07/04/11

By Nick Giles of Seven Hills

The Prime Minister has called on Britain's 'doers and grafters' to make this the most entrepreneurial decade in history. But to what extent will the UK's private equity and venture capital community play a role in achieving this ambition, and how can they help to turn it into a reality?

That was the topic of debate at the Entrepreneur Britain: Investing for Success round table event hosted by Smith & Williamson and Seven Hills which brought together over 60 VCs and entrepreneurs to debate the key issues that need to be addressed to bring that vision to life.

Regulation, information and education emerged as key areas to address, according to the venture capital and private equity specialists, entrepreneurs and business reporters who attended the debate.

Expert investors from a host of leading firms including Ariadne Capital, Balderton Capital, Risk Capital Partners and Silicon Valley Bank were joined at the event by the entrepreneurs behind Caxton FX, Make It Cheaper, Brightpearl, Digby Morgan and Trusted Reviews plus reporters from the BBC's business unit, City AM, Business Zone, Unquote and Fresh Business Thinking.

Angel investor Doug Richard issued a rallying cry for the role of venture capital and private equity in spearheading business growth in the UK — citing a host of examples, including web-based start-ups, where the UK has great potential.

Veteran investor and head of Better Capital, Jon Moulton, gave his assessment of the task ahead citing the challenge of driving growth in the current unstable economic climate.

The debate was the first step in the creation of an action plan for the UK's investment community to help forge stronger and more beneficial connections with the UK's entrepreneurs.

Some of the key issues raised during the debate include the following.

1. Engage and educate — The need for investors to forge stronger connections with the UK's entrepreneur community in general and dedicate resource to educating business owners about the role of venture capital and private equity investments in driving growth.

2. Improve image — The need to address the negative perceptions of venture capital and private equity among entrepreneurs through active engagement with the business media.

3. Less private more public — The increasing need to directly engage with the department for business, innovation & skills (BIS) to improve relations with government and improve understanding of the role UK investors can play in driving the UK's economic growth.

4. Invest in training — The opportunity to back entrepreneurship in schools and universities by engaging with those organisations focused on developing young entrepreneurs such as the National Enterprise Academy and the National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs.

5. Creative leadership — Help create solutions to shrink the equity gap — the funding gap that entrepreneurial businesses struggle to fill.

Guy Rigby, head of entrepreneurs at Smith & Williamson, said: "The Prime Minister has called this the year of growth and has committed to making this Britain's most entrepreneurial decade. For that vision to become a reality we need to create the right conditions for growth and the investment community has a major role to play in backing new British businesses. This event gathered the opinions of a group of experts who understand the challenges that investors and entrepreneurs both face and started to outline the steps that we need to take to back Britain's entrepreneurs."