Merseyside Entrepreneurship Commission
From the outset the remit has been – how to promote entrepreneurship across Merseyside? To me, this comes down to one simple phrase – “create a more enterprising environment from which real entrepreneurs - such as companies like cheap carinsurance for women site www.womenscheapcarinsurance.org.uk, moneysupermarket.com, prudentplus.com, or confused.com, will emerge and flourish”.
Sounds simple enough – which is why we have taken over nine months,
· covered several hundred miles,
· spoken to hundreds of people,
· had nearly a thousand responses in one form or another
· and come out with 170-odd page report
just to confirm how simple a task it is.
The Report itself catalogues a great number of ideas that are worthy of consideration and I am not going to take you through the 170-odd pages point by point – which I am sure you will be relieved to hear – but talk a little bit about the thinking and philosophy that formed The Report itself.
There will be time later for debate when people have had a chance to actually read The Report – and – I would urge you to read it, digest and keep a firm hand on your knees to stop them jerking while you do.
I am sure that many of the ideas will be taken up and carried through, many will evolve into something else and others will just fall by the wayside. That is the nature of things.
I am also sure that there is nothing completely new. While there will be
· things that will be familiar – to some people things that were vaguely familiar – to some people – and
· things that are completely new – to some people.
That too is the nature of things.
Some will be simple. Some will be difficult. Some will be complex.
Some are obvious. Some are not so obvious.
Some are within the control of local partnerships. Some are only within the gift of government and that too, I am afraid, is the nature of things.
But what the Report does do – is set out the catalogue.
It provides a summary of where we are now and suggests where we should be. At the end of each section The Report sets out quite clearly:
· what could be done tomorrow - within existing resources.
· what could be done in the immediate future - with the additional funding that is available – as well as
· what should be done by national government.
However, I must emphasise that, - and although I have often wished it were so - The Commission had no constitutional powers of arrest and seizure. We have had to rely on goodwill and although the official notes of thanks are in The Report itself, I would once again like to publicly thank those that did give up their time to support the work we were doing.
But – returning to the basic premise – how do we create a more enterprising environment from which real entrepreneurs will emerge?
And here I should emphasise that a great deal of the Report is taken up looking at the culture of publicly funded Business Support and how to access it. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs do not go anywhere near publicly funded Business Support.
There is a viable and healthy private sector business support network available and they will continue to use that – if they wish – or – more pertinently – if they can afford it.
The latter point about cost needs to be taken with the fact that around 60% of Merseyside’s GDP comes from the public purse in one form or another – which I understand is actually not too dissimilar from other urban conurbations – but, logic suggests that if we want to stimulate more entrepreneurship, we should look at that 60% as a potential source of entrepreneurial talent.
They will not be sitting in coffee shops in Liverpool City Centre but are more than likely to be out on the tabloid dubbed ASBO estates in Norris Green, Arrowpark, Tower Hill or St Johns.
This leads me to one further comment before moving on to the main thrust of the Report. Definitions.
We spent a great deal of time trying to come up with a consensus around the definition of “entrepreneur”. Then “enterprise”. Then “social entrepreneurs” and “social enterprise”.
You will see from the Report how we tried to find a short form definition that would suit the purposes of The Commission’s work – and – how once put out to consultation – how, to be quite frank, it was soon turned to meaningless mush.
I appreciate it would be nice – very nice - and convenient – if everyone could agree – but …
…we won’t – especially in an area dominated by the Scouse justice gene – which means that everyone has to be heard and have their say – everyone’s view is valid - no matter how daft they are – but the simple truths are these:
· we no longer live in an age of laissez faire
· we do live in an age of social intervention – whether local, national or European
so the task is to try and stimulate and support people entering government regulated markets.
Enterprise and Entrepreneurship are not inter-changeable. Repeatedly we were told of public sector managers or head teachers who were entrepreneurial. How they made better use of their resources. Well, unfortunately, although they should be praised for what they were doing, they were just doing their jobs – what we – as taxpayers – expect of them. The real truth here is that we should be using them only as a benchmark to root out the ones that weren’t.
Someone who improves efficiency or productivity in an existing organisation is being enterprising, whoever started it up was the entrepreneur.
Similarly with “Social Enterprise”. Out of 38,000 businesses across Merseyside, 600 are classed as Social Enterprise. Please do not misunderstand me. I am, just as other Commissioners are, fully supportive and full of admiration for what is being done – and we all try and contribute when and how we can – but – in terms of driving forward the economic prosperity and security of Merseyside – the promotion of entrepreneurship – the privatisation of social services or charitable activity needs to be supported from other areas.
