support,” Economic Development America, Winter 2005.