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Startup Britain: a report card

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It’s been a quarter since Startup Britain started to beat the drum of British enterprise. We ask: how is Startup Britain doing?

Startup Britain was launched on March 28, 2011 and immediately created a firestorm of media coverage. Generally welcomed by the press and the entrepreneurial community, Startup Britain became the subject of intense social media scrutiny.

Critics of Startup Britain knit-picked the website, accusing it of only offering marketing deals for large corporates, directing visitors to an American design site, and getting the message totally wrong about the government’s involvement. In short, critics accused Startup Britain of being a load of hot air.

How wrong they were. Statistics from Experian show that following the launch of Startup Britain, online searches for startup advice rose by 25 per cent. Yes, some of that can be attributed to the huge media coverage generated by the launch, but it also shows that Startup Britain is a meaty campaign that is changing Britons’ relationship to entrepreneurship.

What did Startup Britain learn from the social media furore?

Emma Jones, currently Startup Britain’s interim chief executive, tells me the initial social media backlash was a bit of a slap in the face, but the lesson was invaluable for Startup Britain.

“We launched with a very high profile, but took a small knock. It was a starting point for us – we learnt very quickly to listen to your customers via Twitter and other social media channels and respond quickly.

“After launching, we tried to respond to some of the criticisms, and we’ve gone from strength to strength since.”

The latest statistics for Startup Britain are certainly impressive for a campaign started just three months ago. No one can claim the team hasn’t been busy.

Since launch, the Startup Britain website has received over 140,000 unique visits, the Startup Britain Twitter account has over 6,000 followers, more than 1,500 hours of mentoring have been pledged to 131 young startups, and over 3,500 Blackberry-sponsored startup guides have been downloaded.

But Emma Jones says these aren’t the real KPIs that Startup Britain are working towards – instead, the campaign wants to see the number of startups increase and, ultimately, generate economic growth.

“The big figure that drives me is that although 50 per cent of people in Britain dream of starting a business, only five per cent are doing something about it. We want to increase that five per cent to 20 or 25 per cent. That’s our one clear measurement: people actually starting a business,” she says.

To support the campaign, Startup Britain has signed on some heavyweight sponsors. Its founding sponsors are AXA, Barclays, Dell, MITIE, PayPal, Microsoft, Intel and Intuit. Not necessarily companies that you’d automatically associate with entrepreneurialism, but surely not a good enough reason for Startup Britain to turn them away?

One big point that Emma Jones stresses, is that contrary to popular belief, Startup Britain is not at all supported by the taxpayer. 

This myth was created by the launch itself, which featured Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk. Slapping Cameron’s face on the Startup Britain website probably didn’t help, either.

“We still haven’t taken a penny from the government. Funding comes entirely from our eight founding sponsors – plus the pro-bono services and time given by our supporters and founders. We’re not government-supported.”

So what’s next for Startup Britain? It’s obviously made a good, high-profile start, but how does Jones plan to grow the campaign?

“We went quiet for a few weeks after launching, and we’re now truly in the business of delivering the campaign.” 

She explains that the campaign is relying on three channels: its website, its events, and its lobbying activity:

  • The website will relaunch in September, led with a “Startup Local” campaign, where people can launch grassroots programmes in local areas, featuring local deals and events for local businesses.
  • Following from the very successful “Marketing 4 Start Up Britain” free week-long series (over 500 SMEs signed up to the masterclasses), Startup Britain will organise two more weeks this year. In October, there will be a Technology for Startup Britain week, and in November there will be a Finance for Startup Britain week. The Startup Britain founders are also planning a bus tour around the country to spread the message and get Startup Local launched.
  • Startup Britain will continue to work with government. The campaign has “very healthy relationships” with Number 10 and with the Department for Business, enabling Startup Britain to represent Britain’s startups at the highest levels.

So there you have it – a packed programme for Startup Britain in the coming months. 

Its detractors are sure to keep knocking Startup Britain for its relationship with large corporates, but really, who cares? 

Ultimately, this campaign is about making the Great British public realise that they, too, can start their own business: it shouldn’t be an unfathomable task.

So long as Startup Britain continues to inspires Tom, Dick and Harry to start their own businesses, and as long as it continues to challenge the public on its views of entrepreneurship, then they’re still doing good by our books.

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