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Gerard Hendrik Hofstede called National Culture the Software of the Mind in his seminal book by that name. Many things about growing up in America support entrepreneurship. The US is a profoundly individualistic culture, and celebrates “the little guy” who against all odds is able to achieve. This accounts for the success of Forest Gump, the movie that the world couldn’t understand but each American loved.

I encountered the British love for effortless success at INSEAD where I did my MBA in 1997. Whereas I had planned my INSEAD adventure for 7 years studying for the GMAT, getting someone to edit my entry essays, and working to build just the right profile for entrance, the Brits in my promotion would tell me that they hadn’t really given their entrance application more than a day’s thought. Only much later would I understand this wasn’t necessary true – it reflected their desire and cultural requirement for success to be effortlessly achieved.

The Software of the British Mind I believe is still programmed to show this effortless success. It is not particularly cool to say that you work 80+ hours a week, and yet every entrepreneur who I know who is successful does just that. Entrepreneurs, amongst other things, are time-shifting in their life; they are willing to work hard at 35 because they’d rather not at 50.

Entrepreneurship is the national sport in the US. Stories abound of the guy who came from nowhere and made it big. There is a culture of hero worship tied to this which some, and me, find a bit nauseating, but overall it encourages people to dream and drive hard towards success.

As Lord Davies, the Commerce Secretary, said this past week, if the UK had as many female entrepreneurs as the US does proportionately, we would have 800,000 more women entrepreneurs. Indeed many women find their way to success not by breaking through anyone’s glass ceiling, but by building their own cathedral.

Entrepreneurship used to be counter-cultural in the UK. This has changed over the past 10 years, and today I don’t know anyone under 30 who wants to work for someone else. They are schooled on shows like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice, and think of themselves as their own P&L and brand.

What hasn’t changed yet is British society’s understanding of the role of the entrepreneur as the engine for economic growth. I found myself recently in a Chatham House rules dinner with Titans of Industry who said, when I threw out into the dinner time conversation, “well, you know that the economic growth will be fuelled by entrepreneurs,” – “you don’t really believe that, do you Julie?”

But it’s true and proven. NESTA have just released research which demonstrates that the “vital 6%” of high growth firms in the UK account for 54% of all new jobs.

The media don’t cover the emerging giants until they’ve well and truly arrived. There is a general feeling by the national business press that small companies are just that small and niche. But small becomes big, and start-ups change the world.

Until we become a nation of believers, and I don’t mean that in a religious sense, we won’t create more global leading firms. Strong entrepreneurial ecosystems recognise the role of the entrepreneur at the center, and early believers whether business angels or friends and family provide capital and support and help find early reference customers.

Two UK giants reflect the importance of their early believers and their success against all odds.

Ariadne has advised Monitise, the global leader in mobile banking, since November 2004. They have 1 million customers, have secured the backing of VISA, Standard Chartered, Flemings and PCCW. They have lifted up an entire ecosystem of retail banks and mobile carriers on 4 continents and enabled them into a new paradigm of mobile banking. Once in a generation, an entrepreneur comes along who is able to do something so profound. Alastair Lukies, the CEO and Founder of Monitise, would be a hero in the US, feted quite extraordinarily for his phenomenal ability to lead people, influence corporate buyers, and execute his market vision. Alastair has that lovely British quality of talent without ego – atleast I haven’t seen it yet. Not that he’s in it for the glory, I know he’s not; he is compelled by the inevitability of his vision, by the sheer challenge, and by his love of his country. But sometimes I wonder how much more UK entrepreneurs could do if they felt that warm grip from society who would cheer their success along the way.

SpinVox, another Ariadne portfolio company, has created a new category of communications – voice to screen. Speech recognition existed before they arrived, but they did two things very right. They created a business case for mobile carriers and sold a managed service into them. They also secured 100,000 early adopters through a clever retail deal, and then marched that market demand into the mobile operators 33 times. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of venture capital go to mobile application companies in the UK who are trying to sell to carriers only to have no market traction. Spinvox has achieved more operator traction than any other start-up in Europe, now accessing 50 million consumers worldwide, and lowering their cost of event to 3 cents a call because of the excellence of their technology. And yet their success was pilloried by the media over the summer. It’s hard to imagine the standards of success that some journalists were hoping for –33 operator deals not enough in 2 years? Expecting 50? Sometimes I wonder how much more UK entrepreneurs could do if they felt that their success as they were managing rapid growth was applauded instead of attacked.

Eleven years ago, when I founded First Tuesday, a network of entrepreneurs which connected 500,000 entrepreneurs across 43 cities in Europe over 2 years, we were a digital island. There were a few of us who were doing the internet deals, and we all knew each other. Today more and more of us go to "Entrepreneur Country" every day when we go to work. The pressure can be intense, and there is no guarantee of success. You can’t be doing it for the glory; you’ve got to be up for an unpredictable journey.

And yet throughout history, capital follows ideas – always has, always will. By putting those with the ideas at the center of society, and supporting their development and execution, we all benefit from the products and services that they bring to life. We are fortunate that there exist that group of people in society who are willing to live abnormal lives to bring the inevitable to life. It is our job to put aside our negativity and don the cloak of early believer in support of their global ambitions.

And in supporting with pride the ambitions of our own entrepreneurs, and celebrating their breakthrough moments, we become very slowly and then all at once, an Entrepreneur Country.

Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009 took place from 16-22 November. The Week’s aim has been to shine a spotlight on the role that entrepreneurs and their ideas can play to help spark economic recovery in communities, towns and regions nationwide.

Find out how you can get involved at www.gew.org.uk/


Julie Meyer, panellist on the online version of Dragons’ Den and head of the investment firm Ariadne Capital.

Comments

a bit nauseating ...
airmarshall wrote:
Monday, 23 November 2009 at 01:47 pm (UTC)
...perhaps this is something you feel through notion of the political fantasy? America is a good place to do business?

Mind you what does that mean to the girl washing up in a burger bar?
ghd_mk4_gold wrote:
Saturday, 26 June 2010 at 03:21 am (UTC)
Excellent piece.
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