Interviews

The race for growth: International entrepreneurs

6 min read

20 June 2013

Britain flies a formidable flag for start-ups but we are only one of many nations seeking to capture international entrepreneurs.

The race for growth is fast turning into a sprint as more and more cities and countries around the world scent the possibilities of economic recovery.

Last night in his annual Mansion House speech the chancellor made the point that “the British economy is healing. We are moving from rescue to recovery”. He may be right but we are only now one of many nations seeking to move into the commercial fast lane.

Britain flies a formidable flag for start-ups with record numbers being created. However, I received a healthy dose of perspective last night at the London launch of Start Me Up Hong Kong.

Ariadne Capital’s Julie Meyer moderated a superb panel about the business opportunities for growth companies and brilliantly caught the mood in describing “the red blooded capitalist community of Hong Kong”.

The drive of the city to capture growth companies and the focus on capturing international entrepreneurs is simply phenomenal. No road blocks to growth here. It’s all about business.

Right now, Hong Kong, a community of only seven million people is one of the top handful of business destinations in the world for both inward and outward bound investment. That’s a fact you will either take for granted or see as a staggering achievement worth learning from.

It’s a mantle achieved not by accident but by sheer focus on creating the business conditions necessary for growth. That means a focus on opportunity, tax and legislative regimes that are completely pro-growth.

Once the preserve of big companies, the Invest Hong Kong workload has seen entrepreneur investments grow from 13 per cent to 20 per cent in just a year.

It reflects the point that more and more entrepreneurs have global opportunities. Businesses that just a few years ago might rightly have confined their ambitions to national borders have jumped to international trade in a single leap.

When we founded our firm we expected to be a UK focused business for some time. It was a view that prevailed for about six weeks before our first international opportunity arose. Since then we have increasingly worked around the world on assignments, not because we had the initial ambition to do so but because we have found that we easily can. Now, we are thinking about our first overseas offices because the opportunities are just too good to miss.

It’s a part of a transformational change in outlook on the opportunities of overseas trade. So, countries need to be ever better prepared in their ability to attract businesses who increasingly see the world in global terms.

One entrepreneur present at the Hong Kong event had set up successful businesses not in ten sectors but in ten countries.

World trade used to be the preserve of GE or KPMG and many more global corporations that use a lot of letters in their names. International investment belonged to the big players. Look at the global trade outlook today and you will find entrepreneurs increasingly at the top table.

That opportunity is one that will only increase as destinations savvy up to the emerging firepower of entrepreneurs once their ambition is unleashed. A big part of the message of the Invest Hong Kong event was not only the promotion of the place but the encouragement of the mindset that international business is within reach of a great many more companies than currently take it.

This is what global recovery looks like. Once it used to be about countries hoping for the next inward investment project. Today it is about helping to create the can-do climate that actually helps create trade rather than just waiting for it to happen.

The prime minister often talks about a “global race” and it’s a fair analogy. But the point is that there is no finishing line, it’s a never-ending marathon.

Historically Britain has been a major beneficiary of inward investment and it towers over other European nations as a gateway economy to access not only the Single Market but the rest of the world.

Yet, you can’t help but wonder what race we believe we are in. As Europe staggers towards some semblance of economic rally, other parts of the world are booming and Hong Kong is a leading example of that growth surge.

What’s more is that British expats are a major part of that go for growth mentality. The room last night was crammed with Brits who had packed their bags many years ago to follow the opportunities of growth markets.

Britain needs to be restyled as the Hong Kong of the west. An ambition economy as focused on the needs and aspirations of trade as any Asian tiger.

That is the sort of commercial athleticism that we need if we are to win in the race to recovery.

Michael Hayman is co-founder of the campaigns firm Seven Hills and co-founder of the national campaign for entrepreneurs StartUp Britain