Real entrepreneurship is where we see innovation that harnesses diversity

Originally featured on Fresh Business Thinking


“Entrepreneurs need to be fearless, but not like a Viking warrior,” says Joel Blake, OBE for Services to Business Support and Enterprise, speaker at TED, and a judge at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

Joel is a believer in diversity –  he specialises in helping clients take diversification within their organisation, and combine it with tech, to create innovation. “So, you can tap into the cultural awareness, mindset, and the differences.”

So, what does that mean?  Joel explains: “We can’t plan for what happens when ideas collide but we know what will happen if they don’t. If we can find a way to merge differences and we get convergence, things become really exciting.  There is a western culture of being safe, but with convergence we can see some really exciting things happen in a global age. I believe we are at a time now that people have more resources to feel comfortable with failing, so they are more willing to have a go, and at the highest level.”

joel_blakeJoel is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker and enterprise consultant.  He has 15 year’s experience of helping small business owners, but also helping organisations with diversity and tech strategy.”  He is the Managing Director of Cultiv8 Solutions Limited.

And he tells me a story about an entrepreneurial 15-year school kid running afoul of the authorities at his school. He ran a tuck shop, turning over £200, And for that, he got into big trouble, no doubt chastised by the head teacher. “But,” says Joel “he was employing 11 of his school friends, who were making money too, and he felt, as a young entrepreneur, that his entrepreneurial talent was being confined.”

It turns out that our entrepreneurial school child was inspired, by someone from the same community as him who was an entrepreneur.  And he was running the shop because “he wanted to help out his mum.”

“And for me,” says Joel, “this is a more powerful story than one about someone who makes £100 million pounds or so within five years after selling his business.”

Even so, for a 15-year old, going against school authorities, it must take a lot of courage. “As an entrepreneur,” Joel explains “you have those dark room moments, and you look at yourself in a negative way, and you start doubting yourself.” That is the point when an entrepreneur must be fearless.

What advice does he have for an entrepreneur in that position? “You have to focus on why you set up the business, accept those challenges, and not let them override. Be very clear on what your purpose is, because that will maintain you though the rubbish days.”

And, going back to school: “Educational institutions need to learn to be more entrepreneurial themselves, we are creating a generation of young people who are being programmed to be managers, or to be employees, and there is a place for this, but young people are in a different world. These days you have what I call glocal. Your business is no longer in competition with the business next door, you are in competition with someone else working from their bedroom, using technology, maybe on the other side of the world. So, we need to prepare people to work in this glocal world, so we need education to merge with business, with business becoming more willing to transfer their knowledge, and meet the academic structures that are there.

“By doing this you will create young people who have a really good solid foundation of structure, but have the creativity and practical knowledge of impact and application of knowledge that gives them a real 360 degree and holistic view of what it means to be an entrepreneur.”

Then we return to diversity.  The UK is more entrepreneurial than it used to be, we agree with that.  But why? Joel gives two reasons:

Firstly, he talked about the recession, globalisation and how “alternatives are emerging to the way things have always been done. . .  So we are seeing a backlash from the norm, people wanting to see something different.”

Secondly, he says “demographic shifts, alongside the influx of technology, and campaigns such as start-up Britain, plus a younger generation who have a different mindset, that have grown up with diversity and with digital, so you have people who want to create a new legacy.”

The UK is emerging an entrepreneurial success story – but more needs to be done, and one way to achieve this is to shine the media spotlight on entrepreneurs, their challenges, their failures and of course their successes.


The NatWestGreat British Entrepreneur Awards are currently open for applications, and entrants can apply here.