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EU Referendum: Entrepreneurs make feelings clear on Brexit

Startups Awards-winning companies have their say on today's referendum and the key points every business owner should consider before voting

We gathered the founders of some of the UK's most exciting start-ups – all winners at the Startups Awards – and asked them to make a case to Leave or Remain. Before you vote today, read their thoughts and consider how Brexit will affect your business for good or bad…

Every day, new and conflicting stats are revealed claiming worrying findings about what will happen both if we choose to leave and if we remain – so much so that the Startups Team has begun to groan at the sight of a Brexit press release.

But while we may all be sick of the topic, it’s a monumental decision that will have a massive impact on the economy – and most importantly for our readers – how we do business.

With so many unknowns, important deals and decisions are grinding to a halt in the lead up to the vote and the only certain thing seems to be that no one really knows, both in terms of how the vote will go but also what will actually happen if the masses vote to leave.

In a recent survey, small business owners remained split over their decision, but it was a bit of a different story at our Startups Awards Winners’ dinner. At the first show of hands, eight out of 10 of our start-up founders wanted to stay in the EU, but how did the debate evolve?

Reasons to stay IN

Ease of trading with Europe

Shelley Lawson, Frog Bikes

“We’re very keen to stay in Europe, we deal with a few countries outside of the EU and it’s much more expensive for them to take our bikes. Norway is a good example, the RRP is a lot higher. We’re very into free trade zones. We’re selling more in Canada and looking to the US.”

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“There is no doubt that if we upset the Europeans, they will take vengeance upon us. It will become very difficult to trade with the rest of Europe. Of course they want our business, and we want theirs, but those that make the rules will not be happy.”

Julien Callede,

“From a business point of view, we’re making furniture in at least five countries in Europe and selling in six. Everything we sell in mainland Europe, 20-25% of it is made in the UK. I don’t see how leaving will be a good thing.”

Access to talent

Oliver Bridge, Cornerstone

“Six of our 11 employees are EU citizens, non-UK, so that slightly terrifies me. Half of our staff could be in trouble if we leave. I haven’t had anyone reassure me that there’s any concrete measures in place if that does happen.”

David Cox, haysmacintyre

“I’ve seen a few of my clients publically come out and say if we Brexit they’ll leave the UK. A lot of clients are not British which means they’ll leave either because they have to or because the benefits of staying are no longer valid – which is a huge issue for the tech industry, and talent in general.”

Regulatory stability

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“From a business side of things I’m terrified of leaving. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Being a particular type of manufacturer – given the consistency of legislation across the whole of Europe – it means we can cookie cutter what we do in Hampshire in Poland, Hungary. Wherever. If your procedures are right, you can take what you do in the UK and do it anywhere in Europe.

“If we come out, that won’t happen. As a company that wants to grow in Europe it’s terrifying. For the growth of UK manufacturing it’s also a scary thought.”

Oliver Bridge, Cornerstone

“The big problem for me is that the leave campaign’s main argument is that there won’t be tariffs. But that’s not what’s important to us. We’ve got an EU passport to sell skincare and cosmetics products to any EU country. The regulatory stability is really crucial. The core argument of the Brexit campaign is that we’ll tear up all this red tape and have UK regulations but that’s actually what I like. I like the uniformity of the regulations.”

Mark Smout, ForrestBrown

“If Brexit meant that we could all of a sudden get rid of any EU regulations then that would, for some companies, have benefits. However, the fact is, if you want to trade with Europe you still need to comply with this stuff, it’s not going away.”

Amer Hasan, minicabit

“Whatever red tape we think we’ll avoid from the EU will likely be exceeded with all uncertainty and hassle navigating each new country agreement.”

Current funding programmes and research will cease

Mark Smout, ForrestBrown

“What will happen to funding programmes? Or five year studies with millions of pounds spent on research that then can’t be completed? These questions have not yet been answered by the Leave campaign.”

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“So much of our higher education funding comes from the EU. Some of it’s our money anyway but the whole mechanism will fall apart. People will be two-parts into a programme that will then no longer exist.”

No short-term benefits

Bastiaan Haghuis, Appear Here

“As a holder of several European nationalities, it’s an interesting discussion to have.  Personally, I don’t see the benefit of the UK exiting the EU whatsoever.

