As I glanced out of the window at the palace of Westminster I was in what one old-hand described as “the most exciting meeting I’ve ever attended at Portcullis House.”David Cameron and his advisers where, I presume, somewhere about the place putting the finishing touches to the prime minister’s address to Bradford Chamber of Commerce, and the nation, for the following day. In this he told us that “there is no alternative.” It was the unexpected return of TINA! The room was packed to bursting point. We had come to talk alternatives. Crowdfunding and alternative finance, to be exact. This was the inaugural meeting of the Westminster Crowdfunding Forum launched by MP Barry Sheerman in the wake of Deep Impact, the first national crowdfunding conference, the previous week (described by The City Grump). What a difference in tone and in outlook! We had come to talk about, and help create and expand, the alternatives. The room was packed with smart, entrepreneurial people who know a thing or two about making real things happen. But also with ideas, plans and proposals to create real alternatives. Create real jobs, real businesses and real wealth. To empower ordinary people. Give them new alternatives to a life on benefits and put them back in control of their own lives again. To pursue and expand lending without banks (since they continue to refuse), expand investing on an unprecedented scale, in a way we can all participate in. Most of all, to create tens of thousands of new opportunities for fledgeling entrepreneurs to create their own jobs, their own livings, as well as jobs and livelihoods for others. To discuss and celebrate the early successes and find ways to work together to expand this alternative approach. An alternative that works without bail-outs or huge government funding, or all the massive attrition and waste we’ve grown used to. Just another talking shop then? Hardly. The room was crammed with real entrepreneurs who have already taken real action and created new jobs and new businesses. Or rather, created engines of change that allow others to do just that for themselves and for others. Were they looking for a handout? Emphatically not! They’re not that type. What they want is for the FSA and the government to be less obstructive of innovation. A smidgeon of recognition and support would be a nice bonus (and much more appropriate in my view). These are the entrepreneurs and innovators who ensure TARA – “there are real alternatives” – because they create them. In my opinion, this is where the government should be focussing us – not asking us all to stare, with TINA, into the abyss. If the government can afford to plough ?14bn into the banking sector, then they should find ways to use just a tiny fraction of that money and support to expand on alternatives. To help expand an industry that can make a difference; starting right now. When you come to think of it, TINA is almost always wrong – at least if you’re an innovator. As Donald Rumsfeld pointed out, as well as the “known knowns” there are the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknows”. Or, to put it another way, there are always alternatives if you look for them. TINA usually tells you more about the speaker than what they speak of. That their options have been exhausted – or at least the ones they can see. Predatory capitalism has failed. Conventional wisdom is bankrupt. The world has changed and the safe path turned out to lead to austerity and increasing poverty for increasing numbers of real people. It’s time to find the alternatives and start to really get behind them. It was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as “doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” Business secretary Vince Cable, who has been a champion of alternative finance, opened the Deep Impact conference which preceded last week’s forum. He for one clearly recognises that crowdfunding and other alternative finance options could play a major role in renewing the UK’s economy. If the government wants entrepreneurs and innovators to lead us out of this recession – and they say they do – then it’s time to get behind them in more than just words. It’s time to stop doing the same things over and over again, and expecting new results. It’s time to recognise that the old levers no longer work because the world has changed forever. It’s time to listen to the innovators and entrepreneurs who understand this new world, post-internet and after the social communications revolution changed it, who are creating the new alternatives. You want entrepreneurs to lead us all out of recession and this financial nuclear winter? Then listen to them. Listen to their vision. Listen to your own business secretary and start to think some new thoughts. Start to work with them to explore the massive potential of the new alternatives which are right there – under your very nose. Barry E. James is CEO at AngelRevolutions. We’ll be discussing crowdfunding and other forms of finance at Real Business Funding on Friday 15 March. The event is free to business owners. You can participate via Twitter at #unleashingfinance.
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