Bridging the gap - identifying the core needs of British Start-ups and SMEs

With so many high potential start-ups in the UK with ground-breaking ideas up their sleeves, the pressure is on for entrepreneurs to succeed. However, in this tense economic climate, how do you go about finding the investment and resources to get your business idea off the ground?

Since the emergence of Tech City there is an increasingly strong focus on cultivating a new wave of technology and digital communities in the UK. With the increase of support networks such as the Entrepreneurs Forum, My Pocket, Business Gateway and Business Link, there is now an array of organisations that entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs can turn to for advice and support.

However recent research conducted by Cisco reveals that although there are ample organisations and networks out there providing support for the start-up community, out of the 150 start-ups we surveyed, only 15 per cent make use of them. And forty four per cent claim that there isn’t enough access to advice and support within the community.

The research also revealed some of the main challenges faced by start-ups within their first year(s) of business. While marketing and sales were identified as the biggest challenges for over a third of those surveyed, twenty per cent claimed seeking initial funding and investment was their biggest hurdle.

Whereas seventeen per cent said the hardest aspect was managing their finances and accounts. This raises the question – why aren’t the entrepreneurs and start-ups of today getting the help they truly need to flourish?

At Cisco, we have long been aware of the support entrepreneurs and SMEs need in order to survive. After all, Cisco was once a start-up itself. This knowledge was the catalyst for creating Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway (BIG) initiative – a significant five-year investment of cash, technology and human resources, which aims to support the Government’s objective to drive innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth by targeting resources and support at SMEs and innovative start-up digital businesses.

An integral component of BIG is the BIG Awards – an annual open innovation competition which was designed to support the entrepreneurs of today to develop and grow. Now in its final stages, we are currently preparing for the live finals which are due to take place in September. The overall winner will receive a prize package of approximately $200,000 (or around £126,000), made up of expert mentoring from Cisco and a 12 month support package covering PR, marketing and legal services. Runners – up will also be eligible for prize packages made up of mentoring and support, to help accelerate their business ideas. We received over 300 entries to the Awards, which launched in February, which again shows the thirst for guidance and mentoring needed by start-ups and SMEs.

In addition, we launched the first BIG Panel last month, which provided a forum for entrepreneurs and start-ups to seek the expert advice and support they need to turn their businesses ideas into global success stories. We called together some of Britain’s most promising technology and digital entrepreneurs – the BIG Awards semi-finalists – and industry leaders to meet for an interactive discussion in Shoreditch.

The event provided a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to discuss and share their experiences and challenges, and was vital in helping our understanding of their needs in this tense economic climate. It was also a fantastic opportunity for them to gain first hand advice and guidance from industry experts, who gave invaluable insight about the resources and support available in the tech community.

At Cisco, we believe it is important to engage collaboratively with industry members and the entrepreneurial community in order to determine what start-ups and entrepreneurs really need to succeed and I would encourage other companies to think about this too. We need the help of the big businesses of today in order to create a brilliant future for the UK tomorrow.