Small Business: Big Opportunity

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke at an event organised by BIS (the department for business, innovation and skills) and Enterprise Nation for large businesses to highlight the benefits of them working with, investing in and selling to small businesses. Conversations around the room reflected recent positive news that business confidence is rising, but the real topic at hand was how can big businesses practically support and champion the UK’s small business community to help sustain economic growth?

In the UK, we’re lucky to play home to 4.8 million of the world’s most dynamic SMEs. We’re surrounded by vibrant thinking and innovative working practices which can positively influence large business’ operating models; inspiring us to introduce new ways of working. For me, there are three clear wins to be gained by both parties if big businesses become champions of the small business community.

Firstly, by applying our own business assets we can really help SMEs improve their chance of success. At O2, our network is our greatest asset and digital is what we do best, so over the past year we have found new ways to apply these strengths to help small businesses thrive. For example, our ‘Pop up office’ device allows employees to hook up to 10 devices to a 4G connection when they are out and about, so they can work from wherever they are and stay connected to customers.

Secondly, there is a significant value exchange to be had between big and small businesses. Innovation and agility come easily to small businesses where larger businesses can easily become stuck in certain processes – choking off the innovation and ideas generation. By working with the small business community, whether through events, mentoring schemes or online forums, it’s possible for larger organisations to promote a healthy two-way knowledge exchange with their smaller counterparts.

For example, I really value spending time at our start-up accelerator, Wayra, as I find it to be incredibly energising. I encourage my team to work from Wayra regularly and engage with the businesses there, as it helps us think differently about problem-solving and innovation, and stops us from getting too bogged down in corporate process.

Finally, with big business refreshed, the wider economy will inevitably reap the rewards and realise proper growth.  The more consumers feel the impact of the strengthening economy, the more they will spend in their local businesses. I strongly believe that it is only through this collective effort of big businesses that we will fuel a more innovative and progressive Britain.

It’s great that we are seeing improved collaboration between business and Government to help smaller businesses get to the next level of growth. Initiatives like The Business Exchange, which was launched in January by BIS and Enterprise Nation,  are forcing large businesses to wake up to the reality that they have a role to play in this process. And to get firmly back on the road to growth, we need to continue this concerted effort from big businesses to support the small business community.