Next generation of investors thinking beyond tech

by Rasha Khawaja

Entrepreneurs are the cornerstone of the UK economy, I would go so far to say that they are the life blood of it. Small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2016 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized (SMEs). The combined annual turnover of SMEs was a staggering £1.8 trillion, 47% of all private sector turnover in the UK. And, in true entrepreneurial style, this sector is steadfastly maturing and growing. As the start-up landscape in the UK matures so do the investors, and the founders.


Welcome the New Year, 2017, and a fresh new mentality. There has been a noticeably sharp increase in appetite for alternative investments as the savvier investors are starting to look beyond tech (fintech, edtech, medtech), and into the creative sector. Let me define what I mean by creative sector. You can conjure up ideas of advancing methods in innovation design engineering, to digital hair salons, experimental micro gastronomy, and reactive multi-sensory textiles. Despite these borderline outlandish concepts, the people behind these ideas are the ones who are solving practical, very real world, very simple, everyday problems. Providing us with elegant solutions and are passionately driven to resolving the issues of our future factories, transport and health care services. There is no denying that we live in a totally tech-enabled culture, everything you can think of can be reached through your personal smart device in the palm of your hand at a whim. And, in order for your business to survive, you need to be tech-savvy and to have an active social media presence.


However, there are ideas that transcend tech and where the tech merely plays a supporting, rather than critical, role in the vision of the company. Take, for instance, the UK’s most beloved designer and inventor, Sir James Dyson, his DC07 bagless Dyson vacuum cleaner has gone down into engineering folklore and is responsible for rekindling the imagination of a generation of aspirational innovators. And Chef, Jamie Oliver. Starting his career in 1997 – little did he know that those cooking skills would lead him to his empire today that employs an estimated 7,000 people worldwide and continues to inspire students daily through his Apprentice Programme at ‘Fifteen’ that aims to help young, disadvantaged people to turn their lives around. Other national treasures such as J.K Rowling, Julian Metcalfe, Jo Malone, Stella McCartney and the late Zaha Hadid, are all examples of individuals who dared to venture away from traditional tech and reaped the rewards. Not only have they all built hugely successful companies but they have also brought about compelling, positive and provocative social change along the way.


The creative economy in the UK outperformed the general economy last year by 3.6 times and, with an estimated 2.8 million potential jobs in the creative sector in a post-brexit world, such numbers should not be sniffed at. This is categorically a sector that will only continue to grow as raw human ingenuity is not something that you can outsource. If anything, creativity is on the rise as we are looking at a generation who are being encouraged to be problem solvers and free thinkers. It is devastating to think that, despite the creative economy being so large, and even with substantial projected growth on the horizon, there do not seem to be many mechanisms in place to connect these stellar creatives with suitable, quality investors. With strong government support, most investments last year were directed towards technology start-ups, however the creative sector is being strongly and wrongly overlooked. Without proper support structures in place, these companies, as all start-up companies, have a high risk of failure and the solid industries that our country was originally founded on will gradually start to dissipate.


We categorically need to recognise the importance of mentoring and support the most driven creative entrepreneurs, those that are committed to meaningful social change. And investors have to start taking bolder risks to back more creative leaders, those who can be strong corporate citizens and have the potential to bring about positive changes to our economy. A call to action also goes out to all fertile creative minds who have been bewildered or disillusioned from commercialising their ideas. All ideas, no matter how big or small, can potentially change the world. And, with the right mentor and partners in place, nothing gives you more ultimate control than having real-world ownership of your concept and being able to share it with others. Not to mention the incredible satisfaction; that I can tell you from personal experience.


For this to happen, you have to allow people to come on the journey with you and help devise some order to your creativity, which takes time. Time to build trust and time to install the proper processes in place that are necessary for your company to grow effectively. Everything worthwhile is worth waiting for.  Despite the recent shocks to the system, I am very optimistic for the year ahead. Hopefully, should UK investors start to take more calculated risks and our creatives start risking to venture into setting up more of their own businesses then the results could only prove beneficial to everyone.