Iain Scott: Real entrepreneurship isn't Dragon's Den or the Apprentice - it can be a route of poverty

Iain Scott, co-founder of Can Do Places and food business entrepreneur, which helps communities open collaborative spaces for entrepreneurs in Scotland, says the popular depiction of what it means to start a business is divorced from the everyday reality

I BLAME the BBC personally and, specifically, The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den. You would never know, from looking at the slick-suited and sharp-elbowed participants that are involved with their concepts and their pitches, that enterprise or starting a business was once a route out of poverty. It still is - but it is not seen like that nowadays.

There are hidden entrepreneurs all over Scotland who would dearly love to start a business but lack confidence or don’t know how. You only need to look at the Alan Sugar wannabes to surmise that business is all about sharp suits and pitching in boardrooms. But Sugar started out selling beetroot and probably would have loved to access one of our collaborative spaces where aspiring entrepreneurs and growing businesses can develop their ideas, work together and expand.

What is even more worrying to me is that we do not even talk about entrepreneurship and society these days - yet, for many, starting a business is one way to change your life. There is a misconception that if you are poor, the reason you do not start a business is because you cannot access finance. That is actually a problem further down the line.

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The reality is you do not know anyone who started a business, runs a business and all the media narrative is; it’s “not for the likes of you anyway”. I have been researching, designing and delivering programmes for people who want to start a business (but do not believe they can) for nearly thirty years now - and I think the situation is the worst it’s ever been.

Since it was launched in 2014, Can Do Places, which I helped start, has helped communities across Scotland start the process of opening collaborative spaces in buildings. These include former shops, offices, libraries and schools. These shared ‘Can Do Spaces’ have opened doors for people taking their first step in business, or seeking a stepping-stone that will catapult their new business from ‘home to high street.’

According to Can Do Places’ calculations, if every community in Scotland had one Can Do Place with ten businesses, it would equate to almost 5,000 growing and new businesses for Scotland.

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If each of these businesses had an annual turnover of around £50,000 then the result would be the equivalent of a £500,000 turnover business for the local community.

Scotland has 479 localities with a resident population of more than 1,000 – all with empty buildings. If every one of these had a £500,000 Can Do Place, it would add up to £239.5 million of economic value for Scotland. Or to put it another way; that is a hell of a lot of wealth for local communities.

It’s a pretty brutal journey for anyone - but it would be good to start by acknowledging it’s a journey worth taking.

Picture courtesy of Mikey

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