Britain’s budding entrepreneurs say “It’s not the economy, stupid”

Entrepreneurs are optimistic and determined but defy stereotypes about their motives, characteristics and attitudes, finds new research from Demos.

Over 80% of entrepreneurs say it’s not the economy’s fault if their business fails – believing other factors are more important to determining success.

The ‘Everyone’s Business’ report by think tank Demos researched the attitudes of almost 1,000 aspiring and recent entrepreneurs. The report, supported by Shell, is launched to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Shell LiveWIRE programme. The findings challenge stereotypes of entrepreneurs - finding that they do not regard themselves as radicals and reject the idea that they are motivated by risk-taking and huge financial reward.

Three quarters rank ‘determination’ as one of the top-two necessary qualities for a successful business while only 27% regard ‘having a good idea’ as important.

73% of entrepreneurs believe their business idea either replicates or improves upon existing business models within their sector – countering the common perception that successful entrepreneurs have to be cutting-edge inventors.

‘Money’ was only the fourth highest motivation for starting a business, behind ‘wanting to work for myself’, ‘passion for what I do’ and ‘turning ideas into reality’.

The survey also found that the vast majority of entrepreneurs are calculated risk takers rather than gamblers. Only 1 in 4 enjoy taking risks to get ahead, and over half (55%) only take risks if they feel the rewards are significant. A fifth would avoid taking risks, even for great reward.

Duncan O’Leary, Deputy Director of Demos and co-author of the report said: “This reveals a picture of entrepreneurship that is far more realistic than the stereotype of mad cap inventor appearing on Dragons’ Den.

“The message from our polling is not all about revolutionary ideas and ‘light bulb moments’. Aspiring entrepreneurs believe that a can-do attitude, some start-up capital and a dose of luck can go a long way to creating a successful business.”

Graham van’t Hoff, Chairman, Shell UK, said: “After three decades of supporting UK enterprise through LiveWIRE, it’s no surprise to us at Shell that a new ‘can do’ generation of entrepreneurs is emerging from the economic gloom. Their energy, resilience and innovation are critical to delivering the jobs and economic growth the country needs.”

“Shell LiveWIRE has been running in the UK since 1982 and has helped thousands of young people to explore starting their own business offering an independent and free online service and awards programme for young entrepreneurs. Innovation is central to meeting society’s challenges and it’s why at Shell, we champion innovation both in young entrepreneurs and our own business.”

The research also found that:

Almost two-thirds (62%) of entrepreneurs say a ‘lack of start-up capital’ was one of the greatest barrier to setting up a successful business. 44% also cited ‘inability to fund living costs’ as a key barrier.

Half of entrepreneurs (50%) started their business whilst still in another job or education, while 1 in 10 had a ‘forced’ start up moment due to redundancy or dropping out of college or University.

The findings show individuals are putting their skills to work in a field with which they are familiar. 40% of surveyed entrepreneurs have previously worked in the sector in which their start-up operates, while more than a quarter (28%) claim to have started their business in response to their experience as a consumer in that sector. By contrast, only 12% claimed to have designed a new product to meet a previously unmet need.

88% of entrepreneurs are optimistic about their own business’s prospects, believing their business had a 50% or more chance of still trading in two years time.


The polling was carried out by Demos. The 919 participants in the online poll were those who self identified as aspiring entrepreneurs including members from the Shell LiveWIRE online community. The poll took place in October 2012.

The report, ‘Everyone’s Business’, by Duncan O’Leary and Max Wind-Cowie is published by Demos on Wednesday 14 November 2012.

This research was supported by Shell as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of their enterprise development programme, Shell LiveWIRE.

Co-author Duncan O’Leary and potential case studies of aspiring entrepreneurs are both available for interview on request.


Rob Macpherson

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(out of hours: 07554 424 137)