Last Thursday I had the pleasure of joining the StartUp Britain bus tour in Brighton, where I spoke to some fantastic small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs about their businesses and their ideas.
StartUp Britain is a national campaign founded by eight entrepreneurs, which harnesses the expertise of some of Britain’s leading businesspeople to give advice to small business owners and those thinking of starting a business. Now in its fifth year, the campaign was launched at Downing Street with best wishes from David Cameron, and I’m proud to say NatWest is a major supporter.
A key part of the campaign is the StartUp Britain tour, which will see NatWest’s Routemaster bus visiting 28 locations across the UK and travelling some 5000 miles.
On Thursday the bus was in Brighton’s Jubilee Square, where I was really struck by the enthusiasm of all the people I met. Brighton has a very entrepreneurial feel about it, with all the independent shops, cafes, restaurants and bars I passed as I walked from the station. Indeed, NatWest alone has 45,000 SME customers in Brighton. The square was also the perfect location, as two nearby restaurants, Chilli Pickle and Kooks, brought out a selection of food to share with people visiting the bus. Both restaurants are customers of NatWest and, I’m pleased to say, have been very successful.
I was also struck by the amount of support offered free by other organisations. For instance, there was someone from the Intellectual Property Office giving advice on patents; UK Trade and Investment was there with guidance on exporting to foreign markets; and local business groups were on hand to let entrepreneurs know what help was available on their doorstep. The tour is running until August 7 and you can check here if the bus is stopping near you.
In 2014 there were 5.2m businesses in the UK, of which 99% were defined as small or medium sized, and the way they impact the economy is enormous. They employ over 24 million people and generate 12% of the UK’s economic output. NatWest is the biggest bank in the UK for business, providing SMEs with £10.3 billion of lending and supporting 108,232 start-up businesses in 2014. Therefore we think it's really important we support business right from the beginning, because when UK businesses do well, we all do well.
Part of this help is breaking down the barriers to starting a business in the first place. One of the most common I have come across is when entrepreneurs get really excited about a particular customer need that they think they are going to be able to meet, but don’t have the knowledge or skills to bring it to market. Things like knowing how business plans or profit and loss statements work, knowing how to budget, or how to present to investors.
As a case in point, one of the people I spoke to said she had tried to start several businesses, but hadn’t the knowledge to really get them off the ground. She clearly had the entrepreneurial spirit, and enthusiasm to spare, but had no idea about things like business plans or marketing. However, from September 9 this budding entrepreneur will be developing her current venture at Brighton’s new Entrepreneurial Spark powered by NatWest business accelerator hub. This hub, or ‘Hatchery’, will provide free business facilities, such as office space, meeting rooms and Wi-Fi, plus expert guidance for 80 entrepreneurs to develop their businesses ideas.
The Entrepreneurial Spark hubs have been hugely successful, with 82% of businesses who have been through them still trading. Yesterday I was able to visit Brighton’s new Hatchery, which is next to NatWest’s offices opposite Preston Park, and work is well underway to turn it into a really modern, collaborative work space.
The Brighton Hatchery is one of 10 being opened around the UK. If you are interested in getting a place at any of these accelerator hubs, visit Entrepreneurial Spark’s website. They take in a new batch of entrepreneurs every six months and applications for the next available intake – February 2016 – will open in September.