“It feels that the campaign to leave the EU has largely been a fearmongering exercise by politicians who are using the migrant crisis and the ‘loss of control’ of British authority over its economic policies and regulations as a way to pursue their own way into office.

“But this is contrary to what will happen if the UK still wants to retain some benefits of working within the EU; it will have to either join the European Economic Area (like Norway) or the European Free Trade Area (like Switzerland), both options still require significant financial contributions and have a strict set of EU regulations, so does the ‘Leave’ campaign really have a point?

“Looking at the wider implications of a Brexit, it could spell the end of the UK as we know it. Scotland would most likely push for independence immediately after Brexit and join the EU.

“The 2.2 million EU nationals currently working here, like Julien, like me, will have to get visas or leave. This might trigger of the biggest skilled worker migration in decades and seriously hurt the UK economy. UK pensioners residing in EU countries will immediately loose the right to access essential healthcare, which would start a mass immigration back to UK in turn overcrowding an already failing NHS.

“Investment banks like HSBC have already mentioned that they will move their investment banking arms to the EU as they fear the loss of access to the global financial markets if remaining in the UK – effectively turning the EU in the world’s financial hub overnight.

“And while a Brexit would be a monumental move for the UK, likewise for the European Union, it’s a crucial point because if the UK does leave, Spain, Greece, Italy – the countries that are very far into their deficit – may also consider doing the same, which will have larger ramifications. We’d be going back to the 70s and 80s with trade imports that would become a business headache.”

The problem is the execution, not the idea

Julien Callede,

“From a personal point of view, I like the idea of EU. It feels like we’re killing the idea because it’s been badly executed, not because it’s actually a bad idea.”

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“Just because something isn’t being done well, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. We should just do it better.”

“I have a few very simple rules as far as business is concerned. I’d rather be inside the tent than out. At least you’ve got a chance to affect things then.”

Reasons to LEAVE

Centralised federalism

Steve Purdham, 3rings

“From a business point of view, it makes no difference to me. If it happens it will be another challenge we have to deal with and we will. From a personal point of view, I want to stay in but now I’m starting to change my mind. The end result of staying in is centralised federalism. Although I haven’t made a definitive decision.”

Regulations don’t work sector-wide

Suzanne Brock, Nutriment

“Staying isn’t that beneficial in our market [pet food], maybe for manufacturing. Unfortunately, the uniform regulations don’t cover every sector.”

Current inefficiencies

Steve Purdham, 3rings

“[The EU is] driven by the administrators and they don’t want it to be done more efficiently or they lose their power. And it is about the execution, I think the idea is fundamentally correct.

“I used to do a lot of work with various government departments around Europe and they introduced this thing that I wasn’t familiar with at the time call the per diem rate. Every one of these administrators will go to a meeting and they’ll get a per diem (per day) rate for doing so. And that’s why they’re suddenly in Bali and Australia. They might only get 40,000 euros as part of their salary but the additional money they get is crazy. The inefficiencies that are in there are unbelievable.

“It’s always going to go back to the politicians who throw money at things but no efficiency.”

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“My friend thought he was going to work at a university to engage with the business community and he was really excited about it but six months in he said it was just an exercise in making sure the university gets the same amount of funding each year.”

The vote itself

Lack of information

Steve Purdham, 3rings

“The reality is that the business community is not going to be who makes a decision. There is a lack of facts.

“The majority of people don’t understand the complexity of the decision and it will end up being an emotional decision.”

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“Because we’re never going to get a reasonable information stream, it’s going to be a decision made on fear and not on hope and that’s never a good idea.”

Who will actually vote?

David Cox, haysmacintyre

“It comes down to who’s going to vote. The older generations will vote and they remember a time before we were in Europe and they liked that. And they may well then vote to leave.”

Peter Nicholas, Nutriment

“They remember the commonwealth days, but the commonwealth doesn’t want to trade with us anymore. That ship has sailed.”

David Cox, haysmacintyre

“I’ve been talking to my European friends and a lot of them don’t get a vote. My friend owns a house in the UK, he pays his taxes but he can’t vote (he’s not a British citizen). Whereas expats living in Spain do get a vote. The voting system itself is a worry.”

Views were expressed at the Startups Awards Winners’ Dinner held in association with chartered accountants haysmacintyre at the exclusive Covent Garden Hotel.


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