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Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a welcome trend amongst friends, peers and people I meet. More and more of them are becoming entrepreneurs, or founders as an attractive alternative to the 9 to 5 corporate life.
When I left university six years ago, the idea of starting my own business just didn’t occur to me. I didn’t have the skills, the knowledge, the role models, the access or the understanding of what it would take to start a company from scratch. Few of those around me seemed to be thinking about it either. I hardly knew any founders of small companies (particularly those in tech) and I’d never heard of Silicon Roundabout, the now-established nickname for Old Street in Shoreditch, ground zero of the London tech scene.
I graduated in the same year that Entrepreneur First launched, a programme that has had a huge positive impact on the attitudes of friends and peers on the subject of being an entrepreneur. It’s now something that the brightest graduates can tell their traditionally-minded parents they are doing without an air of sheepishness, a fully acceptable alternative to joining the graduate training schemes in the City. Two university friends, now in their late twenties, have now graduated from Entrepreneur First’s programmes. Three others have started companies, and several more are senior executives in tech companies, and this trend only seems to be growing.
Workspace & tools for entrepreneurs
On a practical level, the U.K. now boasts the infrastructure in place to allow people to start a company with greater ease than ever before and in turn, those workspaces become communities and hubs for the exchange of ideas and collaboration. In London, Google Campus in Old Street, which opened in 2012, is now a thriving events hub, co-working space and home to Seedcamp, investors in Unicorns such as TransferWise. Hundreds of young companies have passed through its Bonhill Street doors. It is not just London either, as well as several branches of its co-working space in the Capital, Runway East, has recently opened in Bristol, and Huckletree has expanded to open office space in Dublin. When I talked to her about the explosion of entrepreneurial energy in the U.K., Natasha Guerra, Runway East’s co-founder, described the “boosting” effect on small companies that join spaces where they can find tailored services and an instant network of other founders.
Supportive communities are flourishing
Nowhere is this growing desire to become founders more apparent than in the community groups that bind together passionate and engaged aspiring young people, which are popping up all over the U.K. These groups are mostly volunteer-led organisations, using a WhatsApp, Slack or Telegram group to communicate, supplemented by informal meet-up events. Invitations to them are passed through trusted networks and expand through word-of-mouth. Luckily they also transcend the old boys’ networks of old. In many cases, they seek out people from diverse backgrounds, who may not have access to the social capital or established networks that they would have needed to start a company in the past.
Topics of conversation on one of these I opened recently called YSYS (Your Start-up Your Story), ranged from seeking feedback on a prototype app, to asking for help hiring a UX designer, to tips on getting seed investment for a new snack brand. The energy and enthusiasm of the founder communities in these groups is staggering. Each time I re-open one of the groups the threads have been newly inundated with messages about new developments in their companies and offers of, or requests for, help. Many of the founders are ‘multi-hyphens’, as the millennial writer and broadcaster Emma Gannon would have them, holding down multiple roles with seemingly endless enthusiasm.
Deborah Okenla, the founder of YSYS told me that in a recent survey, 82% of her community members had grown their network since joining and 71% gained new opportunities as part of their membership. These opportunities ranged from new clients to job interviews or collaborators on entrepreneurial ‘side-hustles’, but the main focus of most of the members seems to be how to found a company or grow one that they’ve already started.
Whatever can’t be learned about being a founder from communities like these can instead be picked up via listening to high quality (and often entirely free) podcasts filled with content about how to start, grow and run a start-up. Forget expensive MBA programmes; we now have more readily accessible information on company creation than ever before.
My favourites are snappy interviews with venture capitalists from 21-year-old Harry Stebbings The Twenty Minute VC; Abadesi Osunsade and Michael Berhane’s, Techish a tech and pop culture show and Otegha Uwagba’s In Good Company which does a deep-dive into the personal stories of a founder journey.
With more entrepreneurial education and resources than ever at their disposal, ‘founder’ is a job title that is no longer stigmatised as a woolly name for an unemployed dreamer, but celebrated. The future looks very bright for aspiring business owners thinking about starting companies in 2019.
January 26, 2019 at 05:10AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs