With recent research showing a 7.9% increase from 2019 to 2020 in adults expecting to create a new business in the next three years, Innovate UK, which runs the Young Innovators Awards, has teamed up with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to explore the importance of role models in business and learn which role models have inspired the current generation of business leaders and innovators.
This new research by Innovate UK and FSB finds that 75% of entrepreneurs grew up with dynamic role models, yet 78% of female business owners didn’t see role models the same gender as them, and over half (54%) of people from ethnic minorities didn’t have role models the same ethnicity as them.
Just under a third (29%) of small business owners said that not having relatable role models meant their entrepreneurial journey has been slower (16%) or they are not as successful as they feel they could have been (13%). However, 12% said that not having relatable role models actually motivated them more.
While 44% of SME business owners had grown up with an entrepreneurial family member, only 11% cited a relative as the most significant role model in influencing their business decisions. This suggests a connection between the two life choices, even if it is often unconscious. With 76% of business owners saying a role model helps entrepreneurs build successful businesses, rising to 81% when looking at female leaders, its clear more work needs to be done to raise the profile of a diverse range of business owners to inspire the next generation.
Emily Nott, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Innovate UK says: “One of the themes that often comes through when talking to our young innovators is about the importance – and often the absence – of relatable role models. So many female leaders think role models are important, yet our research found over two thirds did not see female business role-models when growing up. It’s great that people can find inspiration in other genders and ethnicities, but still raises concerns that people can’t find relatable role-models – and the hidden impact this could be having on innovation in the UK. This makes the visibility of diverse role models even more important.”
The Young Innovators Awards recognise young people from across the UK with great business ideas who have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs and future leaders in innovation. Innovate UK understands the impact of role models – not only do the winners benefit from a £5,000 grant, a year’s living allowance, and one-on-one business coaching, but Innovate UK also runs a campaign to raise the profile of the winners to inspire other young people into innovation. This year, 49% of the Young Innovators are female; nearly a third are Black, Asian or from an ethnic minority background; 17% have a disability and the projects cover all regions across the UK.
There’s also support for those looking to develop their business idea through member organisations such as FSB. SME owners said the key benefits of joining such organisations were networking/mentor opportunities (41%), a sense of belonging/community (23%) and Access to legal/HR/finance advice (16%).
FSB National Chair, Mike Cherry, says: “Inspiring young people to set up their own business is crucial to maintaining an innovative, dynamic, and prosperous economy long into the future. As this research suggests, relatable role models have an important part to play in ensuring that the dream of starting a business is shared by young people in every part of the UK and from a fully diverse range of backgrounds. Without that, the UK will be failing to harness potential entrepreneurial talent, and in turn missing out on future jobs, growth and creative ideas.”
Karen Jelenje (30 years old) from Tottenham, North London, winner of the 2021 Young Innovators Awards says: “If you can’t see it, it’s hard to believe you can make it in wherever you choose to go. I think it really important there are diverse professional role models for young people to inspire them to succeed in business. Seeing successful business owners in the media that look like them and of all genders, ethnicities and ages, can help young people believe what’s possible.”
 Global Entrepeurship Monitor – 2020/2021 Global Report: https://www.gemconsortium.org/report/gem-20202021-global-report
 Innovate UK and FSB (2021) Role Models Research