FE News | We need to talk about entrepreneurship’s image problem

The term ‘entrepreneur’ has for many become synonymous with hustle culture and a lifestyle that seeks to maximise profit at the expense of work/life balance. This image needs to be reformed to show that running your own business can be a viable, and even preferable, career choice.

The term ‘entrepreneur’ has for many become synonymous with hustle culture and a lifestyle that seeks to maximise profit at the expense of any semblance of work/life balance. ​​New and emerging research demonstrates that this image needs to be reformed to show that running your own business can be a viable, and even preferable, career choice for a broad cross-section of society.

Hatch Enterprise’s recent report, The Entrepreneurs Club, revealed that 74% of people in the UK do not believe that an entrepreneur is someone who resembles them. This may not be surprising to those who access the world of entrepreneurship through shows like The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den – it can seem incredibly out of touch, dominated by young white men in suits operating solely in the finance or technology sectors.

Working at an inclusive entrepreneurship charity it’s clear to me that there is a huge wealth and diversity of talent outside of this narrow archetype, with a wide range of people running and growing successful businesses. This sector can particularly be really well-suited to those who face barriers in accessing the traditional workplace.

For women, disabled people, and those from an ethnic minority background who face glass ceilings, discriminatory cultures, and unrealistic working conditions in other settings, entrepreneurship can offer a refreshing autonomy and flexibility. This is becoming increasingly relevant to women, often the primary carers of children, who are being priced out of employment due to rocketing childcare costs.

People who are supported by Hatch Enterprise’s business support programmes are not and do not look like the people that appear on Dragons’ Den or The Apprentice. The vast majority (84%) are women and nearly two thirds (64%) come from an ethnic minority background. They frequently tell us that they would never go back to traditional employment, and who can blame them, starting and running your own business is in most instances a life-changing process that is undoubtedly hard work, but can have a transformational effect on quality of life. Entrepreneurs can set their own agenda, choose projects that meet their values, and work flexibly around other commitments.

A persistent barrier for so many people is perception, with too many people counting themselves out due to lack of confidence. Women, disabled people, and queer people are all less likely to feel confident starting a business than the average person, with imposter syndrome rife among marginalised communities.

This is where the business education sector can come in, providing skills training to plug any business knowledge gaps, but most importantly to provide a community for those wanting to explore different career options. Further education, whatever its form, can be a transformational intervention for people looking to make a vocational pivot, but it can only be effective if it is seen as a viable and accessible option early on.

It simply isn’t the case that entrepreneurs need to be more aggressive, more resilient, more regimented than the general population to succeed, waking up before dawn and not going home until the job is done. These can be useful qualities, but so can compassion, people management, creativity, and the ability to set strong boundaries.

Image reform is therefore vital. Through celebrating the stories of diverse, representative entrepreneurs from a broad cross-section of society, we can begin to reverse the out of date stereotypes that create such a barrier to access in the sector. Reports like The Entrepreneurs Club are only very small steps to increasing that visibility, we all have a role to play.

Graduates from the Hatch Enterprise community operate in the charity sector, food and beverage industries, consulting, the arts, social care, retail, community building, AI, and more. There is power in their difference as they are often able to see niches that would otherwise go overlooked, and use their lived experiences to inform business strategy.

We published our report, The Entrepreneurs Club, as a way to tackle inaccurate perceptions of entrepreneurship head-on and encourage discourse around what it means to be an entrepreneur. The findings have reaffirmed what we knew to be true: that entrepreneurship has an image problem, and we need to first tackle that before we can build a truly diverse and representative ecosystem.

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