Doug Richard was one of the original TV Dragons. He’s since advised David Cameron on apprenticeships and founded The School for Startups – which has already advised over 10,000 small business owners. Doug sees business from three perspectives: as an entrepreneur, investor and former technology CEO. We asked him to assess the climate for UK entrepreneurs in the wake of recession…
Is it a good time to invest in growth?
There has never been a more crucial time. It’s the role of entrepreneurs, as wealth and job creators, to spearhead the UK’s economic recovery. And with sectors like technology moving as fast as they are, there’s never been a more exciting time to go it alone. But entrepreneurs need the help of the government and banks; unless we have faith in investing in start-ups, we have little chance of sparking economic growth.
How do you encourage innovation?
The only way is to create the right conditions. I believe entrepreneurship can be learned and, therefore, anyone can run their own business. We have to provide aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools and ongoing support to take them through the start-up phase. We need to empower people to feel they can launch a business.
Can mature businesses stay entrepreneurial?
Yes, by looking closely at their industry – considering disruptive ideas to better meet customers’ needs and reduce costs. They must constantly ask how they can take advantage of new solutions to compete. This takes drive, but it means a business can always continue to innovate – it’s all about the mindset.
What should government be doing?
Recovery depends on the creation of new companies and the growth of those whose innovations increase productivity. It will be the young businesses, not the small ones, who will lead the charge – and it’s vital that we nurture them. Government must increase economic freedom for new businesses, cut the time it takes to start one and radically streamline regulation. In my view it should also encourage enterprise education and insist that a specific percentage of state procurement goes through small and medium-size businesses.
How do you decide where to invest?
I look for web-based businesses that can quickly grow to a large size with a small amount of capital. My latest is a location-based micro-blogging service that allows users to post flirty messages to ‘hot’ people they’ve seen in their area – creating ‘hotspots’ of good-looking people. The student behind the idea ran into trouble with his university, who shut the site down – but not before he delivered something incredibly uncommon… proof of market demand.