From this struggle to agree a definition you may guess that there are no quick fixes here. There may be a lot of easy wins but the Commission was very aware that what is needed is not just a change in the ay things are done – but the reasons why - a big change in thinking. In fact, a change in culture.
From the “why do you want to do that?” – to – “ why don’t you do that?”
From “why?” – to – “why not?”
This may sound like a small shift, but it will probably need quite a large cultural change. That may well take a generation to achieve.
So the work of the Commission and The Report itself focuses on trying to identify ways in helping both existing and potential entrepreneurs. It looks at ways in which what public support is available could be better targeted, more focused, more co-ordinated, more coherent and above all more sustainable – and - working with the private sector to deliver.
To achieve those goals what is needed is a more supportive education system, accessible business support, easier routes to finance and premises but above all they will need information on markets.
It is of no use engendering the entrepreneurial flame, the zeal to succeed – if there is no market for people to enter. And when they do, they should not be hidebound or restricted by red tape.
And wrapped around all that - they will need better networking support. The formal and informal routes to information.
Consequently, The Report falls under seven main headings:
· Business Support
There is no other reason except that they best describe the topics of concern that came up time and time again during consultation and discussion and appear in the order of priority.
· Education – learn what you want to do
· Finance – get the money to do it
· Business Support – find out what you need to do it
· Regulation – protect your back
· Markets – find out where to sell it
· Premises – find somewhere to sell it from
· Networks – find out how to sell more
…which is… all part of an education process – which takes you back to… the top.
However, none of these seven sisters stands alone. They are interconnected and inextricably linked. The Report just separates them for an attempt at clarity. Each depend upon each other and some will, in the real world, come in a different sequence….. especially the bit about protecting your back!
It is for this reason that Education forms a major part of The Report – but – what The Report is suggesting is better education in its widest sense. There is a lot that can be done from primary to higher education and through life long learning but it is not the panacea.
We are aware of the dangers of initiative overload, but we are also aware that education to inform young people about business – spend less time on Henry VIII’s six wives and more on who exactly where Cunard, Pilkington, Lever, Brassey – and further afield to Rowntree and Cadbury.
Allow young people to make the connection between past entrepreneurship – wealth – philanthropy and social intervention – why we have the Walker Art Gallery, The Tate, Port Sunlight - so that as we now come full circle looking from a society that wants more social intervention – we will need higher taxation – in place of philanthropy – which still requires great wealth – which requires great entrepreneurs.
If we can achieve a business savvy education system people will come through thinking of self-employment not just employment and worse – benefit – but they will then need better, more targeted, more focused business support – whether private or public.
In fact The Report makes the point that many entrepreneurs have succeeded despite a lack of formal education – many have succeeded despite having a formal education – but what came back time and time again was the phrase - “I wish I had known more”. This was often followed by - “And I wish my employees knew more”
The point then is that formal education may not actually be delivering the knowledge base, skill sets or conducive environment in which the entrepreneurial spark can ignite. The overriding aim of The Report is to create such an environment – not just in education – but across the whole of Merseyside.
The fundamental drive has got to be to create a more enterprising environment from which real entrepreneurs will flourish and emerge.
So – without an official constitutional position, everything in The Report is offered as recommendations – but – with the knowledge that they have come from real people, doing the real job in the real world – and as part of a wider swell of opinion and support that comes down to one thing “something needs to be done”.
And my guess – having spent the last nine months travelling the length and breadth of Merseyside – is that we – collectively – know what needs to be done. I know I am preaching to the converted. It is a time for change. It is a time for action. It is a time to move forward.
The tricky bit – as I have said – is how, where, with what – and by whom? In other words – what is the mechanism for change?
The Report itself, while setting out the shopping list, also attempts to address this by suggesting five things:
First – one lead body.
There should be one body – whether new or existing – to be charged with resolving what everyone in this room knows to be a problem – too many organisations. It is not for The Commission , nor does The Report say who or what the lead body should be. That is probably something for Govt Office North West – but whatever is decided:
· work needs to be done on establishing which organisation or agency is best placed, if any, to take on the role of co-ordinating body to develop a strategic education and business support plan across Merseyside.
· this body would recognise that one size does not fit all, just as no one agency can deliver everything
Its role should be to:
o select other organisations to develop and deliver business support services at local points of entry
o develop and maintain a cohesive marketing and information service
o then monitor quality of delivery and content of such services and,
o and – on either completion of task – or failure to deliver – have the power to wind up and switch off the lights!
