Speech: Entrepreneurship and Employability

Today, Ian is giving a speech on entrepreneurship and employability. See the full text below:


SPEECH: Entrepreneurship and Employability by Ian Mason

Tuesday 22nd September 2015

Opening Doors Network, London


I’m delighted to be able to join you all this evening and I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the pitches later on.

That’s always the most exciting part of events like this.

Doing what I do for a living, you get to hear some really exciting ideas and some that stand out for other reasons.

I remember a particular session about a year ago, where I had a group of around 10 entrepreneurs, each taking turns to pitch their idea to me.

As we reached the final person, sitting just to my left at the front.

The man started his pitch.


He was starting an advertising business.

Ah, I thought, cash-flow not as much of an issue.

He had the interest of Barclays he said.

Not bad, I thought.

He was going to use company’s branding in a distinctive and radical way he said.

I was curious.

He was going to take company logos.

Or the faces of their figureheads.

And place them on the front of bird nesting boxes!


And locate those boxes in public spaces across London!


A gentle laugh echoed round the room.

And everyone turned to me.

Awaiting my response.


I paused so that I could resist asking the obvious question.

And how much money are you looking for, I said.

I need 1 million pounds, came the response.

You could get about 80,000 nesting boxes for that I said!

My next question was no better

Who’s going to pay all that money to have their face stuck to a wooden box - and put 20ft up in a tree?!

But sure enough, a package turned up at the office some time after that.

A bird nesting box - with a cut out head of Sir Richard Branson attached to the front.


We laugh, but this guy is probably a millionaire by now.


And that’s the thing about entrepreneurship.

It’s about making something from nothing.

And I’m a great believer that you can make a business out of anything.

We’re not all going to start the next Google.

But starting and running a business that makes you a living.

Is just as impressive,

And important.


Because entrepreneurship is empowering.

It gives you the opportunity to take control of your life.

Work in your own time.

At your own speed.

It gives you freedom to think.

To do things your own way.

And all of that is genuinely exciting.


So we know that entrepreneurship is the most effective driver of social mobility.

But it’s also a fantastic way of gaining new skills.

And becoming more employable.

And it’s not often recognised for that.

As an entrepreneur, you have to learn as much as you can in a very short space of time in order to survive.

and you are suddenly in a position to make strategic decisions, decisions you would never make in employment at a young age.

Empowering someone to start their own business is a fantastic way to improve their employability.

A team member that thinks and behaves like an entrepreneur is a huge asset to the business.

So much so in fact, that they’ve been given a name.



This year, I have been appointed as Leader of the UK delegation to the Y20.

An engagement group of the G20.

Over the summer, my team, along with delegations from the 19 other richest nations across the World, attended a week long summit to talk about issues like this.

We all agreed that World Leaders must do more to make entrepreneurship a viable economic option, something I’ll be telling them when I attend the G20 Summit and meet with them later this year.

This must start in schools, where, in many countries, starting a business has long been the option to take when academic success has proved elusive.

Establishing an ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ in every school would be a useful starting point.

After that, microfinance schemes that offer seed funding, along with advice and mentoring to young people should be developed, with the recognition that many enterprises started as a result will inevitably fail.

But that the investment should be considered an investment in skills development and labour market enhancement, not a direct investment in economic development.

But we’re actually quite lucky here in the UK, because there are a number of schemes out there to help people that want to start a business, including Virgin Start Up.

<About VSU>

So I’ve told you that I think you can turn anything into a business.

Now I want to talk for a while about the key things I would look for in a pitch


The first thing then – how do you know your idea is good?

Plenty of people will spend ages talking about their idea and their plans for the next decade.

Usually involving becoming a billionaire and living on a Caribbean island.


And it can sound compelling.

But in reality.

What have you actually done to validate your thinking?

It’s not enough that all your friends think it’s cool.


Do you have a fan page on Facebook that has gathered a thousand likes?

Does your product have a series of great reviews that are well documented?

Have you pitched your offering to a series of buyers and gained some commitments?

Have you trialled the business successfully to get a feel for how it would work?


Being able to show evidence that what you’re doing resonates with lots of people is really powerful.

And getting to that stage doesn’t have to cost the earth.


Next, you need to show that you’ve done your research.

Have you found suppliers for everything you will need to buy?

Have you used this information to work out your unit costs?

Once you’ve done this, have you looked at what might be a suitable price for the product or service?

Are you then making enough profit to cover your costs?

Have you figured out what rules and regulations might affect your new business?

Have you spoken to other similar businesses about how they operate?

This kind of detailed research shows you’ve worked hard to understand the parameters of the business.


After that, how much thought have you put in to how this will actually work when you start?

You should be able to talk about how every aspect of your business will work, from the exact process required to create your product/service, to the shift patterns of your new staff and how you will cope when one of them goes on holiday.

You need to demonstrate that you have thought of every eventuality.


Of course this kind of thinking is much easier if you’ve tested your idea on a small scale first wherever possible.

That will allow you to refine your own thinking - and talking about that makes you so much more credible.


The final thing that most people fall down on is the numbers - they have to be realistic!


If you’re opening a pound shop in Norwich, how likely is it that you will generate £40,000 revenue in month one?

What does that actually mean? That you will sell 40,000 items in month one.

Really? Does that sound plausible?

You need to give real thought to what is realistic.

Base those numbers on fact wherever possible.

If you’re opening a café, go and stand near your potential competitors and record how many customers they serve in a day and in a week.

Then you can have some idea of what your potential volumes might look like and find out which hours of the day are more busy - because that will help you to plan staffing.


The same applies to costs too.

If you’ve researched everything thoroughly, this will give you more credibility and will help you understand whether or not you’ll make money.

Look at your costs.

What is genuinely necessary?

You’re not going to start a business by selling the best quality for the most affordable price.

Work out how to get a minimum viable product to market and improve it if it starts to sell.

Don’t waste money when you start, because it’s so hard to come by!


Starting a business is one of the hardest things you will ever do.

You need patience.


Passion and enthusiasm.

And you need to know how to respond well, when things don’t go your way.

Because they won’t most of the time.


But the absolute key to starting a business, above everything else, is to be prepared.

Know everything about your new business.

Keep your costs low.

Keep thinking about how you can be more efficient.

Do more with less.

And if you’ve got something that you know a lot of people like.

Know, not think.

Then you’ve got every chance of succeeding.

Thank you