Mention the words charter, Government and university and most entrepreneurs’ eyes glaze over.
The original thinkers who dream up the best ideas are often rebellious and don’t follow the status quo.
So says Stuart Miller and, as co-founder and chief executive of Wantage-based ByBox, he should know.
One of six entrepreneurs on the Small Business Charter management board, he is part of a Government initiative to strengthen links between business schools and small businesses.
But as an entrepreneur who pioneered electronic drop boxes in towns and cities all over the UK, Mr Miller knows all too well the hurdles he and his colleagues face.
He said: “If you can make the business schools accessible to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), you take their enterprise and zeal and team that up with a world of networking, academia and brainpower and I could see that being very helpful.
“The challenge is to make people like me see these business schools as useful, rather than feeling alienated.”
The first batch of 20 business schools, recognised for their work with local businesses, were presented with a Small Business Charter award last month.
Although Oxford University’s Said Business School and Oxford Brookes University were not among them, Mr Miller points out that in Oxfordshire, we are ahead of the curve – citing the example of Launchpad, the Said’s drop-in centre open to entrepreneurs of any background.
Despite its academic setting, users need no connection to any of Oxford’s universities or colleges.
He said: “Places like the Said Business School and Brookes have many entrepreneurs among their alumni.
“Launchpad is just buzzing and we also have support such as the Oxford Investment Opportunity Network.”
Evidence that Whitehall sees academia as key to boosting small business is coming thick and fast.
In April, former universities and science minister David Willetts pointed out that SMEs make up 99 per cent of UK private sector businesses and account for more than half of private sector employment.
He sees business schools as full of expertise that can help small businesses start up and grow and claims that if every micro-venture took on just one more person, there would be virtually no unemployment.
Rather than Harvard-style four-year MBA courses with price tags of £50,000, which Mr Miller and others believe have had their day, the future is one where entrepreneurs can pick and mix from bite-size courses, workshops and online learning costing as little as £50.
But one of the biggest issues that needs to be tackled here and in the rest of the country is attitudes towards entrepreneurs, particularly those who are young.
He said: “In the UK we chastise failure and, worse than that, we don’t celebrate success, which is dreadful.
“In the United States, entrepreneurs are heroes and failure is just part of becoming successful.
“Those who have failed with a first venture are often in their mid-to-late 20s and will probably have student debt.
“Given the stigma attached to business failure, they are likely to give up at this point.
“But they are just the sort of people who we want to get back on the horse.
“With the right support, mentoring and time and space, they are the ones who will learn from their mistakes and come up with something amazing.
“So, if there’s one thing we want to change, it is to loosen that attitude and offer a softer landing for our entrepreneurs.”
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