This will go a long way to establish a coherent and cohesive environment in which people will come out education thinking more about business, more about self-employment than employment – and more about enterprise in general. It will create an environment in which people of potential will develop.
The aim is to find people who want to go out and meet. Challenge and perhaps change the world. As I said in the Daily Post last Friday. I have been in the position of having to seek out talent.
But - you do not do it by going out to look – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do that. Ways have to be found to bring that talent to you. To create an environment when they feel confident enough to step forward. Not wait to be asked. But have the belief to say – I can do that. Give me a chance.
In short – we do not have to de-risk future – just remove the stigma that accompanies failure. We should be encouraging people to have a go – and not worry too much about failure.
To do that – to put that system in place needs one body with the strategic vision – and constitutional clout – to bring it about. Having done that – people have to know about it.
That is why the second over-arching recommendation is – one clear brand.
With the overall aim of using education to build a more Business savvy population the next need is to provide ways for them to find clear and easily accessible information on all the things like fiancé, business support, premises and regulation. To achieve this – a pan-Merseyside branding exercise is recommended so that people are clear where they go for support and advice – whether private or public. So:
“U-Can make it in Merseyside”
OK – I know what you are thinking – why isn’t it something snappy like:
The Merseyside Entrepreneurial Business Support Partnership?
I know that doesn’t role off the tongue like - “U-Can” – but we are trying to avoid sounding like the other couple of hundred organisations out there.
We don’t want it to tell everyone what “it “ does – but suggest what “they” can do.
The idea is to play on the “U” – to follow through the principle of providing a supportive environment to encourage the individual – “U” can do it – not “we” – or “together” – but “U” – stand alone – do it yourself – reach your potential.
It is also an adaptive branding:
Ø “U” Can find it in Merseyside
Ø “U” can do it in Merseyside
Ø “U” can locate it in Merseyside etc
But – above all this is not a suggestion that everyone now ditches their own branding and adopts this – as I can already sense Downtown Liverpool thinking up an alternative – but – before they do – this one is free! No one should have to pay for this – nor lose their own identity.
It just becomes the umbrella brand under which everyone can operate – slot in and out – run short term, mid term and long term strategies – “U-Can” join Downtown Liverpool, “U-Can” join a Chamber, “U-Can” belong to the CBI, “U-Can” contact Business Link – and so on.
Will this create more confusion in an already confused and crowded market? I would suggest that we have that already and the way to signal change and introduce clarity is to carry out a re-branding exercise – and not try and promote something in which people may have already lost faith.
Above all – the U-Can brand should allow everyone, from school through to workplace, to know where to go for help – and if one particular organisation hasn’t got the answer – they should be able to refer – to say to people – we do not know – but “U-Can” contact such-and-such, secure in the knowledge that a referral will not be seen as a negative!
This of course is nothing more than networking – and to assist this:
Third recommendation – an entrepreneurs’ forum
Under the U-can branding there should be an online network or web portal.
[ CHANGE SLIDE]
This U-Can web portal is driven first and foremost by the entrepreneurs’ forum – where Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur can post and chat about what it is that concerns them. One of the things that came out of our findings was that most entrepreneurs did not go directly to agencies for help – did not trust, in their words, “dodgy experts” - but felt more comfortable to other entrepreneurs. This will allow them to do that:
The Forum will allow free, frank and unmoderated exchanges:
“how do I become a window cleaner – I did it by doing a.b.c – but watch out for big Eric or he’ll kneecap you!”
“how do U get past that clown in such-a such agency?”
It will also allow the agencies to monitor the traffic – not moderate the traffic – but monitor it to see what is really on entrepreneurs’ minds and react and tailor services to those concerns
It will allow a “Bring and Barter” section…
This section is the “Bring and Barter – where businesses and entrepreneurs can go and swap/sell/buy stuff
“I’m looking for a “quick change gearbox” for my “Delta Rockwell Engine Lathe” – anyone got one?” [If anyone is looking for one there’s one on e-Bay right now – and you’ve got about 6 hours left to bid over $1000 – at time of delivery]
“I’m a small printer – will do LH’s in return for VAT Returns”
It will also have a Regulation section
The legal Stuff – what’s coming up, what needs consultation – wand an archive section of what has happened – a resource that will make it easier for people to keep up to date, or keep in touch with what they need to know
It will also have a Business Diary Planner
So if you are planning an event – you can come and check what is already happening – and then set your event not to clash – it will also have football fixtures!
