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The Collaborative Entrepreneur

The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den give entrepreneurs a bad image


True entrepreneurs reject the parody of programmes like Dragons’ Den and the Apprentice in favour of a more co-operative approach, a leading international study has found.

More worryingly, the narrow focus on ‘lone ranger’ entrepreneurs in these programmes could be choking productivity and economic growth in the UK.

Internationally acclaimed economist and CEO of Delta Economics, Rebecca Harding, who has researched the motivations and characteristics of 2,500 entrepreneurs in 13 countries, will present her finding this weekend at Co-operative Congress in Cardiff.

“The UK is in the grip of a destructive myth about lone ranger entrepreneurs - heroic individuals, who act alone and against the odds to shift markets in pursuit of personal gain”, she says. “Programme such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den cause untold damage to the UK economy.

“They put off genuine entrepreneurs, particularly women, and provide a rigid straightjacket for many existing entrepreneurs, discouraging them from following better and more collaborative ways of working.”

The research shows that nearly 80% of entrepreneurs start up a business because they have a business idea or dream they want to see developed, with around 65% wanting autonomy and more than 60% wanting to pursue a market opportunity. Only 55% of those surveyed want to make lots of money with nearly as many (47%) entrepreneurs saying they want to make a difference.

“True entrepreneurs are collaborative, capable of working with complex purposes and motivations”, points out Rebecca Harding. “Just because they don’t prioritise personal financial gain doesn’t make them any less business-orientated.”

The study found that collaborative entrepreneurs were on average more successful in key areas of business including brand building and in the developed world had a bigger market share, were more profitable, had stronger cash-flow and paid shareholders more.

Collaborative entrepreneurs are also better at creating jobs, are more innovative, spend more on Research and Development and look after their employees better. On average they create 30 new jobs in their first 3 years of trading compared with just 12 for other entrepreneurs.

“The people surveyed were ordinary businesses, many of them private limited companies”, says Rebecca Harding. “The research clearly demonstrates that those who are motivated for collaborative ends, to make a difference, tend to be more successful.”

Overall around 27% of entrepreneurs in the UK can be classed as collaborative entrepreneurs, wanting to make a difference in social impact, environmental impact and job creation and listing this as their primary reason for going into business. Although the UK has an above average number of collaborative entrepreneurs, more than twice as many German entrepreneurs are collaborative.

Commenting on the research findings, Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK said: “It is good to see entrepreneurs on TV and, of course, our concern runs much deeper than the entertainment content of Dragons Den and The Apprentice. The business policy and strategy of successive Governments and their enterprise agencies reflect the same search for heroic loners.

With its back to the wall, the UK economy needs a Kitchener moment - to encourage mass entrepreneurship, rather than encouraging the idea that enterprise is for someone else."

The Collaborative Entrepreneur is published by Co-operatives UK as part of Co-operatives Fortnight (22 June to 6 July 2013) and can be downloaded from


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Notes for Editors

1. The research was based on telephone interviews with 2,500 entrepreneurs in businesses that were older than two years but younger than ten and had a turnover of at least £250,000.

2. It was conducted between October 2011 and May 2012, covering entrepreneurs in 13 different countries: the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, the USA, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The aim of the research was to better understand the motivations of entrepreneurs in setting up a business.

3. Co­operatives UK works to promote, develop and unite co­operative enterprises. It has a unique role as a trade association for co­operatives, bring together all those with a passion and interest in co­operative action.

4. Co-operatives Fortnight (22 June to 6 July 2013) is the UK co-operative sector’s national campaign to raise awareness of co-operative business. In 2013 the focus is on raising consumers’ awareness and understanding of the diversity and benefits of co-operatives and why they are local, loved and trusted.

5. Rebecca Harding is the driving force behind Delta Economics. She is an independent economist with an extensive background in modelling economic growth, trade, productivity, innovation and enterprise.  Most recently her work has focused on the drivers of long term growth globally and its relationship with financial systems.

She has been an adviser to several governments, written almost 200 articles on economic issues, and held senior posts in leading academic, think-tank and corporate organisations.  These include her role as a Senior Fellow at London Business School, Head of UK Corporate Research at Deloitte, Chief Economist at the Work Foundation and Executive Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor world-wide (based at London Business School and Babson College Boston). 

She has advised the European Union and regional governments or agencies in the UK and Germany on innovation and enterprise policy and was a Specialist Adviser to the UK’s Treasury Select Committee between 2004 and 2006 on regional productivity. She was also an adviser to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship between 2005 and 2009. 

Rebecca Harding is a regular speaker at events and appears in the broadcast and print media frequently, most often putting the case for the promotion of enterprise and women’s entrepreneurship, aspects of access to finance and increasingly, on the importance of trade as a driver of long term economic growth globally.


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