In 2007, James joined the panel of the highly popular BBC TV show Dragons’ Den where he invested in a diverse range of businesses and as a result increased his profile in the media. A strong supporter of UK entrepreneurs and small business we caught up with James to find out about his involvement with Start-Up Loans, a government funded initiative that provides support for entrepreneurs across England and Northern Ireland, hear his views on current issues and share some business advice.
What prompted to get involved as the Chair of Start-Up Loans?
SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy and in order to see growth, starting new businesses is key. It not only creates more jobs, but it makes entrepreneurs more employable in the future, ultimately making a more vibrant society. I’m passionate about business and enterprise, so the opportunity to help budding entrepreneurs get off the ground seemed like a great vision, and one that I wanted to be a part of.
There is a common belief among many SMEs that the banks still aren’t lending? Do you think that’s the case?
You have to remember that the banks received severe criticism for lending too freely before the recession. So yes they are definitely a bit more cautious but this is understandable. I’m not too concerned about funding for SMEs anymore, because the investment environment is far stronger than it was a few years ago, especially for good businesses that have done their research. You have things like crowdfunding, angel investing, invoice discounting – there are many options now and it’s about picking the right one for your business.
What are the biggest challenges facing the business community in 2014?
I think more businesses need to adapt to and make use of technological developments. Customer expectations are rising all the time, and if you don’t adapt, you will get left behind.
Talent acquisition is also going to pick up – as the economy recovers we will start to see employees move around more, so there will be more emphasis on the recruitment process over the next year.
Which individual inspired you to set up in business and why?
My father was my biggest inspiration – he had his own leather manufacturing business and from a very early age I was exposed to the entrepreneurial bug. He had such an incredible drive and work ethic, and this has stuck with me to this very day. I used to take some of the jackets he made to school and sell them for a small profit – from then on there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to have my own business.
What is the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
Again it was my father, who told me to observe the masses and do the opposite. When everybody is looking the other way, or maybe complaining about economic conditions – that’s the time to look for opportunities.