ISBE President’s October Blog

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A BLOG from Professor Pauric McGowan, President of the Institute for Small Business and
Entrepreneurship

On November 8th and 9th the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship will be holding its annual conference in Belfast. It looks like it’s going to be a very successful meeting of academic researchers and educators from almost 40 countries, in the area of entrepreneurship and small business, with some 330 papers submitted across 15 tracks.  That we have so many quality papers has been possible because of the efforts of Track Chairs and their team of reviewers who have worked hard over the summer to read papers and to give authors guidance on how they can best prepare their papers for presentation at the conference. I would like to record my sincere thanks to them all. Without their dedication and enthusiasm for progressing entrepreneurship research we would not have the quality of conference that we have come to expect from the Institute. The themes this year has been on Borders, prosperity and an entrepreneurial response. We started a conversation on a related theme at our conference in Paris last year in the wake of the vote across the UK to quit the European Union, (EU), the so-called ‘BREXIT vote’, and we hope to progress that conversation in Belfast in November.

BREXIT, however, is only one example of ‘bordered thinking’ in business practice in these times. Consider attitudes towards and support for those within minority communities in the UK, for example, and indeed across the EU, keen and capable of engaging in entrepreneurial business venturing, or the efforts of women, striving to level the playing field in their business venturing efforts. Bordered thinking exists, it seems more widely than perhaps we realise or even perhaps, want to acknowledge, with implications for policy and practice. Whether it is access to finance, social capital or education programmes, there is a need to recognise that bordered thinking can influence our attitudes and practices in ways that impact on the potential for sustainable future prosperity where not everyone, necessarily, has quite the same opportunities for entrepreneurial venturing.

BREXIT of course does present the UK with a whole new set of circumstances. It is the uncertainty however, that is causing the most concern combined with the length of time that it is taking to provide any answers. Indeed, as one could have predicted, the decision to leave the EU has raised complex questions that are likely to take years to resolve satisfactorily around the economy, immigration, future security arrangements between a separate UK and the other EU member states and, as matters start to unfold, even possibly, regarding the integrity of the UK itself. For Institute members’ additional questions still to be resolved revolve, for example, around the status of research funding opportunities originating from the EU and the potential impact of the decision to leave on future student and staff exchanges between the UK and colleagues in the EU higher education sector. The stakes, for the UK are high. Five per cent of total enrolments in UK Universities were European, enjoying the same fee structure as UK students. Fifteen per cent of academic staff in UK Universities come from other EU countries, according to Universities UK (UUK). The Institute, as one of the longest standing research communities in entrepreneurship and small business, with close ties with small business practice and those forming policy in support of greater entrepreneurship in the UK, has a particular concern in how BREXIT will impact on those relationships and research prospects. This interest is sharpened because a significant part of our membership is made up of colleagues from right across the EU and indeed beyond.

Machiavelli, the 14th century European prince summarised the challenge of managing change very well with the following comment. There is nothing more uncertain, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to introduce a new order of things. With any change, particularly great change such as posed by BREXIT, comes considerable levels of uncertainty, which is bad for business. There is also opportunity however, for some. Research tells us that entrepreneurial people are opportunity focused individuals with some commentators suggesting indeed that they are obsessively opportunity focused. But so many appear to be unsure as to the benefits of BREXIT, why? There is enough research to suggest that western economies have benefited over the centuries from the impact of ‘disruptive’ initiatives. Check on your Kondratieff Waves to help you appreciate that point and perhaps BREXIT is one of those moments. Challenging border thinking in business practice and processes, in technology, in markets and in products, leveraging value from innovation and change, is undoubtedly what entrepreneurial people do. So, are we likely to see borders lowered or raised as BREXIT is enacted? We’ll have the opportunity to explore some of the answers around such bordered thinking in Belfast, I look forward to seeing you there.

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