Entrepreneurs need not be the media stereotypes - Business Works
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Entrepreneurs need not be the media stereotypes

by Susan Marlow, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Nottingham University The popular image portrayed of 'entrepreneurs' still focuses too much on middle class, middle aged and often male business leaders, claims Susan Marlow, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Nottingham University. This widespread view is leaving important and talented groups of potential business owners under 25 and over 50, particularly women, feeling left out of the UK start-up business drive.

The research, analysed by Professor Marlow and compiled into the Avon Get Started Report, examined the attitudes of 2000 women and men under 25 and over 50 (-25/+50) in order to unlock the untapped economic potential of more diverse business owners and entrepreneurs. The report shows that this collective group which accounts for approximately a third of the population needs more focus amongst government and business leaders when presenting start up business employment opportunities and role models to harness these untapped 'cold groups'.

Avon Cosmetics commissioned the report after talking to its nationwide sales leaders whose workforces are made up of an increasing proportion of -25/+50. These men and women signed up to start Avon businesses because they felt overlooked by business facilitators on their journey to become successful business owners. The company wants to highlight the credentials of these under-represented groups to businesses, professional services and banks in order to change the way they select and back potential entrepreneurs.

The report shows that, whilst there is appetite for business ownership amongst these -25/+50 groups, media and social portrayals of entrepreneurs strongly support the notion of middle-aged men as successful role models:

  • 48% of respondents said they could see themselves setting up a business at some point
  • BUT almost half of women believe they will be taken less seriously than men as entrepreneurs
  • AND nearly a third of over 50s believe they are too old to start a business
  • Only 4% of total respondents were able to name a successful female entrepreneur
  • Only 2% were able to name a successful entrepreneur under 25.

The report outlines various solutions for business leaders, local and national government and professional services that could help these untapped age groups to become mainstream entrepreneurs. The report makes several recommendations:

  • Increased resources must be invested in entrepreneurship education to encourage more young people to the table
  • Alternative role models must be celebrated to challenge existing stereotypes of the 'typical entrepreneur'
  • Successful entrepreneurs must play their part as mentors for those seeking entry into self-employment
  • Regional support policies must not take a one size fits all approach to supporting self-starters
  • Government initiatives must target under-represented groups, drawing upon life skills and experience

Most importantly, self-employment opportunities, particularly those within the direct selling model, could be a 'turn-key' for both groups to be economically resilient with 52% surveyed believing direct selling is a more supportive way to start up a business.

"Popular entrepreneurial profiles need to be reconfigured to include kitchen table, direct-selling and other less aggressive models of business ownership that donít simply kowtow to the Branson, Sugar and Jobs stereotypes," said Professor Marlow. "There is a need to educate and communicate more flexible and innovative business models to encourage the first entrepreneurial steps amongst the -25/+50 groups in question. The direct selling model especially is under appreciated as a critical support tool for successful entrepreneurs."

government policy not doing enough

The report also showed that three quarters of respondents believed that government policy was not doing enough to support start-ups, particularly those at either end of the age spectrum and women in particular. Respondents identified women and young people as groups the government should support through measures such as greater access to funding and mentoring schemes [70% and 69% respectively].

Linda Harrington, 62, an Avon Sales Leader from Monmouthshire used to work in a hospital as a contract manager, but had been unhappy for a long time and didnít know how to make the leap to something new at her age. Linda and her husband Kevin, now have a team of about 650 Avon Representatives with an annual turnover of £1.25 million. She said, "I had no idea how to improve my life and earning potential so close to retirement age. Who was going to hire someone my age or give me financial backing? Someone told me Avon might be the opportunity I was looking for since age was irrelevant and there was such a low starting cost with minimal risk attached. They believed in me and gave us a chance to prove ourselves in business for the first time in our lives."

At the other end of the age spectrum, Francesca Schembre, 18, an Avon Representative from Milton Keynes, started her Avon business at university to gain business experience. She said, "Like many young people I have ambition and a desire to succeed but itís very hard to find a self-employment model that is low cost to join and that also gives you the mentoring you need to build your customer base and your skills."

"The under 25s and over 50s have a strong business desire," said Linda Clayton-Evans, Avon Sales Director. "Both groups represent a significant proportion of our Representative base. The direct selling model proves itself time and time again because people are attracted to low cost, easy entry business models with an active support network. Our research provides ample encouragement for government, funding sources and business support services to sit up and take notice of the potential that these two groups offer."

For more information about Avon, please visit: www.avoncompany.com

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