On Saturday we discussed some of the problems facing British startups. Today the private sector rode into town with a high-profile launch for its Startup Britain initiative. Is it actually any good though?
Startup Britain is the UK’s version of the recently launched Startup America Partnership. The US initiative is offering hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of private investment in startups and schemes that aid and promote entrepreneurship.
What does Britain get meanwhile? A website offering £1500 worth of money-off vouchers for goods and services to help businesses in their early stages and links to useful online resources – or, to put it slightly more coarsely, a tacky affiliate site plastered with images of the prime minister and Richard Branson. It’s no surprise that there’s already a spoof site mocking it.
Seriously – as handy as they are, offers like £30 worth of Google AdWords vouchers, 50 free Moo cards and one month’s free line rental on O2 (while stocks last) just look like cheap ads for the companies concerned than any concerted effort to help entrepreneurs in a long-term, meaningful way – especially when compared to what’s happening in the US.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s better that we have something like this than it not existing at all, and Startup Britain promises much more soon. Additional features coming soon include a ‘Mentor Marketplace’ for finding or become a startup mentor; the opportunity to deliver or sign up for ‘masterclasses’ or to invest resources in other oganisations’ enterprise initiatives; a “database of startup content, apps, videos and case studies curated from the web” and a calendar of enterprise-related events.
In short, it could well become the go-to resource for businesses just starting out – but to launch this as a high-profile, government-backed initiative with virtually no substance is quite frankly embarrassing.
Still, the fact that Richard Branson, thumbs aloft, graces the front page highlights perfectly the reason why we need things like this all the more. As inspirational as he is, Branson has been the poster child for British entrepreneurship for over 30 years.
While the US celebrates its entrepreneurs, the British simply pay lip service to them with television making the world of business look like a series of Dragons Den and The Apprentice pitches. Some of this is down to fundamental, long-standing cultural differences that make the British more risk-averse than the Americans. Until we fix that, no amount of vouchers are going to make a difference.