27 November 2019

Why we need a startup manifesto – and what should be in it


Entrepreneurship policy might not grab the headlines when each party sets out its stall in an election, but if you get it right, it’s a heck of a lot easier to do everything else.

Entrepreneurial endeavours have taken humanity from subsistence to relative affluence and it is entrepreneurs who will raise the living standards of future generations. Startups and young businesses are the engines of job creation. And they are a powerful check on established businesses, since the threat of entry and competition forces businesses to continuously improve by investing in productivity boosting technologies and developing cheaper and better products. So supporting them is key.

What entrepreneurs need in order to create wealth and jobs isn’t complicated. Politicians can sometimes overthink things; remember Jeremy Hunt’s plan to forgive student debt for any entrepreneur who created five or more jobs? We reckon you can break it down to three key things. Access to talent, access to capital, and stable, simple rules and regulations flexible enough to encourage innovative startup business models to grow.

Entrepreneurs are busy people. They typically don’t have the time to lobby government and can’t afford to outsource the task to a public policy team. As a result, larger businesses often end up having an outsized influence on policy. The result is often unnecessary red tape that big businesses can manage, but startups find daunting.

That’s why The Entrepreneurs Network have teamed up with our friends at the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) to set out over 20 policy ideas for the next government to make the UK the best place in the world to start and scale a business.

Taken in isolation each reform proposed might seem a modest step. But together, they represent a powerful strategy to build upon the UK’s strengths and create the high-paying jobs of the future.

I won’t list them all (you can read the whole thing here), but here are a few highlights.

On access to talent, we propose reinstating the Tier 1 General visa which allowed highly skilled migrants from around the world to come to the UK to live and work for any employer, including working for themselves, with the initial visa lasting for two years. We also call for the Tier 2 visa threshold to be lowered and to take into account share-based compensation, to level the playing field between startups and big companies when hiring overseas talent. On the broader issue of share-based compensation, we call for the EMI scheme to be expanded to attract more talent into early-stage businesses.

To increase access to capital, we call for the EIS & SEIS advance assurance process to be streamlined to allow more startups to receive investment in a timely fashion. We also push for reforms to pensions regulation to unlock additional investment into venture capital, alongside measures to improve access to Innovate UK grants.

On regulation we propose extending Open Banking style reforms to increase innovation and disruption in sectors that traditionally have large barriers to entry, such as energy and telecoms. We also call for a bold, cross-sector regulatory sandbox to create space for innovative new business models. Finally, we encourage the next government to act with caution when proposing new tech regulations to ensure they do not create new barriers to entry.

No Party manifesto can get into the weeds like ours. But beyond the headlines, the policies in our manifesto would make the UK considerably better for entrepreneurs, and more importantly for entrepreneurship. Whoever forms the next Government would do well to listen to hundreds of founders of fast-growing companies who back them.

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Sam Dumitriu is Research Director at The Entrepreneurs Network