Nat West HQ in London: the energy was palpable. Entrepreneurs were in the building. It was buzzing with the sound of enterprise. This was the occasion of The Great British Entrepreneur Awards celebration evening. Winning the award is exceptional, but being nominated is itself a rare achievement; the award is, after-all, regarded as the benchmark for entrepreneurial success in the UK, celebrating the contributions and innovations of British entrepreneurs and their impact on the economy.
Oli Barratt, MBE, kicked off the evening in an effervescent mood, when isn’t he? “The evening is about entrepreneurs getting to know each other,” he said. True, but no doubt some would like to win an award, too.
He handed over to Nick James, founder of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards. In some ways “entrepreneurs are the new rock stars,” he said. “And we might look back on this period as a golden age for entrepreneurs. “
“Being an entrepreneur is a lot like child birth,” he said, knowingly. “If you knew how difficult it was going to be, maybe you wouldn’t have started in the first place.”
Gordon Merrylees, Head of Entrepreneurship for Nat West, took the baton from Nick. “Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the UK Economy,” he said. “People want to run their own businesses. There are more businesses in the UK than ever before, the last time I looked it was 5.4 million . . . it is clear that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. That freedom and independence, that fast pace, the thrill of excitement of being your own boss, is hugely attractive to many within the UK. That passion, that mission, profession and vocation, when you combine all those and have a purpose in life, something that you love doing, something that you are great at doing, something that the world needs and can make a difference to people’s lives. And,” he paused, teasingly “get paid for it, is truly awe-inspiring.”
Brexit has shaken the confidence of would-be entrepreneurs, he said, fear of failure is holding would be entrepreneurs back, and Nat West’s research shows they think there isn’t enough support in the local areas – offering advice, knowledge and funding.
He said, that Nat West wants to be a bank that helps support entrepreneurs and help them achieve their ambitions. “I’ve got the best job in the bank because I lead their entrepreneur strategy. . . We have a duty to help grow this economy and support and develop that vibrant entrepreneurial community.”
Nat West is behind Entrepreneurial Sparks which next year will have 13 hubs across the UK and support between 7,000 and 10,000 entrepreneurs. He said: “We are putting our heart and soul into this. We are trying to reconnect with the business community and rebuild trust and advocacy in the banking industry.”
“It’s given us access to innovation, he said, as the bank and its staff learn from the entrepreneurs themselves. . . You are inspiring us daily and changing the culture of this bank.”
Rounding up the evening was Jeff Thomas. When one of his many ventures was less than three years old the Sunday Times included it in its list of ‘companies to watch’. One year later, it was number one in the Sunday Times Tech 100.
Jeff founded the Corsham Institute, but before that he founded a tech company tracking parcel delivery, which was floated on the NASDAQ in 1992. His next business applied a similar idea, but on the internet, and from his beautiful base in Corsham, Wiltshire, he was a pioneer in providing an accelerator/incubator for start-up companies. The dotcom boom and then bust, hit hard, but from 2002 he focused on developing a data farm and exited the business when it had a market cap of around £800 million.
He said: “I think the UK is a great place and now is a great time to start a business. . . Every one of us has an entrepreneurial spirit but only a few of us are foolish enough to try and do it. . . As a nation, necessity is the mother of invention. I was a Remainer, but now I am hugely optimistic, that makes me an entrepreneur I guess, he said. But there is opportunity in change.”
Previous winners have included Julie Deane MBE, founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company, James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog and Alexander Solomou, founder of The LadBible.
The Great British Entrepreneur Awards is all about celebrating the wonderful stories that entrepreneurs have to tell.
Nick James said: “Despite the many uncertainties that the economy is facing, entrepreneurs continue to contribute to the economic growth of the nation. The path of an entrepreneur is never the easiest and that’s why it’s important to celebrate their achievements whenever possible.”
The Great British Entrepreneur Awards will culminate at the Gala Final, taking place on Tuesday 22 November in the Ballrooms of the prestigious, Lancaster London Hotel.