StartUp Britain - what do new businesses really need?

Hot on the heels of the announcement of the demise of local Business Link advisory services comes StartUp Britain, a new initiative that boldly claims,

StartUp Britain is designed to make it easier for new companies and innovations to flourish and encourage people who aspire to start new businesses to work for themselves.

So, how are they going to do this? Apparently by giving us a list of links to other websites, including Australian “design competition” site 99designs because, as we all know, branding is simply about creating a logo. There is no context to these links, clicking on any one of the 4 “Top Tips” just takes you straight out to another site. Have these sites paid for their inclusion here? Or are we to believe that 99designs is precisely where the business owners behind StartUp Britain will be heading to brand their next venture?

What value does this offer? It may be that for some types of business a cheap and cheerful logo from 99designs will do just fine. However for many it will be money completely wasted and may be harmful to a fledgling brand. Why is this site not giving realistic advice and why is it not supporting UK design and branding agencies? Is there a place in StartUp Britain for them?

I’ve picked on the 99designs issue because it is indicative of the lack of substance behind this venture. We are told there is lots more “coming soon” but why launch this initiative with such fanfare with nothing to show for it than a list of links and a few special offers provided by businesses who generally provide those offers to new customers anyway?

I know about starting a business on a shoestring. When I set up edgeofmyseat.com I had £1,500 to my name, provided by way of a grant and loan from The Prince’s Trust, however the business support I received from The Prince’s Trust was more valuable than any monetary help they could have given me. When you are assisted by the Trust to start a business, they don’t just hand you some money and let you get on with it. For three years I had regular meetings with my business mentor. I was expected to have up to date accounts, cashflow forecasts, to be able to demonstrate how my business was developing. In return I was helped to get a business bank account, given practical advice on budgeting, on using contractors, writing contracts and so on. Practical, down to earth advice. It isn’t sexy or exciting but it’s the dull stuff that ensures a business can survive and be profitable.

I started edgeofmyseat.com as the dot com bubble was bursting, in a landscape of disillusioned and unemployed web designers and developers who had been sold a dream backed by venture capital, and the money had run out. I can see a lot of the thrill of the dot com days in the excitement of the new wave of internet start-ups. I’d like to see all those great ideas given business advice and help that has substance, that tempers the excitement of launching a business with the need to understand how it will become profitable. I’d love to see the UK become somewhere that businesses can flourish and do well, but I think that the team behind StartUp Britain have some way to go to convince me that their plan is anything more than a token gesture towards business owners.

Update: Since writing this I have seen some other excellent posts on the subject. From PostDesk, Why “#StartUpBritain” is nothing more than a government backed link farm and more on the 99Designs issue from Elliot Jay Stocks in a post entitled Clueless.

Pavel M. on the 29 Mar 2011:

Like!

I was also surprised since they start off saying “StartUp Britain is designed to make it easier for new companies and innovations to flourish…” but advertise 99designs, which is an Australian based company. Ironically funny, and I’m not even British :)

I suppose that’s just the world people are living in now – everyone wants to be their own boss, start their own business, make their own app, have a quick sale rather than a successful impactful life-long (or lifes-long) business.

My 2 cents (or pennies since I’m in the UK)

Andy Walpole on the 29 Mar 2011:

There’s been a very detailed rubbishing of startupbritain.com here: http://postdesk.com/debates/why-startup-britain-is-nothing-more-than-a-government-backed-link-farm/

I couldn’t bear to even read the site. That big picture of a grinning David Cameron was a like visual roadblock to me.

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