Innovation is possible across every sector

After judging the Startups Awards, Simply Business COO Chris Slater speaks up for the ingenuity and national importance of great microbusinesses

The entrants to the 2014 Startups Awards are testament to the quality of the UK’s small businesses.

Judging the awards has been particularly difficult this year, with an exceptional crop of businesses from a range of sectors and locations.

I’ve been particularly impressed by the breadth of the entries we looked through on our judging day, held at Coutts.

Reading the newspapers you could be forgiven for thinking that the country was dominated entirely by tech businesses. These are the firms that get the headlines – the sexy, generally London-based ventures taking the world further online.

Of course, we saw a great group of tech firms in this year’s awards, and they all deserve their place in the shortlist. But for me, the entrants illustrate an important current in British business: a flourishing of exciting firms operating across a range of fields including bricks and mortar, innovative product development, recruitment, and even beer.

There has long been a sense that the government believes tech firms will drag the economy back to a sustainable footing. These businesses, located almost exclusively in the capital, seem to take the lion’s share of Westminster’s attention, with new programmes and schemes to help them grow announced almost weekly.

Time to think again

But this year’s Startups Awards entrants should cause politicians of all stripes to think again about their priorities. The sheer scope of the businesses that entered this year reminds us that there is a vast wealth of talent, expertise, and entrepreneurial ambition to be found in every sector.

Another important trend we saw this year was a return to British manufacturing. Some of the most exciting entrants are building physical products, not in factories in far-flung countries, but right here, at home. Just as importantly, this is happening across the country. These vital new firms are springing up throughout the UK, not just in individual enclaves like London.

At Simply Business we deal with start-ups and established businesses every day. We specialise in microbusinesses and sole traders: the firms that make up 95% of the country’s small businesses. We know what makes these firms tick, and we understand their concerns. Our customers are building exciting businesses in a vast range of fields, sometimes well-established and sometimes unexpected – and that’s why it was so exciting to see that trend reflected in this year’s Startups Awards finalists.

Tomorrow’s major employers

This year’s entrants illustrate the fact that we need to think more broadly about the UK’s business talent. This is not an ‘either/or’ situation: tech firms have a huge amount to offer the country’s economy, and they are driving exciting innovations that could have huge impacts for all of us. The tech businesses that we saw this year are very much a part of that new wave.

But we need to remember that talent can be found in every area of the UK’s entrepreneurial community. Many of the firms we’ve seen this year have the potential to be tomorrow’s major employers, and Westminster must recognise that businesses at the forefront of a jobs-based recovery could be found in any field.

There are exciting, agile, innovative businesses to be found in every sector, and across the country. This year’s Startups Awards finalists are perhaps the best illustration of the wealth of talent the UK has to offer.

Chris Slater is the chief operations officer for the Startups Awards’ headline sponsor, Simply Business.

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