The scheme, aimed at 16- to 30-year-olds starting their own businesses, has
this year undergone a relaunch. Among the new initiatives is a monthly cash
award that will allow up to five aspiring entrepreneurs to receive £1,000 to
help them get their business ideas started. This is in addition to the
well-established Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, now worth £10,000 to
Moreover, the scheme also includes a package of resources aimed at providing
the enterprising youngsters with the sort of practical help they need to
make a go of a business. Accessible via the internet, this package includes
a guide to help young people understand their strengths and weaknesses, a
discussion forum that can be used to ask experts for advice as well as
assistance with market research, business plans and legal information.
Shell LiveWIRE has already helped more than 600,000 people start up in
business and it is likely that these new web tools and the other initiatives
will boost that number significantly. In 2000, the then fledgling smoothie
drinks maker Innocent was a finalist for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year
award, so it is clear that a boost from this scheme can be the first step on
a long road.
This is not the only programme of its kind. For instance, the Prince’s Trust’s
business programme has also been going some time and has helped about 70,000
disadvantaged people make a start.
The point is that there are lots of young people prepared to have a go at
running their own business. Certainly, for many it is a last resort, when
all else has failed or when there is no job or training scheme. But for
others it represents a sensible choice. Many in the Prince’s Trust
programme, in particular, have circumstances that mean that they cannot
easily take a conventional full-time job.
Some of them go on to become sizeable businesses. But many more remain pretty
much what they were when they started ? alternatives to a job.
There is a tendency to decry such enterprises as “lifestyle businesses”. But
there is nothing shameful in being a business of one. For many ? whether
they are a fresh-faced school-leaver or a weary refugee from corporate life
? it is the best way of maintaining some kind of control over their lives.
Not only that, but the advance of technology, the continuing high costs of
employing personnel and the desire of modern organisations to be more
flexible than large workforces allow are helping to create a world in which
one-person businesses can thrive.
All that is really holding them back is access to the sort of equipment and
support that is commonplace in large organisations. The first part is
increasingly being dealt with. Thanks to intense competition in the mobile
telecommunications field, in particular, it is possible for small businesses
and even the self-employed to have access to BlackBerrys and similar pieces
of equipment, while the arrival of web-based applications is providing
access to top-class assistance in such vital areas as finance and legal
advice. These applications, grouped under the new buzzword of “cloud
computing”, mean that very small businesses can not only attain what was
once unavailable to them but can do so at an affordable price.
But, as those youngsters getting started on LiveWIRE and Prince’s Trust
programmes would agree, it is not just the difficulty of gaining access to
technology that makes it hard to run a business. It is the little things ?
like posting parcels. Big businesses have mailrooms that deal with couriers
and have franking machines. Small businesses have to queue at the post
office. Which is where WinWeb, a 24-hour support service for new and small
businesses created by the entrepreneur behind the internet service provider
that became Tiscali, comes in. Among its offerings are book-keeping, public
relations and marketing assistance, phone answering ? and a parcel pick-up
service. This alone demonstrates how Stefan Topfer, WinWeb’s creator,
understands the needs of small businesses better than any number of
government officials. As he says, “the most important thing” is to reduce
the mortality rate of small businesses. Anything practical that enables them
to focus on the business and not worry about the peripherals is likely to be
more effective in that than tax breaks or incentives.
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