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There's a Bright Future for U.K. Entrepreneurs, But Young Talent Needs Cultivating

In a competitive global marketplace, challenges remain for maximizing the potential of young entrepreneurs in the U.K.
There's a Bright Future for U.K. Entrepreneurs, But Young Talent Needs Cultivating
Image credit: graphicstock
Guest Writer
CEO of NACUE
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business ranking for 2018, the U.K. came sixth out of 190. The U.K.'s strong entrepreneurial culture is firmly rooted in our spirit of innovation and enterprise, stretching back to the Industrial Revolution. And as we advance into the 21st century, a new generation of young people across the country is coming up with great ideas to solve business problems. But, in a competitive global marketplace, there is no space to rest on our laurels, and challenges remain for maximizing the potential of young entrepreneurs in the U.K.

Related: How the U.K. Can -- and Should -- Encourage Our Youth to Pursue Entrepreneurship

A wealth of talent that is successfully being tapped

The U.K. is the home of great minds such as Alan Turing, the father of computer science, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web. And the U.K. is continuing to produce great ideas. Last month, NACUE's 9th Varsity Pitch finalists demonstrated the incredible pool of talent that this country has to offer.

This year's winner was WASE, a water treatment and sanitation startup, embracing the circular economy to recover clean water, energy and nutrients from wastewater. It's founder Thomas Fudge demonstrates the vital role of young entrepreneurs in tackling real-world sustainability problems and providing solutions for millions in the developing world.

Other competitors included Adelie Health, a startup offering a smart insulin pen that is saving lives by helping users manage their insulin doses. Meanwhile, Bubble Mind is planning to overturn the trend in worsening mental health, by creating apps to help relieve stress and improve mental well-being. UniDosh is even finding a way to tap the future graduate workforce by enabling university students to earn money providing services to their peers, such as babysitting, cleaning and assembling flatpack furniture.

Fortunately, the U.K. is, in fact, the most developed worldwide, when it comes to infrastructure to support young entrepreneurship. Young people have access to a wide range of programs and accelerators, offering funding and mentorship to nurture talent.

In particular, tech hubs exist across the country, with major corporations such as banks and law firms providing space for young entrepreneurs to develop the next ground-breaking business solution.

Related: There Are Plenty of Non-Equity Funding Options for U.K. Startups, If You Know Where to Look

Keeping our eyes open to for collaborators and competitors abroad

As strong as U.K. entrepreneurship culture is, it is worth keeping a broader perspective on what is going on among our European neighbors. Within the context of Brexit, Britain must keep an open approach to future competitors and collaborators across the Channel.

Entrepreneurship in the Netherlands, for example, is a popular career path. But, it is often a second-choice career option, rather than the primary pathway for young people, according to NACUE research. Despite readily available funding opportunities for startups, young entrepreneurs tend to struggle more to find funding, since Dutch banks can be less inclined to offer early stage funding to this demographic.

Spain, too, is a hidden gem in terms of youth entrepreneurship. But, young entrepreneurs in Spain are limited by insufficient funding opportunities, with private and public stakeholders in the ecosystem often lacking coordination between their services. Young people want to learn from others about their failure stories in order to adapt their businesses accordingly, but they still do not know where to find them in the Spanish scenario.

Central Eastern European countries are offering small programs -- in particular, Romanian, Czech and Slovenian entrepreneurship is accelerating, though issues remain around knowledge of and access to funding across these countries, according to one of our consortium partners, MY-GATEWAY. Despite some of the challenges faced in these promising hubs, we should certainly be keeping an eye on where talent is emerging among our largest trading community.

Related: Forget London -- These 4 U.K. Tech Hubs Are Booming

Signposts to guide the way to a bright future

Across the U.K. and Europe, many organizations provide funding for the next generation of business leaders, but correct and relevant signposting to that funding is the recurring issue holding back greater success. Young people often find themselves relying on family and friends to secure early stage finance and existing inequalities can therefore refrain less advantaged youngsters from coming up with solutions for problems -- and with just the kind of perspective that can help transform society.

In fact, a young person may not even make the first steps to realize their business idea, without knowledge of how they can secure funding. We need to remember that the channels of funding can be extremely fragmented, across central and local government, as well as private and third sector opportunities. We can't expect young people to navigate these on their own.

Universities will remain a valuable piece of the puzzle in joining up the dots. But, we can't rely solely on this structure, as there may be many alumni, as well as those who haven't participated in higher education, with great business ideas and untapped talent. Networking days are a great opportunity to find out information, and local events that bring together players from across the ecosystem can be even more beneficial.

We shouldn't lose perspective on how valuable young entrepreneurs are within the bigger picture of the U.K.'s economic foundations. Youth entrepreneurship is very much part of the solution for tackling youth unemployment, stagnating economic growth and job creation.

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