University of Salford Manchester

Dragons and Sir Alan put off potential entrepreneurs, says Salford Business School study

Wednesday 29 August 2012
ELIE event
The image of entrepreneurship given by TV shows like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice is frequently misleading and putting some people off from starting their own business, according to research from Salford Business School.

Based on the experiences of business students and 200 entrepreneurs from more than 30 countries, the Employability – Learning through International Entrepreneurship (ELIE) study looked at the barriers facing some groups - in particular immigrants who wished to set up in business - with the aim of developing new methods of giving people the capabilities and skills to start up on their own if they emigrated from their country of birth.

The project, involving universities and business organisations in the UK, Poland, Finland and Greece, found that business competition-style TV shows across the EU often gave the impression that significant capital is required to start up a business and that only a certain ‘type’ of person can succeed as an entrepreneur, while the reality is quite different.

Researchers interviewed immigrant entrepreneurs to identify the main ingredients for success in setting up in business in a foreign country, with the majority of respondents revealing that they started with very little or no money but had a good idea, with the skills and knowledge to exploit it, plus determination and a strong work ethic.

Many self-employed people with successful businesses did not identify themselves as ‘entrepreneurs’, believing the term referred exclusively to multi-millionaire tycoons and, in some cases, it was used almost disparagingly, implying an unhealthy level of ruthlessness or arrogance.

There was also a significant proportion of immigrant business people who were ‘reluctant entrepreneurs’, in that they were forced to work for themselves as they struggled to find a job with an employer.

ELIE interviewee Dina Railean came to the UK from Moldova 14 years ago following her graduation from Moldova State University with a degree in modern foreign languages. After gaining two Master’s degrees at the University of Manchester, she wanted to start her own translation and interpreting business in the UK but found that visa and work permit difficulties were preventing her from doing so. She is now the founder and CEO of Express Language Solutions, an award-winning translating and interpreting services company based in Salford.

Ms Railean said: “Having experience of two different business cultures has given me an advantage in being able to spot opportunities which other people can miss, which I think is one of the key skills of an entrepreneur.

“I don’t think ‘reality’ business TV programmes necessarily give a true portrayal of what it takes to be an entrepreneur, although they can encourage people to look at innovative ways of doing business. The Apprentice in particular focuses on giving candidates tasks to complete or implement rather than asking them to seek out new opportunities.”

Lena Vasilieva, Project Manager of ELIE, commented: “We found it to be an incredibly moving experience to participate in this project. The responses from immigrant entrepreneurs we talked to were overwhelming and often very touching; we heard a multitude of interesting stories. Many told of the difficulties they had experienced in trying to establish themselves as entrepreneurs, some even encountered prejudices and isolation.

“However, we were impressed and inspired with the drive and commitment these people had to succeed, their determination to learn new skills and new cultures, and their ability to work hard and persevere in the toughest of circumstances.”

The study findings have now been incorporated into a pack of learning materials designed to help immigrant entrepreneurs enhance their language, cultural, communication and business skills. The learning pack can be downloaded at http://www.elie-project.eu/?pid=60