Today, The Entrepreneurs Network launches – a new think tank devoted to backing Britain’s entrepreneurs. Supported by the Adam Smith Institute, the Entrepreneurs Network is filling a noticeable gap in the market; after all, the demand for good ideas to help kick-start economic growth and job creation clearly outstrips supply.
Calling for broad tax cuts and lighter regulation of small businesses is nothing new. But driven by our virtual network of entrepreneurs – who can sign up by email on the website – we will solicit the collective knowledge of hundreds of entrepreneurs to pinpoint the specific hurdles that they face. Larger campaigns will be informed by these challenges on the ground.
One platform that the Entrepreneurs Network will devote significant effort to – which can cause problems for some Conservatives – is immigration. Despite its fiscal incontinence at both the state and federal level, and its progressive move to stricter immigration, the US remains the best example of how to harness skilled entrepreneurs for economic growth.
Of all the science and technology companies founded between 1995 and 2005 in the US, a quarter had a foreign-born chief executive or lead technologist. In Silicon Valley, around 52 per cent of startups were founded by immigrants – with 26 per cent of all startups founded by Indian immigrants. These ambitious individuals should be welcomed into Britain with open arms – but they are not.
Anyone who has visited India will be aware that the cities are buzzing with entrepreneurial activity; but anyone who has lived in the country for any time will be equally aware that the stifling bureaucracy makes it hard to get things done. For cultural and language ease, Britain is near the top of the list for many Indian entrepreneurs but successive governments have been unresponsive to the opportunity. The visa rules have changed so often and are so complicated that it is as though the system has been designed and managed by immigration lawyers looking for work.
The entrepreneur visa regime brought in in 2011 has been an abject failure. It was recently revealed that in the first year of the scheme, a paltry 119 Graduate Entrepreneur Visas were issued; add this to last month’s revelation of a backlog of 9,000 applications for Entrepreneur Visas and it’s clear that the government is not serious about opening Britain up to entrepreneurial talent from abroad. Business leaders and politicians across the political spectrum should make the case for inviting the most talented and ambitious to make Britain their home. To this end, The Entrepreneurs Network will be working to outline how the visa system can be reformed to make it fit for purpose. This is a policy platform fit for the coalition.
Even without outsiders, entrepreneurs are always with us. People will always find a way to make the most of the resources at their disposal to turn a profit, and will be, in the words of Adam Smith, “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” Even Soviet Russia had its fair share of entrepreneurs – it is just that the command economy forced these so-called “speculators” to operate in the black market. Thankfully, most of us value entrepreneurs, but we don’t celebrate their contribution enough. The Entrepreneurs Network will work to support and promote the values of entrepreneurialism; particularly by quantifying how much value they bring to us all through the risks that they take with their own money.
The Entrepreneurs Network will be run out of Westminster but I want it to represent entrepreneurs from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. The whizz kids of Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout, who looking to build the next Facebook, are an important expression of entrepreneurialism, but of equal weight are the thousands of small business owners who can’t grab the headlines and rarely have a voice.
When Napoleon Bonaparte called us a nation of shopkeepers he was paraphrasing Adam Smith; his remark wasn’t meant as an insult, but an observation that British wealth was driven by commerce. And Britain has produced some of world’s greatest innovators – just consider Samuel Crompton, William Morris, Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, Richard Trevithick and Sir Richard Branson. With the state so ingrained in the workings of the economy, getting the legal and regulatory framework right is paramount. The Entrepreneurs Network will speak up for entrepreneurs and defend their role in the economy and society at large – I hope and expect Conservatives to back it.