Calling all wantrepreneurs

Innovation Birmingham Ltd.

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide industry insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2017 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

Click here to read the Review.

A respected American investor, Ben Horowitz, once said “As a start-up CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.”

As investment continues to transform our region into a world-class place to live and work, we need more people coming up with great ideas to start more companies with global ambitions. Birmingham creates the second largest number of start-ups outside of London but still, only a few people have the tenacity to start their own business. Are you one of them?

I am often asked ‘what do I need to do to start my own business?’ or ‘how do I get going when I don’t have any money?’ or ‘when is the right time to take the leap?’ Many of us have that itch to scratch; the niggly annoying frustration with some aspect of life, or exciting opportunity to make something better. Yet most never scratch their itch.

Here are three things to recognise about starting businesses that can help you bypass your own fear, uncertainty and doubt and find something meaningful upon which to leap into your own venture.

The first thing is to recognise that you will need to repeatedly make something out of nothing. Few people have significant cash to invest in their own business and most of us need a regular income. You need to find a way to start for free, or at least very cheaply.

The perception is that entrepreneurs; convince an investor to part with £10m, quit work and start building their empire. This is largely a fallacy. Most founders achieve their first ‘something-out-of-nothing’ magic trick by developing their initial product with very little, or zero money. Unless you’re; very connected, have done it before, or very lucky, you’re unlikely to raise investment purely on an idea. This is liberating; rather than thinking about how to get money, think instead about how to get something done for (nearly) free. The sooner you accept that you need to start with nothing, the sooner you can get going. In the words of Seasick Steve ‘I started out with nothing, and I’ve still got most of it left’.

The second thing is to listen to the naysayers but focus on minimising risks. Start-up businesses are risky; ‘what if it all goes wrong?’, ‘what if I lose everything?’, ‘what if the naysayers are right and my idea is stupid?’. Listen to the naysayers and ask yourself, ‘is this a real risk, how do I minimise it and keep going?’ Find a way to win.

The third thing is slightly counter-intuitive. To conquer a global market, forget about it. The enormity of the challenge of world domination is too much for most of us. Focus on something very simple and concise to start with and preferably something that you personally need, because that way you will understand it far better. Get the simplest, highest quality product you can into the hands of your target end customers as quickly as possible. Get close and stay close to your market and with the inevitable luck, the rest will hopefully grow from this.

The world of entrepreneurship is full of bravado, grand scale-up plans and optimistic rhetoric but the best companies start with an elegant solution to an annoying problem that the founders just couldn’t leave alone. The next one could be you.

To contact Cliff about start-up support for digitally innovative businesses:,, 0121 250 3515