Young entrepreneurs in the UK find it harder than their counterparts to convert smart business ideas into high growth* start-ups and new jobs, a global study published today has found.

New research by Shell LiveWIRE and Youth Business International (YBI) compared entrepreneurial attitudes, ambitions and activity of young people in the UK against counterparts in other leading enterprise nations** based on latest data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).

The study, Unlocking Ambitions, Creating Growthfound that nearly one in five (18%) 18-34 year olds in the UK believe they have the entrepreneurial skills to start a business and perceive a potential business opportunity. Yet less than 4% go on to create a company that pays a wage and makes a profit.

Adding those who’ve started a company not yet paying a salary, the UK’s rate for converting potential young entrepreneurs into business owners is still less than half (49%). This rate of conversion is well behind countries including Singapore (84%), China (82%), the Netherlands (55%), Brazil (56%) and the USA (51%).

Additionally, of those young people who go on to start a business, young UK entrepreneurs are also more likely to hit a “growth glass ceiling” within three years of being in business. Despite leading the way on creating businesses which employ 6 – 19 people, none of the young UK people interviewed had created a business employing 20 staff or more. This is in stark contrast to their peers in China (5.2%), Germany (4.2%), the US (4.1%), and the Netherlands (3.3%).

This represents a missed opportunity for the UK economy, since high growth businesses create a disproportionate number of jobs in the UK. Separate research has found that high growth business represent only one per cent of businesses in the UK, but generate one million jobs, or 23% of the total, between 2007 and 2010***.

However, those young people surveyed who have started a business have the edge over most countries in terms of innovation. Over one third (34%) of young UK business owners have developed a product or service which they believe that few or no other businesses offer. GEM has found that innovative companies are expected to perform better, but as the research shows, this potential is not being realised.

Ed Daniels, Chairman, Shell UK, commented:

“The health of our economy depends on young people setting up businesses successfully. This research shows that we must do more to encourage entrepreneurship. Too often, young people have the ability to start a business but do not take the leap, or struggle to turn a fledgling business into a successful company.

“Young people’s ambitions and skills are not enough on their own. We need to foster entrepreneurship, ensuring that potential entrepreneurs have access to appropriate advice and capital. By encouraging a more vibrant economy and innovation, this can benefit business and wider society.”

Andrew Devenport, Chief Executive Officer, Youth Business International, added: “It is clear from this report – launched during Global Entrepreneurship Week - that we need to do more to help young people take the leap from just thinking about entrepreneurship, to actually doing it.

“If we want to continue to be global leaders in entrepreneurship, then it is imperative to look at and learn from what’s happening in the rest of the world. From embedding entrepreneurship into our education system, through to helping young entrepreneurs break through a growth glass ceiling, we can learn much from countries such as Singapore, China and the Netherlands.”

The report also revealed:

  • Entrepreneurship is perceived as a “poor career choice” by young people in the UK, which is a major reason why so many fail to act on their business ambitions. Just half of young people (56%) consider starting a company to be a good career option, significantly lower than in many other countries, including Brazil (88%), Netherlands (82%), China (75%), and France (70%).
  • Young people are worried about the risks. More than two in five (42.4%) young people believe that fear of failure is a barrier to starting a new business.
  • Encouragingly, there is a strong underlying ambition for growth, with 11.2% of young business owners planing to create 20 new jobs over the next five years. This places the UK only narrowly behind the US (11.3%) and some way ahead of entrepreneurs in bullish emerging economies, such as China (9.4%) and Brazil (3.1%).

The report identifies four distinct areas where more can be done to help young people:

  • Starting up: better support for young people with the ambition to start a business  by offering a combination of ‘hard’ support, such as access to finance, alongside a renewed focus on ‘soft’ forms of support, such as coaching and networking
  • Scaling up: better help for established young entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses once they reach the mid-point of growth to help young UK entrepreneurs to break through the “growth glass ceiling”. Unlock potential growth by providing better business planning, marketing and commercial development 
  • Start-up stigma: challenge the perception of enterprise as a poor career choice and reduce the fear of failure barrier by projecting an alternative image of entrepreneurship to the macho, high-stakes, high-risk model  - making enterprise more accessible via role models with whom young people identify
  • Youth education: establish entrepreneurship early as a viable career choice by introducing the idea of setting up a business into our education system from an early age. 

Launched in 1982, Shell LiveWIRE is an initiative that has been supporting young entrepreneurs for over 30 years, awarding over £5 million and helping around 600,000 young people in the UK explore the possibility of starting their own business.

Founded by The Prince of Wales in 2000, Youth Business International is a global network of independent non-profit initiatives helping young people to start and grow their own business. In the UK, YBI’s members are The Prince’s Trust and Start-Up Direct.

Down the report - Unlocking Ambitions, Creating Growth

Notes to Editors

* ‘high growth businesses’ are defined by the OECD as any firm with a minimum of 10 employees at the beginning of the period that achieves an average annualised employment growth greater than 20% over a three year period.

** Young entrepreneurs from the UK, USA, China, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Singapore were surveyed

***Stimulating small business growth – 10,000 Small Businesses UK, 2013

About the research

The Unlocking Ambitions, Creating Growth report is based on research conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). This report focuses on comparing and contrasting young people in the UK with other leading enterprise nations: Brazil, US, China, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Singapore. Each of the national teams participating in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor conducted the survey with a random representative sample of at least 2,000 people in the age bracket of 18 – 65 years.

Shell social investment activities are themed around science education, enterprise development and innovation.

  • Shell LiveWIRE has been running in the UK since 1982, when it was launched in the Strathclyde region of Scotland to combat the high level of youth unemployment. Since then it has helped thousands of young people in the UK to explore starting their own business and has spread to over 16 countries around the world. Shell LiveWIRE offers an independent and free online service and awards programme for young entrepreneurs.
  • Shell Springboard is fully funded and managed by Shell. It provides a financial boost to UK-based, small to medium sized enterprises with innovative, low-carbon business ideas. In the 2014 awards, a total of £330,000 will be given to 9 companies. In total Shell Springboard has awarded £2.58 million of funding to 71 innovative low carbon businesses in the UK over the last 8 years. The applications for Shell Springboard 2014 are open, and will close on 13th December 2013 
  • Shell Education Service provides a series of unique, interactive science workshops to primary school children.  Workshops are designed to support the National Curriculum in primary schools, benefitting both the pupils and teachers. The Shell Education Service also organises science days for local communities and trainee teachers, building their confidence and skills in teaching science.  Shell has run this programme for over 50 years.

To find out more about Shell Social Investment, please visit:

Youth Business International

Founded in 2000 by HRH The Prince of Wales, Youth Business International (YBI) is a global network of independent non-profit initiatives helping young people start and grow their own business and create employment. YBI supports under-served young entrepreneurs with a combination of training, access to capital, mentoring, and other business development services. YBI members have helped over 100,000 young people to create their own business and generate employment. An estimated 70% of these businesses are still trading after three years, with many going on to create significant levels of employment and further benefits for their communities.

More in media

Shell Media Relations

Details for contacting the UK media relations team, including contact names and telephone numbers.

Latest media releases

View our latest news and media releases and find out how you can contact the Shell UK Media Relations team.

You may also like

Investor Centre

Keep up to date with our share price, quarterly results and upcoming events.

Annual publications

Our Annual Report, Sustainability Report, Tax Contribution Report and other annual publications are available online and as PDF download. A printed copy of our Annual Report can be ordered free of charge.

Email alerts and social media

Keep up to date with developments at Shell via email alerts, Twitter or other social media.