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Britain's entrepreneurs 'must have a dream'

Indian entrepreneur Lord Gulam Noon believes that there is money for people to start their own business in the uncertain financial climate, but warns "you must have a dream".

Speaking to the BBC's Justin Rowlatt, the self-made food magnate offered his advice to entrepreneurs in Britain who may be nervous about starting a business, warning "if you don't take risk, you risk even more".

Transcript is below

Lord Gulam Noon: I used to see Arthur Rank movies, black and white, looking at the Piccadilly Circus, Changing of the Guards, Madame Tussaud. I was fascinated, particularly with London. So I came here as a tourist in 1966. The day I came, same day, England won the World Cup. Since then we haven't.

Justin Rowlatt: Did you think that your prospects would be better here in Britain than they would be in India? Was at that time Britain a better place to do business?

Lord Gulam Noon: Because India was not an open economy in those days, it was claustrophobic and I thought maybe I should go in where I have freedom to do. I had no money, but I had the spirit. I was a technocrat as well as an entrepreneur, and that's why I landed here and started my confectionary company, which I inherited from my father when he died and I was 9 years old.

Justin Rowlatt: Do people have that fire in Britain or are you finding when you go to India that's where the radiant, energetic, innovative entrepreneurs are?

Lord Gulam Noon: There are energetic, well-educated entrepreneurs. They have established themselves. They are flourishing. I can give you one example today, about three months back when I was in India, I happened to know one person and she came to me and she said, I would like to see you because I have some proposal for you for the business.

This girl who has got a PhD in United States and her name is Revathi Roy, she bought one taxi, went to the airport and asked the chap at the airport that give me a slot on a stand. The taxi was unique, she herself was driving, only she would take the lady passengers and the people who are old, but otherwise no. Now she has 10 taxis and she says I want another 10 taxis quickly. I said I will fund it to you.

Justin Rowlatt: But how do you encourage that appetite for risk, for developing new business? How do you get that going in people?

Lord Gulam Noon: My patent phrase is "if you don't take risk, you risk even more." So if you want to be an entrepreneur, if you translate the entrepreneurship, it is a risk. If you don't take risk, don't even think of making yourself entrepreneur because you will never be. But there should be a fire, there should be desire, there should be vision and this girl had a vision.

Justin Rowlatt: These people are the people who are going to develop the new businesses that lift economies like Britain's out of the doldrums. So what do we do to encourage them? Do we need to find "C" capital for them or are people too pampered in British society? Is it too easy to sign on and receive unemployment benefit? In India where you don't get those kinds of benefits, are people hungry and more likely to take the kind of risks that you see is essential?

Lord Gulam Noon: First of all, find a market. If you have a concept, money will flow either from a venture capitalist because there are so many venture capitalists looking for them. There is plenty of money around, but you have to give them a concept. If your concept is workable, then they will give you the money. But first of all, you must have enthusiasm, you must have vision, you must have dream.

Justin Rowlatt: Do you think there is the perception in Britain and in India that it is possible to create a successful business as somebody with perhaps not many resources? Do you think people realize that they can tap into that capital if only they come up with a good idea and present it well?

Lord Gulam Noon: Let's take an example of say a company called Infosys, Mr. Narayana Murthy. He started the company with only $250, I won't go into detail, now his company is worth $5 billion. There are people like this. Are you prepared to work hard? When you are an entrepreneur, there are no working hours. Even if you are sleeping, you are still thinking about your business. I know I did that. 16 hours is very common to work. From forklift driving to become a managing director and chairman, I have done everything.

Justin Rowlatt: So what would your key message be to somebody out there who is listening to this program, who is thinking, I want to be an entrepreneur and I want to do what Gulam has done. What is the essential quality that they need?

Lord Gulam Noon: Be honest to your own self. I think work on it, fall in love with your business, be nice to people. I was Indian, people thought, "Oh as an Indian what chance you have got to go in Sainsbury's or Waitrose or Morrisons or Marks & Spencer and secure an order?" Nobody asked me my nationality. Nobody saw my color. I had a product. I convinced them that I could deliver the quality which I am showing you now. And I am in business with them. I don't have a single line contract with any of this large corporation, and still I am in business with them for the last 20 years.

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  • 29 Sep 2011