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Serial entrepreneurship and mentors dominate business growth trends

New research from insurance firm Hiscox has shed light on the level of global serial entrepreneurship, and found mentorship plays a huge role in success.
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In a survey involving 4,000 owners and senior executives in businesses with fewer than 50 employees across Europe (the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Spain) and the US, serial entrepreneurship has emerged as a dominant trend.

However, from the sample of six countries the UK emerged as the nation with the lowest proportion of serial entrepreneurs – with 20 per cent revealing they were running more than one small business.

Hiscox, in its annual DNA of an Entrepreneur report, found that serial entrepreneurs make up 35 per cent of those planning to introduce a new product in the next year, and nearly half of all exporters.

Entrepreneurs running more than one small business

Serial entrepreneurship

The UK has the fewest serial entrepreneurs of the countries surveyed

Joe Gardham is one such serial entrepreneur who took part in the survey, and he spoke exclusively to Real Business about his journey.

As the founder of Social Vision Communications and co-founder of Spark:York, he cited hard work and evolution as the key metrics of his success. Not resting on his laurels and bringing in the right professionals at the right time has been crucial.

On the subject of serial entrepreneurship, and how he’s juggled the responsibilities of two companies whilst also setting up a third, he said: “I have taken on a small team of staff, which has allowed me to focus on more than one company.

Spark:York Joe Gardham

Serial entrepreneur Joe Gardham

“The biggest challenge for me is letting go and delegation. My companies are my brainchilds, and it’s hard to hand that over to somebody else, so building a trusted team is absolutely key to this being a success. It’s early days, so we’ll see how it goes – eventually I’d like to reduce my involvement in my consultancy and leave it with staff.”

While Gardham has a career spanning a number of different jobs, his two co-founders at Spark:York are younger “Millennials”. It is this generation who are most likely to identify as serial entrepreneurs, with Hiscox finding nearly half of all under-30s were involved with more than one company.

“When I first met Sam [Leach] and we discussed the idea, he went away and came back with a fully-costed, 137-page business plan. I’m an ideas person, and having somebody who can change those ideas into a credible plan was a huge draw,” Gardham explained.

“Tom [Mckenzie] brings an amazing can-do attitude to the team – kicking down closed doors when I’m hesitating and thinking about all the dangers lurking behind it. This enthusiasm, enviable naivety and passion is really inspiring and has ensured we’ve continued to move forward as a team. Without these very different but complementary skills, Spark:York wouldn’t have got this far.”

Another strong factor influencing entrepreneurship at a younger age was the use of a business mentor. Younger business owners and managers, the survey concluded, are much more likely to have used a mentor than their older peers (55 per cent of under-30s compared with 24 per cent of over-60s). The figure for under 39s stands at 49 per cent.

Use of a personal mentor by age

Business mentorship in Europe

Those under 40 are far more likely to engage with a mentor

Pip Murray, founder of healthy food brand Pip & Nut, is an advocate of utilising someone who has been there, done it and fundamentally understands that the challenges are when scaling a startup brand.

Pip Murray of Pip and Nut

Pip Murray has used outside expertise to grow her business

“My mentor is Giles Brook, founding partner of BEAR and CEO of Vita Coco EMEA. Giles joined Pip & Nut in an advisory capacity in November 2014 and has since become the lead investor following a fundraise in January 2016.

“Since I had no prior commercial or business experience, Giles has supported me in developing my skill set as well as offering advice on how best to grow the brand from a strategic point of view.”

The early challenges Murray had involved finding the right factory. The combination of having a nut-product, along with being a first time business owner, meant this took eight months to sort out. She also touched on managing cash flow, something she believes is “incredibly important” during the early stages of a new business. “It is crucial that growth is managed at a steady rate.”

“Having a solid business plan and total faith in my product helped me persuade the factory to take a punt on me and invest in new CAPEX needed to produce the products,” she added. “Regarding the financial challenges, raising money via crowdfunding and then later learning to work with banks for support was a really important learning curve.”

In its ninth year of carrying out its DNA of an Entrepreneur report, Hiscox also discovered business concentration is a concern. One in six firms interviewed are dependent on one customer for more than half of its revenue. The average respondent relies on its biggest customer for over a quarter of its revenues, with the problem most acute in the transport and business services sectors.

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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