The Chancellor gave a shot of adrenaline to start-ups and small firms in his budget last week with sweeping changes to EIS and Entrepreneurs Relief, sensing that they are the engine of the economy and will be vital to our recovery, providing nearly 60% of all private sector jobs, and nearly 50% of private sector GVA.

Jamie Murray Wells

(Copyright free image)

But business is hard and business men and women  are realists –we appreciate all the competent help we can get, especially business and employment tax reductions, and pruning of prohibitive regulation.  But when you’re up to your elbows in cash flow predictions, chasing late paying customers, or figuring out how to get financing for your StartUp, it is critically important to find the right support as well. I had no formal business training when I started Glasses Direct. P&Ls and organisation charts seemed completely alien to me at university. I learnt the ropes through being lucky enough to find supportive mentors, online support services and book recommendations. Some are not so lucky.

The last government’s solution to this was to try to deliver all functions of business support itself. From face-to-face consultations to seminars, creating endless online content, and a regional infrastructure, hundreds of millions of pounds was spent delivering it.

Witnessing this over the last few years, I feel that Britain needs a free-market approach to enterprise support and promotion which would involve open-sourcing these services instead of delivering them, using what’s already out there, and working with corporates to assemble a toolkit of offers to help British start-ups get going. And where there are gaps in support, to work and partner with government and business to find solutions.

I teamed up with a group of entrepreneurs who also recognised that the private sector and private individuals, society, could and should ultimately shoulder some of that responsibility alongside, or in some cases potentially instead of government and we decided to look at each constituent part of enterprise support and begin to see if it were possible in each area to provide the same or better, at no cost, or reduced cost to the taxpayer.

Our view was shared by No.10 who have helped turn this vision into a reality. Announced in the Chancellor’s budget speech last week, and launched on Monday 28th March 2011, StartUp Britain has the full backing of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and HM Government and has so far gathered the support of over 50 leading national brands.

Ideas for services we’d like to promote include mentoring. We believe that face to face support does not have to be delivered by our own employees or consultants; we believe in the business owner round the corner who wants to advise other entrepreneurs, so our vision for that service could be to see a marketplace online where they can meet each other.

We don’t want to lay on conferences and master classes of our own, because we know that there are already great events being organised across the country. We would prefer to offer a platform, a calendar, to discover and offer your own, and partner with some of them – perhaps a map of Britain showing events up and down the country.

And we don’t want to re-invent the wheel by producing web content, apps, awards, books and videos, but instead signpost, curate, and shine a light on the great resources out there. So we imagined an iTunes-style catalogue of the best of the enterprise-web.

While we were not able to offer all of those ideas at launch, we made a start. We aimed to work quickly and effectively to launch – and with the backing of significant international brands including Google, Microsoft, McKinsey & Co., Barclays, Virgin Media and Yell – we have already, for example, started compiling a benefit package for every start-up in Britain. Some offers will be more useful to others depending on the type of business, but I hope that they may prompt people to take the first steps to go into business. Pledges in week 1 include services and benefits comprising advertising and marketing collateral, office space, broadband, finance and mentoring support for start-up companies. I am offering 25 hours of mentoring sessions, on a first come first served basis. If it is popular I will do more. I’ve spent a fair amount of my time mentoring, since starting Glasses Direct- ever since I reached the point where I felt I had something to teach.  I believe in it. I hope more organisations will come forward, like my co-founders and the corporates who have pledged offers and operational support to us. What you see on the website is just the start.

Similarly, we decided to begin starting to circulate the best useful content to startups by selecting 230 links to great content. We know this represents a fraction of what is already out there, but it is a start, and a start that doesn’t compromise our philosophy of not creating the content ourselves.

Those two functions are all there is to see at the moment at startupbritain.org, but in true Startup mentality, we decided to put them out there, as an ‘alpha’ version of the site, then to iterate and improve the platform based on suggestions and feedback. We want to develop the site in an agile way towards something that could, in time, become a transformative starting point for any business. As we build out the StartUp Britain offering over the next year and beyond, I will ensure that this non-profit making organisation remains stays true to our founding philosophy: that a better model for enterprise promotion consists of knowing what not to do, not competing with the private sector, taking responsibility from the government for delivering some services that they shouldn’t be trying to deliver, and the taxpayer shouldn’t have to fund in their entirety. StartUp Britain will give us the ability, knowing the needs of our businesses and communities to take control in supporting each other. It’s effective, public-spirited, and it can be a big part of restoring a sense of community to Britain.