Writing for The Telegraph this morning, Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, has claimed that the Internet is the path to Britain’s prosperity. With estimates suggesting that online businesses could be contributing upwards of 10% towards the UK economy by 2015, the logic is certainly sound enough.
Few though would argue that Britain has a long way to go before it catches up with other nations, both in terms of innovation and revenue. Not necessarily in ecommerce, but in the more competitive (and profitable) industries such as search. Whilst the US has Google, Yahoo and Microsoft (Bing), Russia has Yandex and China has Baidu, the UK doesn’t have a native search engine of any international regard. The same of course could be said for social networking and a host of other emerging industries.
Richard Branson has been highly vocal when it comes to British online entrepreneurialism, recently claiming that “None of the really great things like Facebook, Google or MySpace has come out of Britain, and there’s no real reason why not.” [see: Branson: “Britain should have had a Google by now” | Real Business]. There have been successes of course, but when it comes to the huge multi-billion dollar ideas, Britons haven’t yet been able to make a significant impact.
However, the message from Schmidt is one of optimism, rather than criticism. He notes that the Internet and all related innovation isn’t restricted to Silicon Valley; “The history of innovation – from the printing press to the telegraph to the internet itself – shows that where there are clusters of people or companies exchanging information and exploring new ideas and new ways of doing things, invention becomes possible. ”
Schmidt also points to statistical data that shows only 25% of the 90 million small businesses around the world have developed a website. Evidently, this is something that needs to be addressed here in the UK and beyond. He also suggested that sites need to market themselves effectively, inevitably pointing towards Google AdWords as a good source of traffic. However, the statistics appear to back this up, as PPC advertising within the EU apparently generated around a 100 billion Euros of revenue for businesses in the last year, a figure that is expected to almost double by 2015.
The Internet is a free market. Anybody can set up a business or create a new online venture; all they need is a little capital, a good idea and a fair sprinkling of luck. A British business can build trade links with companies right throughout the world, without incurring huge expense. Eric Schmidt refers to these as “micro-multinationals”.
So there’s certainly plenty of hope for the future, just as there is also cause for celebration of our online achievements so far. Whilst the UK may not have provided the world with a Google or Facebook, small businesses are flourishing and innovation continues to push digital industries forward.