Opinion

There’s a time and place for entrepreneurs to expect government support

7 min read

17 January 2017

Entrepreneurs are right to expect government support in creating a strong business environment, but should stand on their own two feet when it comes to trade shows like CES.

When it comes to government support, are business leaders expecting too much?

The Consumer Electronics Show has long been heralded as a hot bed of innovation, success stories and future faces of technology.

While the Las Vegas trade show upheld this reputation this year, Gary Sharpio called out something he felt was conspicuously absent, and very publicly: UK government support for the budding British entrepreneurs in attendance.

Other European nations back or fund their entrepreneurial attendees, and so he felt the UK government was sending a negative message to today’s promising British entrepreneurs and the wider startup community.

But did all the attending entrepreneurs expect this, and should the government support their attendance at these types of big ticket events?

As an entrepreneur myself, I believe the answer should be an emphatic: no.

How could we expect the government to even begin to select which businesses to support each year? What are we expecting them to do exactly? Host an impressive stand? Host fancy drinks events?

This isn’t its area of expertise, nor should it be. Trade shows like CES shouldn’t become a plaster fix or grand-standing by exhibitors. It would be a misallocation of capital.

Within business the human touch is essential, and while conferences are a great way for members of energetic teams to make face-to-face contacts and build on business relationships – something we at Momondo Group actively encourage – there is always the risk of an event becoming a “jolly”.

I firmly believe that spending your own money (or your company’s money like your own) on getting to and from a conference can focus the mind on making the most of it. It isn’t up to government support to make the most out of events for businesses – they have to do it themselves.

Entrepreneurship is defined by self-sufficiency. UK businesses should neither seek nor want government interjection. Entrepreneurialism is about disrupting the usual norms of business to achieve goals using determination, creativity and persistence – not looking to the state.

I believe that if entrepreneurs are committed to the job, they must first and foremost believe in themselves, and in entrepreneurial independence. Success should be earned through their own hard work and determination, not assisted by a hand out from government support.

A great entrepreneur will be proactive, and always find their own way through the busy business landscape. If an entrepreneur is wholeheartedly invested in their company, they’ll be invested in making those tricky judgment calls for the business and trusting their business acumen.

While this sounds like I’m suggesting the government shouldn’t help at all, that isn’t entirely true. Our government support should be committed to creating conditions which allow entrepreneurs to set-up and grow in the UK and abroad.

It’s easy to flag taxes, and it’s not always about the money, but this is an important underlying motivator. Firstly, a low tax environment helps businesses to thrive and invest in what matters, allowing every extra penny to be put into building a meaningful company.

Secondly, tax support to reward entrepreneurs is a great carrot for extended periods of self-delusion, sweat and focus to building something great, during what is bound to be a roller-coaster ride. Entrepreneurs Tax relief is an effective scheme which rewards entrepreneurial endeavours in an appropriate manner.

Thirdly, investment reliefs encourage bolder investments. I’ve mixed feelings about this one as it can encourage misallocation of capital and the wrong focus. I groan when I see an investment memorandum mentioning tax relief anywhere but right at the end as a footnote.

However, anything that broadens the range of investors into startups, and creates a British startup culture and vibrancy in this risky sector, is positive.  So, the fact is tax matters and makes an impact. We need more entrepreneurs – this is a practical, effective and very real way of supporting.

Sadiq Khan has commented on London’s thriving global footprint in the technology industry, and TechCity and Silicon Roundabouts are examples of positive government support and influence that can make a big difference.

Helping to provide cost-effective workspaces in an increasingly expensive city is, I would argue, increasingly important to retain our competitive edge.

From a travel perspective, TravelTechLabs is something truly valuable to the sector and should be mirrored across different areas to help ensure progress for those starting out.

Government purchasing power can also make a huge difference and I applaud the recent incubator created by GCHQ to support investment in the security industry – an example of creative and bold thinking to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Lastly, government support should be given to ensure we have the best talent in the world. This means having access to global talent, investing in the appropriate UK education to equip people with skills for the modern economy, and reducing the red tape in employment law.

The government support can help business in many ways, but not through dabbling in trade conferences.

Entrepreneurs need to embrace the importance of face-to-face meetings and networking, which all works best when hungry entrepreneurs are laser-focussed on what they want to achieve because they are funding their activities.

We don’t need introductions, fancy conference stands and drinks parties, we need the government support to reduce barriers to help entrepreneurs to open our world.

Hugo Burge is CEO of Momondo Group