StartUp Britain under flak

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StartUp Britain, the private sector campaign to reinvigorate the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit, is under fire from home-grown software companies for recommending overseas competitors on its website.

Sunderland Software City, an initiative supporting the growth of north-east England’s software industry, has written to StartUp Britain and Mark Prisk, the small business minister, to say that it estimates that 79 per cent of the online business tools promoted on the site are based overseas.

In the website’s “Getting organised” section, for example, there are five companies listed, four of which are American and one is Australian.

Bernie Callaghan, Sunderland Software City’s chief executive, stressed that the letter was not a call for protectionism for the UK’s software industry but said it did raise questions about support for UK-based companies. “It seems bizarre that a government-backed scheme claiming to be the cheerleader for British innovation should be actively signposting people away from… British innovation,” he said.

One of the Sunderland-based companies mentioned in the letter as those that offer software for free or on a trial basis is The Test Factory. Set up in 2008 and now employing 25 people and profitable, it specialises in online assessment technology for businesses. Customers include Microsoft, Vodafone and HSBC.

Lizzy Withington, its head of account management, said small companies would like to achieve the profile given on the website to overseas-based businesses.

“It doesn’t send the right message to new and growing businesses that they can get support here in the UK,” she said. “The whole point of StartUp Britain is to increase the economy of this country.”

Launched in March and publicly backed by David Cameron, prime minister, StartUp Britain has already been criticised for recommending 99designs.com,
a US logo design company. It now recommends the UK’s Design Business
Association. The scheme is also using Staples, the
US-based office supplies company, to host weekly classes for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Michael Hayman, one of StartUp Britain’s eight founders, has now promised to visit Sunderland, a
move warmly welcomed
by Sunderland Software City, which has offered to be StartUp Britain’s “software sherpa”, and the Test Factory.

Mr Hayman told the Financial Times that many “best of breed” companies are international by their very nature. “There’s a world of companies and experience that companies will wish to work with.”

But he said the website’s phase two, to be launched in the autumn, would have a more crowd-sourcing approach with young entrepreneurs talking to each other.

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