Digital technology can unleash Britain’s entrepreneurial potential

Every year thousands of people up and down the country decide to take the leap and become entrepreneurs. Whether it’s the digital start-up in Brixton, the fledgling exporter in Dundee or the advanced manufacturer in Nottingham, the UK is one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business.

The numbers bear this out. In 2016, nearly 660,000 companies were established according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs – a 50,000 increase from the previous year. Since the financial crisis, the government has incentivised people to set up businesses while rapid changes in digital technology have helped make it easier than ever to develop a new business. Super-fast broadband connectivity, the widespread adoption of smartphones and new platforms such as eBay, YouTube and Amazon have changed the way that entrepreneurs and businesses market, invest, hire and sell.

While we should proudly talk up the UK’s entrepreneurial appetite, it is also clear that the country isn’t currently meeting its full potential. New figures in a report we have commissioned, The Great British Enterprise Opportunity, highlight that there are over 70,000 people across the UK who could be encouraged to start up a business of their own. These are men and women across the country who have the skills to start their own business but choose not to.

Starting a new business can be daunting and satisfying, stressful and energising. It is therefore unsurprising that so many people who might consider setting up a business, decide not to. There are multiple factors which prevent people from taking that final leap. Polling carried out for this project found that the most cited reasons were financial risk and the lack of information about where to start.

So, what can be done to improve access to and provision of information, advice and guidance for budding entrepreneurs? Businesses still overwhelmingly access advice face to face and often use consultants or accountants as their primary source of advice. This raises the possibility of providing information in new and innovative ways using digital technology.

While some would-be entrepreneurs need greater clarity and access to information before taking the new-business plunge, there are other businesses currently operating that could grow with new digital technology. Our research found that over 1.6million small businesses could expand if they became more digitally savvy. Micro businesses especially often lack the digital skills, knowledge and know-how to take their business to the next level.

The barriers to growth – both for individuals looking to start their own business, and SMEs and micro businesses looking to expand – are real and are holding the UK back. We need action if we are going to solve this problem.

One solution could be the creation of an online digital platform which provides people with all the relevant information and advice needed to set up and grow a business in one place. An Enterprise Account which can be accessed on your smartphone and which contains everything from how to register a business, bookkeeping services, tax liabilities to how to access specific funds as well as mentor and training schemes could make a huge difference.

Making it easier to set up and grow a business could boost economic growth across the country, increase competition and innovation and create thousands of new jobs. Reducing complexity by using digital technology in an effective way could unleash the nation’s entrepreneurial potential.

This article is based on a piece originally published in The Telegraph.

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