Entrepreneurs come from many different age groups
The business community is often talked about as if it is one monochrome group, which means that it isn't always portrayed as the dynamic, or, in many cases, youthful, collection of people that it actually is.
As the recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) has shown, Northern Ireland's millennials are helping challenge that perception by virtue of being more entrepreneurial than their peers in Scotland or Wales, with a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity in the 25 to 34-year-old age group.
So what's driving these people? In my experience, many are motivated differently from the previous generation of entrepreneurs. I sense that among older groups, entrepreneurship is more of a lifestyle choice - a business venture that allows them to be their own boss, but doesn't seek to expand or scale beyond that. And for many, that's a valid and valuable career choice.
But for the millennial generation of entrepreneurs, there is a greater appetite to take the calculated risks to help their companies take the next step - moving from being small, striving entrepreneurs to scalable, growing and even global concerns. So how do we help them get there?
One of the core things I always tell new entrants to our Ulster Bank accelerator, which is currently open for applications, is that it's really important to know how to count. Outside investment depends on a clear path to profitability and so demonstrating how you will increase sales and value is as important as having an innovative idea or access to an untapped market. So you have to be immersed in the finer detail of counting what's impacting your profit and loss account, and be prepared to focus on incremental improvements to each line. The aggregate effect of this focus can help entrepreneurs to achieve take-off velocity.
An under-appreciated part of the mix is also cultural. What do we do to celebrate the status of those who are successful entrepreneurs? The GEM survey was interesting on this point, with 80% of respondents in NI saying that those successful at starting a business have a high level of status and respect in society, almost two-thirds that there is often news about people starting successful new businesses - yet fear of failure would prevent around 43% of people from here from starting a business.
This perhaps points to a gap about how we feel entrepreneurs should be viewed, versus how we might be viewed ourselves.
Why should Northern Ireland be better known for its De Loreans and the Titanic than MJM, Novosco or Learning Pool? Maybe it's because the image of glorious failure has more appeal than breakout success. This is a mindset that can and should be overcome.
At the Ulster Bank Entrepreneur Accelerator, we're challenging those barriers, real and perceived, for those who are looking to help their businesses scale up.
If you're interested in how we might help you, find out more at ulsterbank.co.uk/accelerator.
- Lynsey Cunningham is entrepreneurship director at Ulster Bank