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18 November 2004
Daily Record
THINK TANK! FROM HERE TO PROSPERITY;

Q 1 GIVEN the Executive's recent commitment to extend business grants to older age groups, what else could be done to help people of all ages to start their own business?

OUR focus on young people reflected evidence that they can face particular funding constraints. A small amount of grant funding could therefore make a real difference to tapping into the high levels of interest in enterprise in this age group.

But there are also a wide range of support options available to people of all age groups looking to set up in business. It is therefore important that all budding start-ups contact their local Business Gateway in the Scottish Enterprise area (and the equivalent in Highlands and Islands). Research shows that those businesses that seek advice are more successful than those that do not.

SETTING up in business is never easy, nor is being a success. In my experience most people fail because of a lack of attention to detail around the product, the price and the market.

Any great idea will get funding, so I think supporting new business creation must be about giving would be entrepreneurs more support in detailed business planning functions so their chances of success are increased. As importantly, the trick with the PSYBT model is to offer ongoing support and mentoring after the new business has been set up. I'm sure this model could also be extended to other age groups to great effect.

OUR research shows that young people are most likely to find it difficult to find the money to start a business. Lack of experience and loan security are big barriers to the under-30s setting upon their own. This is not always the case for older people.

Older entrepreneurs need different types of support, not necessarily just cash. More often they will need help in getting funding that should be available to them, perhaps through the preparation of a sound business plan.

No two business start-ups are the same, regardless of what age the entrepreneur is. From this starting point we can then add the most value by providing the type of support that can help an entrepreneur succeed no matter what their age.

Q2 THERE are a great many women who start their own business but, surprisingly, a higher number of them struggle to survive than their male counterparts. Why do you think this is and what can be done to give them greater support?

FAR fewer women appear to want to start a business in the first place and that has to be a cultural issue, hence we need to do more to instill a can-do attitude for all of our citizens and not just for females.

Perhaps one issue is about role models - Ann Gloag and Ann Rushforth are two exceptional Scottish success stories and perhaps we see less about female success in the press than male success.

More press would be good as an encouragement, as would the development of more peer-to-peer support for existing female entrepreneurs, perhaps using the Entrepreneurial Exchange model.

WOMEN have a major contribution to make to this - not just in setting up new business but also in ensuring that these businesses survive and grow to reach their full potential.

The number of self-employed women in Scotland increased by more than a third between 1991 and 2001, a much larger increase than for men.

If we could get new starts by women up to the same level as men we could add an extra 5000 businesses to our start-up figures each year.

But we need to recognise that women display particular characteristics that we need to take into account in our support structure.

Evidence from research suggests women lack confidence in their ability and ambition and at times have a perception that they will not be taken seriously in business. So we need to encourage greater confidence and address this unhelpful perception. Women also appear more reluctant than men to take on debt. While this may in many circumstances be a logical choice, under-capitalisation can seriously hinder growth and affect business survival.

We therefore need to provide women entrepreneurs with access to the appropriate advice to make informed funding decisions.

AROUND five years ago we identified that women were starting fewer businesses in Scotland than elsewhere. Without improving on this figure we were never likely to achieve the total number of start-ups needed to stay in touch with our competitors.

Encouragingly, the numbers of women coming through our doors looking for help has risen from 30 per cent to 40 per cent in this period. But it is right to flag up that survival rates are just as important as the number of start-ups.

A proven piece of support that can make a real difference to a company's chance of survival is mentoring. We currently have around 200 women entrepreneurs signed up as mentors, with this support very focused on individuals' needs. Not that female entrepreneurs need more help than men - sometimes it just needs to be delivered in a different way.

Q3 HOW optimistic or pessimistic are you about the future growth prospects for the Scottish economy and what areas do you think will succeed the best?

LET me say up front, I am extremely optimistic about the future. Ok, there are some real issues that need to be addressed. The amount each of us produces in relation to our competitors is still too low, our low levels of research and development being converted into business products and a lack of companies growing into global players. These all need to be tackled.

But what's important is that we know this and are doing something about it. Also, looking at the overall economic picture we have lots to be positive about.

VERY optimistic. Scotland can and will succeed and that will be down to our determined spirit and a can-do attitude.

Great business is about great people and I think through the Schools Enterprise Programme and Determined To Succeed we are developing a huge talent pool of kids who entirely embrace the idea that they can do!

THERE can be little doubt the Scottish economy is performing well. Recent GDP statistics to 2004 Q2, show growth is continuing and employment is at historically high levels.

The majority of the business surveys and data I see point towards continued growth.

I am also encouraged by the innovation and enthusiasm I have seen first-hand during visits to businesses across Scotland.

 



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