Enterprising Learner: Sam Margrave

Sam Margrave recently joined the IOEE as an Academic Fellow. He is a Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Worcester Business School, an IOEE Centre of Excellence, and was a Local Government Councillor until recently standing down in May this year. He is also a Non-Executive Director at a large Housing Association, as well as undertaking PhD research to understand the policy makers behind the new devolved entrepreneurship policy, referring to them as Civic Entrepreneurs, or ‘Civicpreneurs’.  Sam also has Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia, and is passionate about inspiring people with challenges and disabilities to become entrepreneurs. This month we spoke to Sam about pioneering in politics, innovative teaching, and helping people to achieve their dreams.

Sam’s entrepreneurial streak was evident from a young age, starting his first business when he was only 15 years old, despite suffering from ME; Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. By the age of 16 he was going along to full Council Meetings, with his first ever question in the Council Chamber being about allowing candidates to stand at the age of 18: “I believe that if you are old enough to vote for the people that represent you, you should be allowed to represent others.”

By the time Sam was 21 in 2014 he was elected as a Councillor in England and Wales, making him the youngest Councillor in Britain, and a rarity on the political landscape. Today, whilst Sam is still politically active, he is also focusing much of his time on his PhD research, alongside his career as a lecturer. Sam says: “My PhD research is looking at how we can help local councils, enterprise partnerships and combined authorities to better support start-ups and small businesses. Entrepreneurship is vital in creating jobs and economic growth. When Councils keep business rates in the future, it will also be critical in funding local council services, from bin collections to social services. I’m undertaking a significant body of research through my PhD: Unmasking the Civicpreneurs: Does Local Government Mean Business? – Understanding Councillors’ attitudes and experiences of entrepreneurship and policy implications. The aim of this study is to understand Local Government Councillors’ attitudes, experiences and exposure to entrepreneurship, using a modified version of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey, and to examine the predictive ability of attitudes and experience of Councillors in England on Venture creation. This includes such elements as looking at whether Councillors have backgrounds in entrepreneurship, and what this means for the Entrepreneurship Policy. Central Government used to make decisions about Entrepreneurship Policy, but they’ve devolved this from Whitehall to the Town Hall. Councillors will now make the important decisions that will ultimately determine whether entrepreneurs do well or not, and this is a huge responsibility.”

Sam’s drive and ambition is fuelled from his interest in representing people and making a difference – “because I think things can be made better” – and he is motivated by a strong sense of social justice. Sam says: “After two decades involved in Local Government, being on the Youth Council, on the actual Council, and as a business person, I became frustrated with the lack of innovation and seeing the High Street decline. Many entrepreneurs will complain they pay business rates, but don’t get anything back. The political system doesn’t seem to help entrepreneurs well and I want to challenge the views of Councillors. I believe that Councillors at Town and City Halls, Regional Assemblies, LEPs and Growthhubs are at the forefront of building an entrepreneurial economy. My research explores how support for start-ups and small businesses can create jobs and fuel economic growth.  I want to influence policy decisions and bring about change. I want us to move towards an entrepreneurial economy where we create the right environment for people to start and run their own successful ventures. This is what motivates me.”

With so many different avenues of his entrepreneurial-focused career, Sam says that he works hard to stay focused on each element, and that whilst his passion for supporting entrepreneurship is influenced by positive economical impact, he is more driven by encouraging individuals to follow their dreams, and being part of making that dream become a reality. Sam says: “As an academic I seem to spend my life reading and its really easy to drown in articles, to come up with lots of ideas and be carried away, so you have to learn how to really knuckle down and focus on one things at a time – yet it’s so exciting, I could really spend the rest of my life working on helping local Councils and communities support entrepreneurs to start and build successful businesses; because if they are successful, we are all successful.

“However, I’m especially inspired by seeing people achieve their individual dreams, and I’m inspired by the opportunities entrepreneurship can bring. In a world that’s really hard for young people, where people can’t imagine getting their dream job, then I say, why not create your dream job? Harness your creativity and turn what you are good at into an idea, into a business. Entrepreneurship is one of the last bastions of social mobility, and getting to see my university students develop their business ideas and pitch their business plans is one of the biggest rewards of what I do. “Like myself, many entrepreneurs have Autism, and as a disabled entrepreneur I want to encourage others and tell people that they can be anything they want to be. I want to inspire disabled people to start their own businesses, and make sure that there is proper support in place. I would also like to develop entrepreneurship education, so that it’s more accessible and inclusive. I am also keen to develop innovative pedagogies, such as using board games to understand concepts that would otherwise be hard to reach for many students.”

Sam has recently become a Fellow of the IOEE, and he tells us what this new relationship will bring to his work, and his plans for the future as he moves forward: “I want to transform academic understanding of entrepreneurship within local government, and the importance of entrepreneurship policy within the Devolution Agenda, and I’m developing research that highlights those civic leaders in the past who have been the great entrepreneurs, so we can learn from them in how we approach the future. I want to bring the High Street to life again by improving policy and the voice of the business, and make changes so that entrepreneurs can flourish, because entrepreneurship is and should be for everyone. “I also hope that I can use my experience of disability and faith to further develop entrepreneurship in those areas too, and if anybody reading this has an interest in these areas, please do get in touch. I would very much like to hear from you.”