New generation of entrepreneur transcends traditional stereotypes

As the best and brightest small business leaders from across the country gather in Sheffield for the UK's premier event for enterprise, new research by AXA finds the routes to business ownership are more diverse than ever before and that today's entrepreneur breaks through traditional stereotypes, putting passion before profit and wealth behind well being.

8 November 2016

Posted in 2016

In a picture mirrored across the rest of the UK, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of businesses in the North of England have grown from hobbies, passions and pastimes1 with people saying it is the freedom, flexibility and satisfaction of doing something they love that pushes them forward and drives them to succeed.

Yet in contrast, more and more great ideas are also being hatched in response to adversities such as illness, redundancy and insufficient opportunity elsewhere. Indeed 8 out of ten small business owners say dealing with a 'life crisis' has equipped them with the skills to succeed.2

With more life experience than ever before, and more space for creative ideas, the new generation of small business owner is far from easy to categorise. He or she can start out at any age, from any background, and has little in common with cut throat Apprentice wannabes or the 'loadsamoney' caricature from bygone days.

Indeed while 72 per cent of all Northern business owners expect to make a decent living wage from their endeavours, most also say their drive is personal and emotional rather than financial3.

Mike Stevenson, founder of Thinktastic is a case in point. Homeless and sleeping rough in 1966, he got back on his feet and worked a variety of different jobs before co-founding his first successful marketing and design agency in 1993, and setting up his current business seven years ago, and at a time in life when others look to wind down.

"I started my current business at the age of sixty," he says. "My drive was my own experience, and my view was that a lifetime's experience would have been wasted if I had stepped back at that point. I knew I had energy, enthusiasm and the ability to influence the future, and that was something that motivated and pushed me on.

Shy of trendy labels like Innovator, Pioneer or Rule Breaker, AXA also found that while today’s small business owner does indeed have these traits, he or she identifies most strongly as a plain and humble Grafter4.

Forty six percent of small business owners in the North have working class roots which is significantly higher than the 27 per cent reported in the South of the country, and many are highly motivated by a desire to help others and use their business time and resources for good.

A quarter regularly work free for hard-up or vulnerable people, 28 per cent volunteer their time for a cause or charity and one in five support community projects through their business5.

Mike picks up: "I know from conversation with other successful business owners that there's a desire to pay it forward. This is a time to rediscover our humanity and remodel business as a contributor to wider wellbeing - that's an exciting place to be."

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director, AXA Business Insurance

Small businesses and small business owners are vital to the success of local economies. They create jobs, they create supply chain opportunities, they attract talent and innovation and they even contribute to the overall brand or personality of a local area.

Yet more and more these days we're also seeing them give back something more, and that has an unexpected impact that can also be felt far and wide. Big businesses like ours cannot just take inspiration from that but must actively learn from it and should look to see how we best support them in their endeavours.

We are delighted to be supporting the MADE Festival today and as a Mansfield boy myself, I'm really looking forward to taking part. It's a fantastic celebration of enterprise in the North and I wish everyone involved every business success.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance