Unite and conquer?

I recently spent most of my Saturday morning lost in a West London industrial estate. It was cold, grey and windy, and when we finally arrived at a squad brick warehouse we were convinced we’d made a mistake and almost called it all off.

Thankfully, Sambrook’s Brewery is much more welcoming on the inside than the outside; as one of over 50 establishments within the London Brewers Alliance, the organisation dedicated to celebrating the craft of beer making within the M25, Sambrook’s has made itself open for tours and parties with a view to helping people appreciate their product. As our party – now appreciating a pint of our own – were shown around we learned about a raft of microbreweries that have popped up in the capital in recent years. The Brewers’ Alliance, it’s hoped, will help to improve the overall quality of beer in the city and, more importantly, will market the drink more effectively to the public. Those who associate ale-drinkers with bearded men in dark olde worlde pub corners are being treated to a widespread rebranding of the drink, as locally produced beers crop up in bars and pubs throughout trendy (and high-spending) areas of London. Drinkers are starting to take note of a host of microbrewers that offer much more than the standard big industry names.

The lessons here go beyond the delicate balance of hops and barley (on which we were all experts after two hours and a few good samples). A previously very unfashionable product seems to have risen through the ranks of the highly competitive drinks market, and its ascent is entirely down to the host of boutique breweries that give the ale market such depth and character. If the efforts of these independent businesses were not organised by the LBA, or a similar group, would we have seen this level of success from them?

Writing for the Telegraph, City AM Editor Allister Heath makes a strong case for an entrepreneurs’ union to further the needs of independent business. He discusses in detail two universal motivators of the entrepreneur: one is the desire to do away with corporate-minded business, and the other is the pursuit of independence by carving a new path in the world with one’s product or service.

Heath’s insights go some way to explaining why entrepreneurial unions haven’t been formed sooner, but also explain why they’re needed. Heath implies that many entrepreneurs would likely consider unions a cop-out from true independence, but as he also points out, the rules of commerce are set out by the largest organisations with the most influence to exert. Without the size and weight of unionised businesses, it’s a nigh on impossible task to strike out in a new direction and succeed; a sentiment that has been echoed by many commentators including one of David Cameron’s former leading advisors on technology and entrepreneurship.

As OMD UK’s Future of Britain research shows, Britain’s current generation of 16-24s are more driven to make money than ever before, and almost half of the nationally representative respondents said that they were more attracted to being self-employed. These insights put the current surge of entrepreneurship, fuelled in the media by what are dubbed ‘entre-tainment’ shows (BBC’s Dragon’s Den, The Apprentice and similar), into context. The question that remains is whether the next wave of start-up talent will flourish individually, or if it will take the support of entrepre-unions to guide new businesses through the corporate-friendly terrain of competitive markets.


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