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There is something incredibly exciting about the idea of becoming an entrepreneur. Just like the dashing hero or plucky heroine in the fairy tale, it is all about starting out with nothing but a desire to succeed and then using your wit and skill to overcome hurdles and challenges on the way to eventually triumph over disaster and claim your prize.

Unfortunately, real life is not always quite that straightforward. Every year thousands of hopeful entrepreneurs in this country decide to take the plunge and start up a business of their own. And every year thousands fail. Regardless of how you measure it, it is a stark fact that well over half of all start-up businesses fail within the first three years.


Perhaps one of the most reassuring aspects of reading through these interviews is that they explode the myth that you have to start young to be a successful entrepreneur. John Mudd was in his mid-fifties by the time he felt brave enough to take the plunge and start up his own snack company. Stephanie Manuel spent decades secretly dreaming of setting up a theatre school for children while she raised a family of her own. She finally got the opportunity to turn her dream into reality at the age of 44.


For some people in this book the answer lay in creating something they needed in their own lives. Heather Gilchrist decided to open a children’s nursery in Edinburgh because when she tried to find one for her son she discovered that all the good nurseries were already full. Darren Richards set up an internet dating agency because he was single and wanted to find a girlfriend.

Others decide to turn their hobbies into a business. Rory Byrne had skied every year from the age of four in the same resort in Switzerland, so it was a logical step to start up a company offering skiing holidays there.


One area where many entrepreneurs in this book have had to be particularly inventive is in finding the funds to get their ideas off the ground. With banks nowadays extremely wary of lending money to anyone without a previous track record, most had to approach the problem from another angle.

Daniel Mitchell funded his first company selling office equipment entirely on credit provided by suppliers after he realized that he could pay them 30 days later than his customers paid him. Philip Hughes started his ice-making business with the help of a £5,000 grant from Wands worth Enterprise Agency.


One of the most intriguing aspects of successful entrepreneurs is that many of them left school without any qualifications. Duncan Anatine is just one of those interviewed for this book who left school at 15 without an O level to his name. There are a couple of possible reasons for such a link. Without formal qualifications, it is not possible to gain entry to the traditional career paths such as accountant, doctor, or lawyer, so if people want to become a success they have to find ways of doing it on their own terms. At the same time, if you have never had a chance to prove your ability at school it may make you even more determined to do so later in life.


The popular image of the successful entrepreneur is someone who is willing to risk everything to take the plunge and follow a dream. However, one comforting aspect for those of a more cautious nature is that contrary to the stereotype, it is not always essential to quit your job, remortgage the house and sell the car in order to take the entrepreneurial route.


So what exactly is it that drives someone to take the entrepreneurial route? The obvious answer is the chance to make a lot of money. But as the stories in this book show, in most cases, money is only part of the answer, and sometimes it does not figure at all.

Last word

Some people are driven by an overwhelming desire to prove to others that they are capable of achieving something great. Derek Beevor, who now flies to work in a helicopter each day, says he was determined to prove wrong a teacher who told him to leave school because there was no point in his staying on to take O levels.

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