Striving to rediscover hunger will make successful start-ups

Young Jews are making their mark in technology and social media


Think Jews in business and names such as Sir John Ritblat (British Land), Lord Kalms (Dixons) and Lord Sugar (Amstrad) might well spring to mind. Go back a bit further and there was Tesco's Sir Jack Cohen (1930s), Michael Marks, co-founder of Marks & Spencer (late 1880s), and Nathan Rothschild (N M Rothschild and Sons) in the early 1800s. Anglo-Jewry has a history of producing some of the best of global industry and creating some of the world's most iconic business empires, be it in banking, property or retail.

Fast forward to modern times and Jewish businessmen remain some of the most accomplished in their fields: Nick Leslau (Prestbury), Michael Sherwood (Goldman Sachs) and David Reiss (Reiss), but perhaps not to the same level or quantity as their predecessors.

How so? Not because they are not capable, but because the business landscape has changed. "A generation ago it was very fashionable for Jews not to become entrepreneurs but to become professionals," says Alex Brummer, city editor of the Daily Mail.

There is no shortage of leading Jewish professionals: Jeremy Newman (former CEO of BDO), Jonathan Morris (partner at BLP) and Neville Kahn (global leader of Deloitte's reorganisation services).

The concern today is that there is a lost generation of entrepreneurs. While there are some exciting 40-somethings who have made the big-time: Errol Damelin (Wonga), Brent Hoberman (lastminute.com and mydeco.com) and Tim Steiner (Ocado), the UK - Jewish or not - is no Silicon Valley.

Multimillionaire internet entrepreneur Marc Worth, 50, is the chief executive of Stylus Media Group and chairman of UK Israel Business. He is the co-founder of Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), the online fashion information service, which he sold to Emap for £142 million.

He says: "Back in my day, going to university was an option, not an imperative. It was certainly not frowned upon if you went into business rather than continuing education. I think the world is a very different place today."

Robert Ohrenstein, KPMG partner and head of private equity transaction services for KPMG Europe, agrees. "Something has changed. I don't know if it's because our grandparents' generation came to the UK - or were already here - in a pretty destitute state, and were forced to make a go of things. They had a hunger for success. As a result they were vastly better off than their parents but now, we are not in that situation.

Facts

1. First rule of business: Make sure you are technology-literate
2. With technology comes the plus that start-ups are relatively cheap to launch
3. Entrepreneurs are generally willing to help and network with other people
4. Be hungry: And that will give you the determination to succeed in business

"Today it is more about the pressure of living up to parental expectations; getting a degree, training, and a good job, combined with a much tougher economy."

Over the past couple of decades the trend has been for someone to spend the first ten or so years following a career and learning from a larger institution with a view to venturing out on their own. Yet in reality, people become good at making money and get too comfortable.

"They don't want to break out," says Alex Brummer. "That tendency to edge towards a profession has muted a lot of the ingenuity. I think we have lost a lot of the post-war generation of people who had a lot of 'go out and get it.' We have been too prosperous for too long. I fear that Anglo-Jewry has become very conventional and establishment-orientated."

Mr Ohrenstein points out "real succession issues" among the major successful Jewish businesses. "The founders' children are either not interested in taking over, or, for governance reasons, the reins can't just be handed over."

What's more, several family-run firms have been swallowed up by multi-national corporations and it has become harder to start again.

"Long gone are the days where you could sell aerials from your car boot," says Daniel Seal, chief executive of UK Israel Business. "Setting up a business now needs significant financial backing, and there is a huge risk associated with it."

Former journalist-cum-businesswoman Lisa Berwin comes from a rare long line of entrepreneurs. Her great-great-grandfather set up suit company Berwin & Berwin, now run by her grandfather, father and sister, and her late great-uncle, Stanley, founded leading law firm, S J Berwin.

Lisa, 30, recently launched her own PR firm but believes "setting up a business today is a scarier prospect than it used to be. I don't know many people my age who have launched their own business."

Many Jewish success stories have come from the US (Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook and Reid Hoffman's LinkedIn) or Israel. The UK's entrepreneurship has been hindered by the global crisis, and smaller businesses have struggled to make the transition to larger ones. That said, there are some exciting entrepreneurs who have been successful; and attempts are now being made by a new breed of digital entrepreneurs.

Jonathan Stankler, KPMG partner and head of technology for KPMG corporate finance, says his firm takes start-ups "extremely seriously. Of all the sectors, a small start-up technology company could be the next Google."

Technology has without doubt changed the business landscape. All companies must embrace it to survive. Mr Stankler says: "Unless you have an app and can embrace technological change, you will fall behind. Perhaps this is where businesses with an older mindset have struggled."

