How diversity can give British startups the edge


Britain’s small business sector is booming with exciting new companies emerging on an almost daily basis. Young entrepreneurs are intent on challenging the established order, by using their creative and energy to create new products and services which consumers want to buy. For those who have a great idea and a commercially sound business plan, there has rarely been a better time to start up a new business.

Many young, enthusiastic people are embracing the world of entrepreneurialism, eager to strike out and be their own boss. In many cases, they are doing so straight out of university or even school, believing that there are genuine opportunities for them to exploit. Fast-emerging markets – particularly in the technology and ecommerce sectors – offer plenty of encouragement for those who might ordinarily have sought a conventional career in the corporate world.

Diversity & Innovation

Perhaps one of the most encouraging aspects of this surge in entrepreneurialism is that it is being witnessed across the board. A hugely diverse range of individuals, from different genders, cultures and economic backgrounds are taking the opportunity to go into business for themselves. There is no room for stereotyping in the world of small business, because it seems everybody is deciding to have a go and see whether they can make a success of self-employment.

British companies are increasingly diverse

According to a recent report from telecoms company Telefónica, commissioned by Wayra UK, Britain is succeeding compared to its international rivals when it comes to startup diversity rates. The research showed why UK is a great place for startups? The report disclosed that people working for UK small businesses are five times more likely to be female than those in the United States. In addition, they are ten times more likely to be from an ethnicity that isn’t white or Asian than their counterparts across the Atlantic.

Indeed, Telefónica found that diversity rates in London’s Tech City exceed those in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv in Israel – two of the UK capital’s main rivals. Of those women interviewed in the UK study, almost a third (29 per cent) said they were working in a leadership role, suggesting that an increasing number of women are taking the opportunity to establish companies. A generation ago, this figure would have been significantly lower, when women were still trying to obtain equality and fair treatment in the workplace.

In Britain at least, it appears that issues such as gender, race and ethnicity are becoming an irrelevance when it comes to conceiving business ideas, attracting the necessary funding and forging ahead with new enterprises. With many of the old cultural barriers to entry removed, people from different backgrounds are gaining the confidence to work for themselves. What the UK needs now is for some of these companies to make the big breakthrough on to the world stage and compete with some of the US startups of the last few years – such as Facebook, Google and YouTube – which have gone on to become multi-billion pound businesses. Perhaps one of the ways British businesses can kick on and move up to the next level is, in fact, to become even more diverse. This can be their strength in the months and years to come.

Diversity in a global world of business

In the 21st century world of globalised business, diversity within a business organisation can be a major asset. If companies can get their offering right and sell in global markets, they have the opportunity to achieve unprecedented success. This requires some degree of cultural understanding and sensitivity, to connect with potential partners, suppliers, buyers and customers on their own terms. Those companies which employ a broad range of people, those who have different origins, outlooks and experiences, stand a greater chance of covering the bases.

Language skills are particularly important for businesses which are looking to expand into international markets and maximise their growth potential. The value of being able to communicate freely in different languages – rather than expecting everybody to speak in English – cannot be underestimated. Many commercial opportunities can open up this way, including some contracts which can be increasingly lucrative. Having native speakers on board is so much better than using interpreters, as it suggests an organisation has real depth and scale. Startup can give the impression they are much larger organisations than is actually the case, allowing them to compete on a level playing field with much bigger rivals.

The high rates of economic growth seen in India, China, Brazil, Russia in particular in recent years cannot be ignored – in many cases these are the markets ambitious companies should be targeting. But it’s important to realise that everybody has the same plan, so companies need to successfully differentiate themselves. Employing people from different genders, nationalities and cultural backgrounds can be the deciding factor when it comes to securing a major new contract or not. So those UK startups which are more ‘diverse’, in this sense, are potentially better-placed to be outward-looking and fast-growing on the world stage.

How diversity contributes to innovation

But diversity is important for other reasons in business. Think about it from a creativity perspective; how exactly are new ideas generated? Sometimes as single individual has a great idea, but at other times, inventing something new and exciting is a group effort. If everybody who works for a company has the same ideas and thought processes, due to their similarities as individuals, it potentially restricts their ability to come up with novel products and services. It’s often much better to have a range of different people who approach problems from separate angles and bring their own unique take to the table. Providing everybody is willing to collaborate and share their ideas, exciting things can happen.

Startup leaders need to foster creativity in its many forms, encouraging employees to develop winning ideas which will appeal to their target audience. By recruiting and employing different types of people – young and old, male and female, black and white – they can tap into different enthusiasms, passions and understandings, which can help create fantastic solutions. If UK businesses are to be more diverse than their international rivals, this is potentially a front on which they can taken on the rest of the world. London has a strong reputation already as a hub for small business activity and innovation, but the following years can see it enjoy even greater success.