A BOOM in new businesses is proving Oxford is a hotbed for entrepreneurs, new figures show.
Last night experts said the city’s successful track record in new start-up firms was sparked by the legacy of its two universities and history of high-tech innovation.
It has also been helped by the popularity of programmes like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, they said.
New figures show more people in Oxford are starting their own businesses than ever before.
A record 591 new companies in the city registered with Companies House during the first half of 2012 – up more than 10 per cent on the 534 start-ups in the same period last year.
And despite the risks, the failure rate among all business has fallen by 10.8 per cent from 369 to 329 in the same period, according to the report from business advisers Duport.
Nationally it was 8.9 per cent.
Former Oxfordshire Young Business Person of the Year James Woollard, now 36, was 24 when he started his first business.
Mr Woollard now employs 20 people at his packaging company Polythene UK and another eight at solar panel wholesaler Evergreen, both in Witney, and now lectures at Oxford Spires Academy.
Mr Woollard said: “Young people are turning to entrepreneurship here in Oxfordshire because they have the will to do it.
“The fact that there is no alternative easy street any more focuses their minds.
“Good luck to them. I tell teenagers: ‘Go for it’.”
The Duport survey has been running since 2003. The previous record was the first half of 2010 when 559 new companies started.
The survey also revealed that increasing numbers of young people under 25 in Oxford are starting their own businesses.
The number of directors under 25 is up from just 0.12 per cent in the first half of 2003 to 5.5 per cent for the same period this year – above the national figure of 4.8 per cent.
Business is also finding its way on to school curriculums, with youngsters encouraged to set up their own firms.
Sue Croft, principal of the Oxford Spires Academy, said: “We particularly encourage young entrepreneurs with all students encouraged to set up their own companies.”
Rob Allen, of Allen Associates, added: “The county has a reputation for encouraging small business. Young adults are more confident now and have less fear of failure.”
Brendon Cross, Oxfordshire Business Person of the Year, founded Witney telecommunications company STL and acts as a mentor for young entrepreneurs.
He said: “Oxfordshire is fertile ground for enterprise because not only are people encouraged by programmes like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den but they see local success around them too.”
“I find when mentoring young people here that they no longer see themselves at the helm of a new Facebook or Google. They are careful, building their businesses slowly but surely.”
Nigel Wild, president of the Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is good news for our economy but not surprising. We have two universities here, both of which are becoming ever more enterprise oriented.
“It means the economy becomes ever-more diversified, which must be a good thing.
“Also the county has a longer tradition of small companies prospering than elsewhere because of the tradition of high-tech innovation here.
“These start-up companies help our economy to develop as a great number of them succeed, grow, start exporting and do significantly better than their larger counterparts.”
DANCING HER WAY TO SUCCESS
Emma-Jane Greig, 25, one of Oxford’s new band of young entrepreneurs, recently launched dance business ‘Body Politic’.
The psychology graduate runs training academies at the Pegasus Theatre in East Oxford and promotes hip-hop dance training.
After a trip to a Los Angeles dance studio in February, she returned with the drive to set up her own business.
She said: “I was in employment running workshops and I saw that I could have a positive effect on young people. It got to the stage when I either carried on or I took the leap and did it myself. I felt I had a passion, and I wanted to share that with others and help people.
“I received great support when I was setting up from business mentors and enterprises.
“I think we are seeing more small businesses because there is a rise in people who want to follow what they really believe in. Maybe young people here are quite daring, have drive and passion. I think Oxford nurtures this.”
MEHIR'S STATIONERY ENTERPRISE
Oxford Spires Academy student Mehir Amin, 14, has just set up a website, Schoolmate, selling stationery products to pupils at the school.
He said: “I did some market research and found there was a need for people to buy things like books, pens and notebooks cheaply and I have been able to advertise it through pitches at school assemblies.
“I want to develop the business and make it bigger. I still want to go to university but carry on with it all the way through which will help me.”