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Mark Prisk: Startup lessons from the States

Prisk, who is taking part in the Web Mission for the second year in a row, says this year’s batch of tech firms are more mature – and competition is even fiercer. He writes to Real Business from across the pond to tell us about his trip:

"Much has changed since our visit last year, financially and economically – and Silicon Valley has not been immune. If you’re in hardware, your business has shed jobs like any other sector.

"But there’s still something different here, which acts as a breeding ground for innovation. I was most impressed for example by Kirill Makharinsky of

"Makharinsky went to Oxford and was one of the first members of Oxford Entrepreneurs, a student society which has led the way in helping our brightest get hands-on business experience.

"A mathematician, Makharinsky has worked in Silicon Valley for several years and was very clear about the keys to helping more young people start their own firms.

"First, get their hands dirty before they leave education. Nothing beats practical experience and that opportunity at Oxford gave him both a taste for enterprise and some great contacts.

"Second, those now running their firms in their twenties are the right role models. Not multi-millionaires in their fifties, but younger entrepreneurs whom teenagers can relate to. Makharinsky is a classic example himself.

"And third, startups need seed money, which is best coming from other entrepreneurs in the business. It keeps the investment personal and direct and avoids the formality and complexity of larger funding routes.

"Three good tips and a good start to the week.

"However as I watch the news of the US car industry bailout, I can’t help but feel that, rather than focusing on older failing sectors, we in politics need to help the next generation to start, grow and prosper.

"Next I’m off to San Jose University to see how they have established themselves as a key player in growing businesses, in a range of sectors. Watch this space."

Mark Prisk is shadow minister for business and a Conservative MP. He ran his own business for ten years before entering parliament in 2001.

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