Is success all in the mind for the British stars of the future?

Setting out as an entrepreneur is arguably becoming an increasingly attractive option for UK graduates. But are enough young people taking up the challenge? 

The Telegraph reported recently that, although 18% of 18-35 year olds in the UK have a business idea and believe they have the skills to start a commercial venture, fewer than 4% actually go on to create a company that pays a wage and makes a profit. Compared to the US where 1 in 7 young people are currently in the early stages of starting a business, just 1 in 17 are doing the same in the UK. The Telegraph’s report also highlighted that entrepreneurship is still perceived as a poor career choice by many young people here. 

This is a real shame because some of the most inspiring young entrepreneurial talent in the world has emerged from our shores. Take Jamal Edwards, who, aged 16 came up with the idea for SBTV when he was filming rappers in London and uploading the videos to YouTube. Or Joshua Magidson who at 27 sold his company, – a website designed to help students order food from different takeaways, to JustEat. 

So what’s needed to encourage more young entrepreneurs to take the plunge? Is it good old British modesty that holds them back or a lack of skills to enable them to be taken seriously by the wider business community?

In the US, it’s a well-known fact that ‘failure’ is embraced as a learning experience and it is recognised that it’s better to have a go than not to. But here in the UK we are still largely risk adverse and many of us Brits don’t like the idea of starting something that could fail. This attitude surely needs to change because no business is without risk and opportunities could be being lost every single day. 

Many of the young entrepreneurs we looked into spoke about the importance of confidence in yourself and in your business, but all warned against acting as if you know it all. Matthew Toren, co-founder of points out that: “Many young people try to overcompensate for inexperience by talking as though they’ve got it all figured out. The only thing worse than not knowing all you should know is not knowing, and then acting like you do. There’s certainly nothing wrong with confidence, but admitting that you don’t know something and asking for help shows integrity, which can’t be underestimated.” In a similar vein, gives this advice: “You’re young and, if you’ve already started your own business, or about to start one, the chances are that you’re pretty self-confident. This is a valuable attribute but make sure that your self-confidence doesn’t come across to clients, suppliers, and contacts as arrogant and cocky.”

However, it’s not all about confidence. With the right mindset, what about skillset? If the UK hopes to catch up with the entrepreneurial powerhouse of the US, then young people need to have the practical skills to be able to prove themselves and their business ideas to people who otherwise may not take them seriously.  

It’s good news that British children are increasingly being exposed to the idea of entrepreneurship as they grow up. Initiatives like the Young Enterprise scheme encourage pupils to start a business whilst at school, giving a fabulous insight into the business world and how they need to act to be taken seriously. 

There have been many success stories from students starting up whilst at university too, although it’s important not to underestimate the determination and motivation required at this stage in life. In a recent Guardian article, some successful students spoke about how hard they had been stretched by working on their business and their degree at the same time. Tom Ellis, founder of First Class Products, admitted that: “Sometimes university does conflict with the business; sometimes I’ll have to sacrifice going out with my friends to stay home and put orders through. It’s also been pretty tough during exam time, when I’ve been revising all day. But I can control it – I know when I can afford to spend more time on the business, and when I’ve got to focus on my course.” This ability to manage time effectively and know when to focus is a valuable skill that every entrepreneur needs to learn.

If this is your first shot at starting a business, or even if it’s your fifth, the benefits of getting a mentor to offer advice and support must not be underestimated. At the Catalyst Centre every winner receives one-to-one mentoring which means that inexperience can be combated by having someone you trust at your side, cheering you on but also prepared to tell you harsh truths when you need to hear them.

So, have you got the mindset and the willingness to learn the skills to make it happen? If you’re thinking of starting a business but you’re put off by how people may react, then take on board as much advice as you can – and then go for it! 

If this blog has inspired you, why not apply for the Catalyst Centre? The current round of applications close on 31st of May – click here for more information.