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7 things I’ve learned about start-ups in London

 As Programme Director for Opening Doors Network (ODN), here are seven things I've learned about start-ups in London:
 
1. Women want to start their own business as much as, if not more than men. 
Of the participants on our ODN programme, 62% were women from a range of backgrounds and ages. Our greatest successes in terms of businesses created and trading were women from black British African-Caribbean backgrounds who were mothers, with over 50% of total business start-ups coming from this group. The need to work in a flexible way around childcare needs, whilst still providing an income for their families was the main driver for the women on ODN wanting to start their own business.
 
2. People from BAME backgrounds want to be self-employed. 
88% of participants on ODN were from an ethnic minority background with 80% of those identifying as black. This is double the proportion of the population in London who identify as coming from an ethnic minority background - currently around 40%. The boroughs that ODN delivered in - Brent, Croydon and Haringey - have a proportionately higher number of BAME residents however this figure was still high. 
 
Many participants on the programme had been employed at some point but felt that career progression was limited - possibly due to their ethnicity. Some also didn’t want to work hard for someone else, preferring instead to work hard to grow their own business. Some had family recipes for products that they wanted to develop and manufacture on a larger scale or wanted to develop hair and beauty products for themselves and friends/family.
 
3. Young people are less likely to start a business than someone over 30. 
Though ODN was aimed at those aged 18-30, 54% of participants were above 30. Young people initially engaged with the programme. However, with other issues going on in their lives they were not able to focus fully on getting their business idea off the ground. Many lacked the confidence and motivation to see their idea through to start-up. Also they were often dealing with issues relating to housing, finances and personal relationships. Those over 30 were more stable in these areas of their lives and able to concentrate on their business. 
 
The young people that were successful were mothers - again those wanting to work in a flexible way around childcare. In response to these needs, BTEG has developed Ready4Work - a programme that will enable young people to gain skills to navigate life and be successful in their chosen path – be that employment, business start up or further/higher education.
 
4. Having positive BAME role models inspires people to achieve. 
Some of the workshops on ODN were delivered by BAME entrepreneurs sharing their start-up journeys and experiences. They were able to talk about barriers they faced and how they overcame them from a perspective that ODN participants could relate to. Several of the participants from the earlier days of the project went on to become role models and deliver sessions to later groups. 
 
5. Networking and improving social capital can be invaluable to widen networks essential to business support - but only if you’re willing to take the time to learn how to do it and then do it! 
“Meeting people who can help with my business development” was identified as one of the main benefits of ODN in an initial questionnaire that participants completed. 
However, the reality of actually attending networking events in central London proved challenging for them. Reasons for not attending included childcare and work commitments. 
 
6. You don’t always need a business plan to start a business - but it helps! 
47% of participants on ODN either registered a business and/or were trading. 50% of participants produced a business plan. However, not everyone who started trading had a plan - particularly those who started with a produce or service and traded informally to test the idea without needing much financial backing to do so. Some of these participants moved onto trading without ever really producing a plan at the time. Many worked on getting the business up and running on a very small scale rather than producing a plan and seeking finance. 
 
Businesses who wanted to scale up, though, recognised the value of having a business plan to both seek finance and to articulate what they wanted to achieve.
 
7. Completing a business start-up training programme doesn’t just lead to becoming self employed. 
Over 20% of participants on ODN went onto full or part-time employment, college or university. Many participants were unemployed when they started on the programme and felt that it gave them the confidence they needed to start work or college. Many plan to continue to develop their start up idea whilst working or studying.

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