Are we a nation of entrepreneurs? The jury’s still out, reveals AXA

With almost 800,000 new businesses starting up since March 2013*, the UK seems truly to be transforming into a nation of entrepreneurs. However, despite 'entrepreneur' being the new political buzzword, new research** from AXA Business Insurance reveals that business owners remain somewhat confused by the label and are changing their definitions of success.

20 October 2014

Posted in Product

The research conducted by AXA Business Insurance, one of the UK’s largest business insurers, revealed that only 45 per cent of UK business owners consider themselves to be an entrepreneur. Meanwhile, 44 per cent outright reject the title and 11 per cent are unsure if they qualify or not.

Overall, those with the strongest entrepreneurial identity tend to be:

  • Male: 52 per cent of male business owners claim to be entrepreneurs compared to just 38 per cent of women in business;
  • Under 24: a massive 82 per cent of those in the 16 to 24 age bracket see themselves as entrepreneurs, but this figure falls steadily through the generations to just 32 per cent of the over 55's;
  • Builders/tradesmen: a modern entrepreneur is less likely to be a financier, architect or creative guru – tradesmen were far more likely to identify with the title;
  • Living in Newcastle: The North East emerged as the UK's entrepreneurship capital with 60 per cent of respondents there saying they are entrepreneurs, second only to the Scots at 50 per cent and way ahead of the 39 per cent in the rest of England.

How people define success and entrepreneurship these days

When business owners were asked what they associate with the word 'entrepreneur', their top answers were 'innovative' and 'risk-taking'. These were followed by attributes that conjured up an image of Wall Street's Gordon Gekko: 'successful', 'rich', 'driven' and 'ambitious'.

Small business owners were also asked what they thought were the qualities needed for success. 'Determination' came out as their top answer, followed by 'positivity', 'ambition' and 'passion'. By comparison, the more thoughtful qualities of 'intelligence' and 'being a good listener' came way down the list in thirteenth and fourteenth places. Meanwhile, a cool head is clearly not needed, with ‘calmness’ and ‘caution’ coming at the absolute bottom of the list.

Interestingly, when the results were broken down by age, it was the gentler characteristics like being a good listener, having knowledge and intelligence, that came out top for older, more experienced business owners. Younger business owners – perhaps the Dragon’s Den generation – were far more likely to emphasise risk-taking and more aggressive qualities.



Younger business owners (aged 18-44)



Older business owners (aged 44+)



Good listener


Positive attitude












Thankfully, the cliché 'think outside the box' had very low resonance among business owners, showing that it may well be passing out of credible business-speak.

Final death knells of the 1980’s yuppie

AXA’s research also suggests that we have seen the end of the Gordon Gekko-style entrepreneur – only 11 per cent of small business owners characterised an ‘entrepreneur’ using outright negative terms like 'grubby', 'smarmy', 'reckless', 'greedy' and 'egotistical'.

The yuppie was also laid to rest by the research: only one respondent came up with the word (and then couldn’t remember the spelling, writing it as 'yuppi').

Most admired entrepreneurs these days

Small businesses told AXA that the entrepreneurs they most admired were:

  • Sir Richard Branson – named by 53 per cent of business owners
  • Sir Alan Sugar – in a distant second place with 11 per cent of the vote
  • Bill Gates – 4 per cent
  • Peter Jones, Steve Jobs and James Dyson – in joint fourth place with 3 per cent

Surprisingly, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg came way down the list in fourteenth place on a par with TV's Mary Berry. More unusual answers also included Arthur Daley, US President Roosevelt, Rihanna and the respondent's great grandmother!

Why aren’t small business owners identifying as entrepreneurs?

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance, speculated that today’s small businesses may simply be put off by the celebrity entrepreneurs, who tend to be wealthy, highly driven and extrovert:

Headshot of Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance

The question for me is why small businesses are undecided about their own identity as entrepreneurs,” he says. “I think it’s partly explained by the word ‘rich’, the idea an entrepreneur is someone who flies in from New York every day. It’s also this notion of being a ‘risk taker’ which is rather uncomfortable.

Risk is a huge part of any business – just as much for a man in a van with a plastering business as for a tycoon. You’re not risking millions every day, but you’re still staking your financial future on your business and taking on legal liability on behalf of employees and customers. Whether you call yourself entrepreneur or not, getting the right protection in place – insurance, sound financial practice and securing your property (intellectual, digital and physical) is crucial to your survival.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance