There has never been a better time to be a small business, and perhaps never a worst time to be a big one.
Even the best of big businesses may be sustainable, only if they think more like small ones.
It is true the dominant technology giants are set to prosper for a while, until they themselves get displaced, but they are opening the doors to transforming the small to medium sized corporate sector (SMEs).
Countries with strong technology and innovation, including the UK, have greater access than ever to overseas ventures and markets, and while there are many uncertainties about the current political climate, one positive is that growing technology businesses with world markets will thrive regardless, and will increasingly look further afield for connections and collaborations.
In the London-based Forbury Investment Network, and its global outreach through the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform focused especially on sustainability in Commonwealth emerging markets, there has been a trend for increased overseas interest towards investment in growing UK businesses with technologies that have potential for scale in global markets. This is particularly important for social enterprises that can deliver measurable social benefits as well as decent financial returns.
Today, businesses are making connections globally with like-minded enterprises, learning to exploit the proven benefits of clustering which no longer needs geographic proximity and learning to effectively collaborate. Collaborating should be common sense, but for an early stage business it needs thought and structure, which is why the new guidelines on collaborative working from the International Organization for Standardization are significant and provide a good introduction to collaborative common sense.
Collaboration can be a game changer. Les Pyle, chief executive of the Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW), is keen to encourage more SMEs to gain the benefit of the ICW’s practical experience. Les says: “One of the real benefits of collaboration is innovation. It helps SMEs get onto a more level playing field with larger enterprises.”
In London and its connected overseas hubs across the Commonwealth, there has been a focus on working together to create a global ecosystem for collaboration between enterprises with a shared value of sustainability, defined very broadly to include increasing economic resilience and resource to manage environmental risks and climate change. SMEs can learn from this – looking towards the Commonwealth and beyond to find collaborative opportunities, and in turn they may look much more attractive to the investors they need. This also helps limit risks of investment in new technology that turns out to be overtaken by developments the other side of the world. Greater global collaboration helps in early adaptation of products to completely different markets, and helps identify genuine needs that a business may not appreciate in its home market. Hence, collaborating in a global cluster with likeminded enterprises adds hugely in sharing technology and market know how, and supplies potential partners to venture together into overseas markets.
UK businesses now have a great opportunity to collaborate with like-minded companies that aim to build new SME capability in other countries and become local partners, creating a win-win for countries that need the products but also benefit from job creation. This is capacity building by the private sector with real business following.
Platforms giving access to business through the internet and global networks are transforming the opportunities of the smallest start-ups. A tiny new business in Dhaka may turn into a major employer. Across the Commonwealth, 60 per cent of whose citizens are under 30 years old, millions of young people are entering the jobs market, many wanting to be entrepreneurs. There must be a high probability of some of them becoming very successful. It will pay the UK and other EU nations to look harder at business growth opportunities with the 93 per cent of world population not in Europe.
So, SMEs now connecting, clustering and collaborating will produce the global businesses of tomorrow, inspire investors, and in many instances hopefully improve the futures of people in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.