The site will, in future have video and audio links so that events like this will be available to people who can not get away from the day jobs.
This website is – now – live and will run as a public-private research and development tool by the ICDC in co-operation with the Chambers - with financial sponsorship from merseyfilm and Deloitte – and advertising income from users - to see what we can make it. It can be as big or as small as our imaginations – it is up to us…
You can play with it a bit outside – and although some sections are still in beta version - all the ads are paid for – and I’m grateful to the “early adopters” for supporting it. [Blackburne House Group; Calderia; Making It; Mando Group]
After six months the ICDC and the Chambers of Commerce will review the situation and decide whether the site will continue as a publicly supported venture – or – my entrepreneurial preference – the IP licensed to a commercial operator along same lines as perhaps a Camelot or ITV.
Sounds a bit fanciful – consider its impact if rolled out across the UK? If you can’t – you future belongs in enterprise – not entrepreneurship.
So we have a lead body setting strategy and monitoring deliver, we have a clear business support branding; we have a virtual network and development tool, but what about the most important area – markets.
So - fourth – markets. The aim should not be to create more coffee shops or hairdressers – nor simply move pieces round the board by making procurement more efficient – all of which are welcome – but the main aim should be to find, encourage and nurture big players. People with big ideas. People who see the world as stretching beyond the confines of the M57 one way and the M53-M56 interchange the other. People who want to become Entrepreneurs of scale. Entrepreneurs who are termed Active Changers.
The aim is not to churn out 3000 entrepreneurs a month or year to meet output and impact targets but to recognise that in any age of great change there are probably only a handful of entrepreneurs that make a difference – Bibby, Cunard, Pilkington, Tate, Walker. The goal here should be to create the environment for them to emerge – but – what they will need is market intelligence. There is no reason, in this digital age, why
Merseyside cannot find half-a-dozen people with the potential to do what Bill Gates did from Seattle, what Michael Dell did from Austin or, perhaps more appropriate for me, what Walt Disney did from his Uncle Robert’s garage.
The recommendation here is to establish an independent think tank to both provide this market intelligence to the SME and emerging entrepreneurs – but also to act as a counterweight and/or contributor to the southern based and London-centric think tanks that formulate public policy. No matter what that policy is – from pension fund investment rules to road pricing – it will impact on and have difficulties and opportunities for business and entrepreneurs.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Which brings us to the fifth recommendation – how do we keep the spotlight on Entrepreneurship? Not allow it to pass as politician’s attention span wanes, the search for a sexier headline continues and short term funding regimes move on to other targets.
How can we keep encouraging role models and mentors; angels and local businesses to keep engaging with schools, colleges, higher education, incubators and so on? At one time at Mersey TV I discovered that at any one time we had 35 people out on “partnership arrangements” – that was 10% of the full time staff! Needless to say the social enterprise rulebook was rejigged slightly!
So how can we keep people engaged once the first waves of enthusiasm pass? The need is to continue to have focal points like this – so – why not have an annual event that concentrates on Entrepreneurship – perhaps linked to Enterprise Week – but focusing on Merseyside Entrepreneurs?
Manchester has Bex – Business Enterprise Exchange – and here again is another lesson. I was in Manchester on Friday talking to a few of their movers and shakers and I came home thinking – like MSIF – “…we do really need to get out more.”
If Manchester can do it – why shouldn’t Merseyside?
Let’s move the awards, the seminars, the Business Fair, the role models, mentors and angels to one week a year when we can all – from primary school to silver entrepreneurs – can focus on entrepreneurship. A week when we can run:
Ø things like Dragon’s Dens and The Apprentice and things the Enterprise Olympics;
Ø run master classes and schools competitions,
Ø have visiting lectures and international conferences, and
Ø induct people into the Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.
This week – with little resource and time – we have organised a series events that illustrate what we mean:
· Today we have the report itself – and a precursor to Dragons Den - Dragons Doorstep
· Tomorrow audiences with Steve Morgan in Wirral and Tom Bloxham in St Helens
· Wednesday we have a phone in on Radio Merseyside about the next big thing with younger entrepreneurs
· Thursday we have a Business Monopoly Competition at Roughwood School in Knowsley - during which six schools will take part
· all week Radio Merseyside will be running case studies
· Radio City, the Daily Post and the Echo will promote what we are doing
It shows what can be done across Merseyside with a little thought – and co-operation.