One success story is Leeds-based Xtras Accessories. The family-run firm, which sells hair extensions, discounted beauty products and fragrances across the UK, was set up by husband-and-wife Sandra and Andy White, in 1984. Daughter Leah and son-in-law Steven Berke have since joined, and last year launched an e-commerce division.

Mr Berke, 28, says: "Developing the digital side of our company is vitally important to us, and it's currently the entire focus of my role. While many high-street retailers have struggled in recent years, e-commerce has enjoyed, year on year, double-digit growth, and with the rise of mobile and tablet devices, this trend will only continue."

Mr Berke believes that being a family-run organisation is beneficial to business. "It helps us retain a close relationship with our staff - a majority of them have been working for us for many years. In our niche market, we can operate in a more flexible manner which allows us to react more quickly to ever-changing and unpredictable trends. We regard this as key to our success."

The business environment appears gradually to be changing back in favour of entrepreneurism, and many argue that the start-up culture is now more fruitful than ever.

Zac Gazit, head of UJIA's business division, says: "There was a gap, but we are now seeing a new trend in UK Jews launching start-ups. There had been a delay compared to other countries, partly due to the financial situation and lack of government commitment, but society's view towards entrepreneurship has changed."

According to a report last year from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, there are 4.5 million small businesses operating across the UK, with SMEs accounting for 99 per cent of all enterprises in the UK.

Now an increasing number of 30-to-40-yearolds are having a crack at their own businesses. Dan Reinhold, senior business development manager for KPMG in London says: "People think that if they are going to strike out on their own they should do it by 40."

Shraga Zaltzman, managing director of Jewish business-assistance organisation, TrainE-TraidE, says: "We are receiving more than eight inquiries a week from new businesses".

The UK now has its own entrepreneurial hub in London's East End. Home to around 5,000 technology-focused companies - and growing - the area has been dubbed Silicon Roundabout, perhaps Europe's biggest challenge to California's Silicon Valley.

The UK government has also been playing its part with David Cameron's declared intention to boost London's role as a world-class "Tech City." It has pledged £400 million to London's tech economy and set out major policy changes encouraging entrepreneurship.

Daniel Saunders, chief of staff, for trade and economic affairs at London's Israel Embassy, says: "Britain has recognised the need to grow the start-up culture in the UK and has looked to Israel for inspiration and collaboration."

The growth of social networking is also having an effect. Several sites and LinkedIn and Facebook groups have popped up to encourage businesss, such as Our Entrepreneurship, Start-up Specialists and UJIA Ignite.

And several first-generation digital entrepreneurs are now actively mentoring the new generation through projects such as Seedcamp, established by father and son Robin and Saul Klein in 2007.

Thirty-year-old lawyer Gemma Posner, founder of popular Facebook group, Our Entrepreneurship, says: "I was always hearing about small businesses being set up, particularly baking ones, so I thought setting up the group would be a good way of supporting each other in the community. I would prefer to spend my money with someone in the community whom I might know, rather than someone I don't know.

"Setting up a business can be expensive, especially advertising, so it is a way of helping people get exposure."

According to Ivor Tucker, chief executive of Entrepreneurs World, "the critical issue is for aspiring entrepreneurs is to know that they don't have to do it all alone - there is an enormous amount of goodwill from within the community to help other entrepreneurs succeed. Unlike the corporate world, entrepreneurs are very willing to share knowledge, experience and connections."

UK Israel Business recently launched its Working Lunch Club to help SMEs explore new business opportunities.

Young Jews are setting up businesses in the technology, media and telecommunications sectors. Exciting entrepreneurs and start-ups include Bradley Starr, founder of Bizantra, a company supplying software products to SMEs. His previous start-up, Miller Star, was sold to a major US advertising agency, now part of McCann Erickson.

There is Shai Weiss, founding partner of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Green Fund, which invests in renewable technologies; Andrew Showman, founder of CurrentBody.com, the UK's leading online supplier of electrical health, fitness and beauty products; Bernard Howard, who sold his niche recruitment sites TotallyLegal.com and TotallyFinancial.com plus the Australian versions to Trinity Mirror in 2007; and Rob Keve, whose customer-feedback software provider, Fizzback, was sold to Israeli technology provider NICE Systems for $80 million.

Bradley Starr says: "It's a tough environment but there are opportunities for original thinkers. A big positive today is that it has never been cheaper to start a business due to the low cost of technology and the ability to network."

And while the landscape is changing and Anglo Jewry's start-up boom continues, there is still a long way to go. A greater hunger is needed, combined with a media and government shift towards a greater celebration of entrepreneurship, to ensurethat the next generation of talent will opt, not to join Goldman Sachs or BLP, but to establish their own business - and it might just be the next Facebook or LinkedIn.

    Last updated: 9:45am, June 7 2012