Do you need to be rich to start your own company?

By Nastaran Tavakoli-Far
Business reporter, BBC

image captionGrasswire co-founder Austen Allred (right) slept in his car due to high rents in Silicon Valley

With a growing number of young people wishing to start up their own business on both sides of the Atlantic, how much easier is it to do so if you come from a wealthy background? Here a number of young entrepreneurs recount their experiences.

Utah native Austen Allred's life was changed by the bombings at the Boston marathon this April.

A few weeks later he was in Silicon Valley in California, sleeping in his car every night, and trying to raise money from investors by day.

Mr Allred, 23, and his college friend Garrett Thornburg had developed a computer and smartphone platform called Grasswire, which allows people to create and share news reports in real time.

When he heard of the attacks in Boston, they decided to launch it early.

However, less than two days later they had to shut Grasswire down, due to more demand than they could cope with, after they got in excess of 17,000 visitors.

Mr Allred then decided to immediately go to California to raise money for the platform, so it could be expanded to cope with the user numbers.

But having little money for the trip itself proved to be an issue.

"I looked at the rent prices [for accommodation] and none of them were close to being affordable," he says.

So Mr Allred took matters into his own hands, and lived in his car.

He spent three months finding an empty church parking lot to sleep in each evening, showering at YMCA centres, and eating canned soup, until receiving funding offers last month.

Grasswire is now due to go live again later this month.

'Financial security'

New Yorker Kathryn Minshew, 28, thinks the importance of access to the money of family and friends is an issue which is being overlooked in the start-up world.

"There are far more entrepreneurs than would like to admit who got off the ground through help from friends and family," she says.

image captionKathryn Minshew was able to raise $110,000

She launched The Muse, a careers advice and job search website, in September 2011.

Ms Minshew had just $5,000 (£3,300; 3795 euros) of her own money to invest, but was eventually able to raise about $70,000 from angel investors, and $40,000 from friends and family.

She thinks the US start-up community needs "a little more openness" about the need for friends and family to contribute.

Another New Yorker, Limor Suss, was able to raise about $200,000 from her friends and family.

This money went towards her first two start-ups, the now defunct news compiler Spotery, and her current venture Dealery, which is a daily deal aggregator.

Ms Suss thinks that it is possible to launch a successful start-up without a wealth family background, but that coming from money does have advantages.

She went to a private high school and says that many people have their own ventures.

"That's already the culture there," Mrs Suss says.

But ultimately she says having access to money can provide a much needed safety net.

"I think the bottom line is security," she says. "That if you need money there's someone to ask."

'Psychological advantage'

For others it's not so much cash which is the issue, but things which arise from having been raised around money and means.

The founder of UK accounting software firm Kashflow, Duane Jackson, says the obstacles less privileged people faced when getting into start-ups were less about money, and more about exposure and confidence.

image captionDuane Jackson did not let his troubled past hold him back

Mr Jackson, whose background includes being in children's homes in London from the age of 10, and a stint in prison for drug trafficking, started Kashflow in his pregnant girlfriend's one-bedroom flat.

There was no desk for the computer or money for business cards. He received funding from UK youth charity, the Prince's Trust.

Mr Jackson says starting your own business is not really seen as something people do where he comes from, and this can affect their self-belief and confidence.

He says there is a perception about business being for "people who go to Oxford and Cambridge".

By contrast, he says young people from his background are not aware of the concept of starting your own business.

British computer program developer Rik Lomas also has a humble background.

The 28-year-old, who co-founded coding school Steer, did not have a computer until he was 16.

"A lot of people don't realise how hard it is to get a computer if you're working class," says Mr Lomas, who grew up in a single parent household in Manchester.

He spent two years asking his mother for a computer. "She gave in and bought me the cheapest computer she could afford," he says.

'Very meritocratic'

But some believe that despite these very real and practical obstacles, the start-up world does provide opportunities for people across the socio-economic spectrum.

image captionRik Lomas (right) did not get a computer until his mid teens

Dutchman Christopher Pruijsen, 20, now based in London, meets young entrepreneurs from across the spectrum in his role as the business development manager for Nacue (National Association for College and University Entrepreneurs).

He says that the technology sector, at least, is very meritocratic. Simply put, he says the best computer code wins.

"Tech does form a meritocracy," he says. "If someone is good at tech skills they can get out of poverty based on pure merit.

"Tech is a great equaliser."

Mr Allred agrees, despite having had to sleep in his car for three months.

"The good entrepreneurs will always find a way," he says.

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