And - I am very pleased to announce this morning two new initiatives:
One - that as we are seeking to make Entrepreneurs week an annual event – to help change the culture – The Capital of Culture Company have agreed to help significantly underwrite this event for the next three years – so that by 2008 – it will build – it will help change the culture.
And, two, as we are talking about culture I am also very pleased to announce that on top of this – National Museums Liverpool have also agreed to feature Entrepreneurship as part of the new Liverpool Museum. They will look at entrepreneurship from the moment King John decided to make the little creek his gateway to Ireland and the day someone had the idea to build the world’s first wet dock.
And incidentally, that site, where entrepreneurship probably began in Liverpool in 1207 and then so much of the world – could now be preserved under the Grosvenor Development – let’s hope it will be as it probably has more archaeological significance to Liverpool and Merseyside than the Roma amphitheatres has to Chester.
With this support from NML – with a rebranding exercise – with an annual Entrepreneur’s Week – with support from the Culture Company we can ensure that entrepreneurship remains centre stage into the future.
So the aim has not been to take the easy option of suggesting a few eye-catching events that would be seen, used and benefit only small selective groups, but something that would be sustainable, benefit the sub-region as a whole and be as open and accessible to as many potential entrepreneurs as possible.
Talent is scarce. The net has to be cast as wide as possible.
The Commission’s view therefore is that what is required is a consistent and sustainable policy that will create a positive and supportive environment out of which entrepreneurs will emerge and develop.
As such, although this is the Final Report from the Commission, it too should be seen as part of a work in progress, offering some ideas for future implementation. With the presentation of this Report the work of the Commission should be done. It will be up to others, better constitutionally founded, better resourced, to take what they can from our recommendations and see what progress they can make.
I originally took on the role of Chairman for one reason – I was convinced that there was an opportunity to do something different – something worthwhile – something that would leave a lasting legacy.
Business is not just about profits for shareholders and reinvestment, but about the social contributions business makes, not just through philanthropy, but through direct taxation on its own profits – bit in indirect taxation through its employees earnings. Behind it all are usually a few entrepreneurs.
The more successful we can become in building entrepreneurs, in building wealth, the more we will have for social policy investment. The more we will have to support social enterprise.
To summarise then – the aim is not to alight on a few short high profile but short term events that would benefit only the few lucky enough to take part – but to build a more lasting, perhaps permanent legacy.
The Report itself catalogues what needs to be done in specific areas – but what is still needed is some form of delivery mechanism.
To assist in this the Report also makes five co-ordinating or over-arching recommendations…
· One lead agency to develop a strategic overview – including monitoring delivery
· What we need is a more focused education system leading to better targeted business support
· A Northern based think tank to provide market intelligence, future trends and counter-weight to London
· An umbrella or over-arching brand that is easily recognised and remembered
· A web based entrepreneurs forum which can test and guide policy and need
· An annual entrepreneurship event to continue building – year on year – the generational shift in culture
And on the latter – things are already happening:
· Capital of Culture will support the event for the next three years
· NML will put entrepreneurship at the heart of the new Liverpool Museum.
And finally – although The Report makes it clear that the work of the Commission should now be done, it also makes the point of what happens next?
There are bound to be follow up meetings but while I personally am not looking for another day job, I would like to stay close to see what happens in the near future – and I would like now to personally invite the representatives of all the main agencies to come together here – at the ICDC – sometime in February for a feedback event.
But one last thing. I am a Scouser. I know the temptation to pick, snipe and snarl is almost irresistible. I know it is part of the fun.
But there are no agendas here other than to say – we have listened – we have catalogued – we are trying to make suggestions and recommendations that pull together everything people have been saying for some time.
It may not seem radical. It may not seem revolutionary, but it wouldn’t actually work if it was. It is though a part of a general swell of felling that is now even engaging the Chancellor himself. That swell of feeling that says something needs to be done.
It doesn’t matter that someone somewhere has already said something or is already doing something. When running Brookside the tabloids were constantly asking whether I paid any attention to what was happening on the other competing soaps storylines – my answer was always no because:
· one - Brookside had no real competition – it was a unique brand
· two – even if we did similar things – since Bill Shakespeare there has never been anything new under the sun,
· three – no matter what they did – we would do it better, and,
· four – it never usually happened because what we did in Liverpool – the rest of the country usually followed!
That’s what we should all feel about what we can do for entrepreneurship on Merseyside!
That is what we need to do to build belief and confidence.
You all know what needs to be done – it’s now time to get on and do it.
I hope the the Report helps you - by becoming the catalyst for change.