I appreciate your candid queries Ulrike.
It’s worth highlighting at the outset that true “entrepreneurship”, which in my opinion is a combination of passion, skills and experience, can be applied and practiced in numerous real-life situations from absolute start-ups to very mature publically-listed companies.
Whilst I do not hide the fact that I was very fortunate to be brought up in a family with means and did cut my teeth with entrepreneurship from an early age, growing up in a family business which my father founded in the early 70’s, I also had the invaluable opportunity of being engulfed in a number of start-ups establishing a number of relatively small scale business ventures while at school and also university.
The most relevant to your query would probably be my first venture after leaving Cambridge: despite the fact that I graduated with a Masters in Engineering, my decision to establish a fashion accessories business took many by surprise, not least my family.
Having been brought up in a relatively conservative social environment, it was not easy to say the least, to harness interest in my vision. Therefore in order to launch this vision that I had (after 16 months of tweaking business plans after many failed pitches) I managed to secure a small business loan of GBP 50,000 from the Royal Bank of Scotland. This got me going, and allowed me to develop a successful line of fashion accessories.
When I sold the company to a Japanese distributer three years later, the brand was selling in 12 different countries.
However that successful experience of growing a profitable enterprise from scratch was a double-edged sword, in that it probably made me feel overly confident that I could repeat that success many times over. I say this, because many of the ventures I attempted to establish straight afterwards in a host of different sectors including e-commerce, F&B, and property development were not successful – the silver lining was of course that I learnt a lot more from these failures than I did with my initial success!
Later on in my career, after joining the family business and applying what I had learnt to our existing energy business, I worked alongside the dedicated men and women in our business group to establish numerous other businesses under the umbrella of the newly formed Crescent Enterprises.
This gave me the opportunity to be exposed to new business challenges in a variety of new sectors at differing stages in their lifeline (from incubating new ideas to enhancing a 37 year old ports & logistics business). Each of them presented unique opportunities and challenges, all of which required entrepreneurial competencies.
Therefore if I am to try to make a distinction between an entrepreneur and a business manager, it would be that the entrepreneur has an insatiable appetite to make the world a better place by identifying needs, and the desire to offer more effective services or products. And they will go to any length to do so.
Can entrepreneurship be taught to our youth? Absolutely. It can start as early as they learn to communicate, and it is also never too late to practice it. I often say my father taught me everything I know, but unfortunately hasn’t yet taught me everything he knows! At the end of the day, everyone needs to travel their own journey in this wonderfully challenging ecosystem.
I hope this sheds some light on some of my journey, and wishing you good luck in yours.
P.S. Regarding any confusion in relation to the “friends and family” round of fundraising, I did not ever suggest that budding entrepreneurs should go about borrowing money from friends and family. What I was referring to is the typical “Round A” of fundraising that a start-up inevitably goes through, and which more often than not is raised through sources already known to the entrepreneur.