Is starting a business a privilege only for the privileged?

Entrepreneurship isn’t just for the privileged. We reveal how any business can succeed – despite the odds.

It’s no secret: starting a business is a challenge. And with over 200,000 UK start-ups having already been launched this year, the big question is, how are they managing to do so?

The answer often comes down to privilege. In this context, privilege is used to describe an aspect of social inequality, where factors such as age, disability, ethnicity and race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and social class impact every aspect of someone’s life.

When you cross reference the concept of privilege with entrepreneurship, the results show a definitive result: More than 80% of funding for new businesses comes from family, friends and personal savings. And, it’s because of this support that the average UK start-up is able to spend £22,756 in its first year and receive no financial return. Conversely, the underprivileged are almost 50% less likely to be self-employed than the rest of the working age population.

Speaking of her own experience, former Dragons’ Den panelist, Hilary Devey CBE is calling for change. She says, “to get [freight distribution company] Pall-Ex off the ground, I ended up selling my house and car. But how many young, aspiring entrepreneurs today even have their own house or car to sell? Launching a new business shouldn’t be a privilege to those born with a silver spoon in their mouth.”

And it doesn’t have to be. Entrepreneurship doesn’t come with a checklist, requiring ‘has x amount of savings’ or ‘is from a high-income background’ to be ticked. There are self-made entrepreneurs bucking the trend out there like Sir Richard Branson and Lord Alan Sugar. Having created multi-billion pound enterprises from nothing, they’re evidence that people can succeed despite the odds.

What’s holding aspiring entrepreneurs back?

Financial barriers are an obvious factor. Many entrepreneurs don’t have the option of using family funding or personal savings to launch their start-up. Their only other route is to seek funding elsewhere, which is often easier said than done. These entrepreneurs may be unaware of where to find it and, even when they do, may be regarded too high risk by funders.

Social ‘norms’ act as barriers too. For example, young entrepreneurs, who decide against a traditional career path or education, may have to work harder to convince society they’re serious about their choice to become business owners. The same goes for seniors who don’t opt for conventional retirement. But, as our article on the rise of retirees starting businesses explains – when it comes to business, age is just a number.

What’s more, some underprivileged entrepreneurs don’t have a strong network around them, which, can be vital to the success of a start-up. After all, these people are the support, the advisors and the shoulders to lean on when times get tough. This is especially true for entrepreneurs who are immigrants. More often than not, people go to a new country without a support system or social network. Add to that the challenge of mastering a new language, business customs and legal frameworks, and you can see how entrepreneurship can feel like an insurmountable task.

This is exactly what entrepreneur-to-be Harsha Rathnayake had to overcome when he came to the UK at the age of eighteen. When launching his rubbish collection service, London Junk, Harsha spoke no English, had just £160 in his pocket, and was refused a loan from the bank. However, after establishing himself, teaching himself a new language and working multiple jobs, he raised enough money to fund his business. Today, he not only shares his services across London but, across the UK, thanks to his franchise; Junk Hunters.

What help is out there for the less privileged entrepreneur?

The New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) is a UK government programme, designed for those wanting to start their own business or planning to develop an existing one. Having already helped seventy thousand people achieve self-employment, the programme is a continuing success. Struggling entrepreneurs benefit from constant mentorship, a weekly allowance worth up to £1,274 and a possible loan to help with start-up costs.

Learn more about the NEA and how to apply here.

Non-government organisations like, Startup Britain are also helping entrepreneurs realise their potential. Made by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, it’s driven by passion and expertise, and offers online resources, a calendar of entrepreneurship events and an interactive map to find local business support.

Both organisations rely on technology to raise their profiles and reach a wider audience. But, technology is breaking down barriers and giving less privileged people the option to change their lives all over the world.

In Afghanistan, women have limited employment opportunities, with a mixture of cultural expectations, travel restrictions and war-inflicted security concerns. On a mission to change this, is non-profit start-up Code To Inspire. It teaches women how to code so that they can compete in the global tech market as remote employees and entrepreneurs. With technology at its heart, Code To Inspire is helping women to conquer their fears of the unknown and go for their career ambitions.

One of the main things to remember is that the privileges you possess don’t dictate your abilities as an entrepreneur. Starting a business from scratch is difficult whether you’ve got £100 or £1,000,000 in the bank. Every person has a different path to entrepreneurship and, acknowledging that it’s a lot more accessible to people who are in a position to take on risk, access liquid capital and tap into a likeminded network of people doesn’t devalue anyone.

So, don’t forget: aspiring entrepreneurs from all backgrounds have the chance to succeed. It just starts with an idea. And, lastly: you’re not alone. There are schemes out there to support you on your business journey. It’s just a case of finding the one that suits you.