Entrepreneurialism can help break down racial and cultural barriers in the UK, says Simon Rogerson
Who makes the best entrepreneurs? It’s a question I get asked all the time. And it’s an interesting one because it makes me think about all kinds of things.
Are people born entrepreneurial or can you teach them? Do women make better entrepreneurs than men? And are migrants more likely to become entrepreneurs than people who’ve lived in a country all their life?
The last question is easier to answer now, thanks to a recent report from Aston University and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. It shows that people from ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds are twice as likely as their white and British-born counterparts to start their own business.
While I’m sure there are dozens of possible explanations for this, here’s my view. Entrepreneurs are, by definition, risk takers. The same goes for immigrants. Immigrants have given up the security of their home country in search of something new, usually a better way of life.
That takes genuine courage, which is something that the best entrepreneurs know all about.
Here’s an example. Karan Bilimoria was born in India and he spent his childhood in and out of military schools before graduating from the Osmania University in Hyderabad.
He won a scholarship to study in the UK. So, he moved to London and trained as a chartered accountant. He carried on studying and read Law at Cambridge. He also joined his college’s polo team, and enjoyed bonding with his teammates over curries and lager.
In between these sessions, Karan noticed something. He found that the traditional lagers served in curry houses were so gassy everyone ended up bloated. But switching to ale didn’t help, because the taste was just too bitter to go with the curry.
So, he thought he’d make his own. Along with a friend, they started to brew their own in a flat in Fulham. It needed to have the sharp flavour of lager, but without the gassiness. And above all, it had go down well with a vindaloo or bhuna gosht.
Today, Cobra Beer (he changed the name from ‘Panther’ at the last minute) is now exported to more than 40 countries globally, and is found in 98% of all Indian restaurants in the UK. The business has had more than its share of ups and downs through the years, but the Cobra brand has gone from strength to strength. Lord Karan Bilimoria is now a peer in the House of Lords, and a passionate advocate and mentor for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Is the need to adapt to difficulty in early life an entrepreneurial benefit?
Another advantage immigrants have is that they’ve experienced very mixed cultural environments as they’ve grown up. I’d suggest this makes them more adaptable, and more open to new ideas or alternative views – essential traits for today’s entrepreneurs given how quickly the world is changing.
“…Minorities and immigrants are making a big contribution to the prosperity of the UK, growing new firms and creating jobs in our communities; often, they’re setting up their businesses with the express aim of having a social impact beyond simply making money.”
Mark Hart, Professor of Small Business & Entrepreneurship, Aston Business School
Interestingly, the same report concluded that women are indeed different entrepreneurs to men. Two-thirds (66%) of women entrepreneurs said they started their business to contribute to society, whereas just two-fifths (39%) of men said they launched their business with the same motivation.
While generalisations can be dangerous, I’d agree with this. In my experience, women tend to build businesses which have more of a purpose (they’re also more in tune with their emotions and create better, deeper relationships with their stakeholders).
And the research suggests that along with ethnic minorities and immigrants, women who engage in entrepreneurial activity also tend to be less motivated by winning or by making money. Instead, their focus is more on the difference their business can make in the world.
And the best thing is that I think we now live in a world where the most valuable businesses in the future will be ones which have a purpose at their core.
That purpose may be different for each entrepreneur, but I think it’s that desire to create meaning that will ultimately determine how successful this generation of entrepreneurs prove to be.
Companies used to think that employing people and paying their wages was enough evidence to show they cared. Customers don’t want that anymore. They want companies to stand up, to look around them and to see what they can do to help make the world a better place. Which is exactly what someone like Anita Roddick did with Body Shop.
To perhaps what is the toughest question – are people born entrepreneurial? I think the answer is yes. There are a few character traits true of all entrepreneurs. The first is that they have boundless energy. The second is that they tend not to like being told what to do. And lastly, they never stop asking questions, or challenging those around them.
I think all of these characteristics are ones you’re born with. They’re not things you grow into. You can spot children like this almost instantly. They’ll be the ones caught daydreaming and staring out of the window, or smiling while the teachers are telling them off.