Honorary President is Sir Richard Branson and the board of directors includes: Aaron Simpson – Co-founder and Group Executive Chairman, Quintessentially, Luke Johnson – Chairman, Risk Capital Partners Ltd, Brent Hoberman, founder lastminute.com and mydeco.com, Duncan Bannatyne, OBE – Founder, Bannatyne Group & Sensory Spa/Dragon in the Den, George Jatania – Founder, Lornamead, Lara Morgan – Founder, Pacific Direct.
The Exchange’s model draws on the experience of a similar organisation in Scotland, The Scottish Exchange, which was set up by leading entrepreneurs including Sir Tom Hunter in the 1990s and now has 430 members heading up companies that employ over 290,000 people and boast collective sales of £23billion.
The underlying philosophy is that entrepreneurs learn most from fellow entrepreneurs – those who have been there and done it. In terms of the Exchange’s practical activities and services it has three main aspects.
Firstly, helping entrepreneurs to connect – there are 32 events in the Exchange’s calendar this year, ranging from an evening with an established entrepreneurs, where many board directors have agreed to speak, to educational and investor/dragon’s den type events organised by the corporate partners.
Secondly, providing funding opportunities for members, which is the latest initiative that has just been launched. For any members looking for access to venture capital or private equity funds, the Exchange has teamed up with a network of investment and wealthy individuals alongside one of the headline partners, LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group, to offer members various avenues for funding opportunities.
Thirdly, becoming a strong voice for entrepreneurs – the Exchange has drawn up a manifesto for Britain and a 2012 policy package for change of targeted measures to help entrepreneurs. The agenda here is to ensure that our Members concerns are heard and be recognised as an influential voice both by the national media and the Government.
Through all its partnerships, mentoring opportunities and regular networking events, the Exchange brings together like-minded entrepreneurs across the UK to connect and share invaluable advice, knowledge and ideas, and members have the opportunity to pick up practical tools and insights to upscale their existing or planned ventures. As a non-profit organisation it also collaborates with selected entrepreneurial organizations and companies to increase public awareness of the importance and value of entrepreneurs to the economy.
The Exchange’s CEO, Shalini Khemka, is herself a successful entrepreneur: a former Treasurer at Bankers Trust/Deutsche Bank, Shalini co-founded, in 2004, the world’s first online business for bank to bank trading of letters of credit, before joining Lloyds TSB’s Financial Institutions division, where she ran the Group’s Plain Vanilla International Trade Finance business for four years. She later joined the bank’s private equity arm, Lloyds Development Capital in March 2008, heading their entrepreneurs’ network, The LDC Opportunity Club, and also spearheaded the firm’s British Asian and UK/India businesses.
Below she set out her thoughts on the key entrepreneurial issues in the UK and the Exchange’s aims and ambitions in response to questions from our editorial team.
What more needs to be done by the government to ensure entrepreneurs are being supported?
If SMEs and entrepreneurs are to help drive the UK’s faltering economy forward in 2012, the government must take bolder, targeted action to put in place the conditions for these businesses to thrive. To push this, we have drafted an ‘SME Policy Package for Britain’, a range of creative, bold and specific measures that are intended to help spur the growth of SMEs, reduce unemployment and help to rebalance the economy. Specifically among the actions we are calling for are an expansion in enterprise zones, extension of the NI holiday to London and the South East, further lightening of the burden of employment law compliance and a boost for apprenticeships and internships.
As a lobbying organisation do you feel you have enough access to policy makers?
As a young organisation we are still building our profile and influence with the Government and policymakers. However, we did contribute to last November’s Growth Review, conducted by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills and led by Small Business Minister Mark Prisk. As we grow as an organisation I am sure our access to policymakers will increase and it is certainly one of our aims to be the voice for UK entrepreneurs and to be the leading body that lobbies policymakers on behalf of entrepreneurs.
Are the high street banks living up to their promise to help new businesses?
The lending environment is still difficult and I don’t think there has been any significant improvement in lending to SMEs. This is partly due to the fact that banks themselves still need time to clean up their balance sheets and sort out problem loans. Once more progress has been made here; banks will be in a much better position to increase their lending to SMEs. Also, we do welcome initiatives such as the Business Growth Fund and the Chancellor’s credit-easing plan which should help the flow of bank funding to SMEs.
Is the UK an entrepreneur friendly economy in comparison to our neighbours in Europe and the US?
I think UK SMEs are still over burdened with regulation and red tape, but there is increasing recognition of this by the government and senior business circles. Recent measures in the Budget have helped to improve the environment for SMEs but more still needs to be done. In my own view, education is the key and schools and universities must adopt a greater role in increasing awareness of the possibilities of entrepreneurialism amongst students and the younger generations.
What inspired you to set up LEE?
I have been lucky to have been involved in a start up and have seen first hand, the challenges faced by entrepreneurs. I’ve also being able to see things from an investor’s perspective and realised that I have always been passionate about entrepreneurialism. Iwanted to make a contribution in helping the UK become a more free-enterprise focused and entrepreneurial economy. I was also inspired by our sister organisation, The Entrepreneurial Exchange in Scotland, founded in 1994, which has been an outstanding success.
With respect to the Exchange, I am only at the beginning of my journey in terms of establishing an organisation that will help entrepreneurs in every aspect of their business life, from networking and funding to mentoring and policy formation but I think we have a bright future and much to contribute.
The board of entrepreneurs is impressive. How did you manage to get these people involved?
I initially held a dinner at LDC, where I invited the former Chairman of The Scottish Exchange and a gathering of the leading entrepreneurs from across the UK to discuss my proposal and put their expressions of interest to be involved. It evolved from there and luck had a part to play!
Who can join LEE?
Although our primary target is owners of businesses with more than £2m of annual sales, we are however looking to broaden the range of membership options to include earlier stage entrepreneurs.
Why are the entry levels set at £2m turnover for members?
There are other entrepreneur groups which purely focus on start-ups, so those younger, earlier stage companies are already well-served. I wanted to build an organisation that would help the companies that can contribute the most to reviving and the UK’s economy and returning it to a path of prosperity and growth.
Could you explain what the benefits of membership are?
Becoming a member opens up a host of opportunities for growth-orientated business owners who can see the value of sharing their experiences with like-minded individuals. We are ‘for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs’. The greatest benefit we offer is a community of people with the same entrepreneurial spirit, who can share knowledge and experience on a wealth of business related topics and help each other to build successful businesses.
These opportunities are facilitated by regular focused dinners and national cocktail receptions, with speakers who are highly successful and world renowned entrepreneurs. There are also opportunities for mentoring from senior members and access to an early stage funding initiative, which we are establishing with one of our corporate partners, LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyd Banking Group.
I’ve read about mentoring opportunities, but what does this involve?
Our mentoring opportunities work on two levels: firstly through my office where I facilitate responses from members of the board to any business-related questions and issues sent in from members, and secondly through the mentoring by more senior members of the LEE who are not necessarily on the board, to younger members who require specific guidance and advice on their companies.
What plans for the future of LEE?
Our aim is to grow from our London beginnings to become a truly national organisation, including all areas of the UK outside Scotland. Our first national reception taking outside London is being held in Birmingham this June and will be followed by many more. Above all, we want to provide as full a range of services and opportunities to entrepreneurs as we can, to help them grow and expand and to become the most authoritative and recognised voice of UK entrepreneurs.