The changing face of entrepreneurism

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By Professor Simon Down


Today, we live in an enterprising culture where, looking at the TV set alone, many people aspire to be an entrepreneur. That’s surely a positive thing, as long as impressions are tempered by the realities of running a business for what is likely to be much more than nine to five, Monday to Friday.

Until relatively recently, the entrepreneurial figure was seen to be somewhat duplicitous, involved in activities verging on the illegal, but with a heart of gold (think back to the Del Boy character from the popular BBC sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’). More recently, the mass view has shifted to a far more positive, credible and aspirational image – from hero to man or woman of the people; maverick and trailblazer to lone genius. For many people, entrepreneurialism is epitomised by what they experience on TV; the change in perception can be largely attributed to the rise in mainstream programmes about business, from ‘The Apprentice’ to ‘Dragons’ Den’, which we call ‘entre-tainment’. Today, there is also a growing number of media-savvy famous entrepreneurs, such as Sir Richard Branson, Irish businessman Michael O’Leary and ‘First Lady of Football’ Baroness Brady, who are on hand to comment on current affairs.

“We are now living in an era where the concept that one person can drive everything is prevalent,”

says Professor Simon Down, Director of our Institute for International Management Practice

“This shift in our society applauds the individualisation of businesses. A CEO, for example, is seen as someone who leads and drives the business single-handedly.”

It is important, however, that the value of teamwork isn’t forgotten when it comes to moving a business on, rather than simply delivering current work. Imagine a business where everyone acts like the boss.

More entrepreneurs and businesses can only be a good thing for the economy and the individuals involved in such ventures. This is especially true for graduates facing a marketplace where job opportunities are ever scarcer. It is important, however, that we avoid young, up-and-coming people from being ‘star-struck’ by entrepreneurialism; a sense check that is grounded in the realities would be welcome. Providing the right support will help here. David Bell, founder of business consultancy Simboc and one of our mentors at the university, is passionate about working with young people and believes that encouraging an entrepreneurial mind-set is essential; the earlier the better.

“The next generation is the key to future success and innovation,”

says David.

“If you have an idea, it is difficult to know where to go, what to do and who to speak to. As an ambassador for Science, Technology Engineering and Maths, I go into schools in Essex to talk about my experiences and the mistakes I have made, but most importantly, what I have learnt that has helped me to succeed.”

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