A few months after selling the firm for $50m (£32m) in 2000, she was in the market again, setting up investment firm Ariadne Capital with 60 leading entrepreneurs as founding investors to create a new model for the financing of entrepreneurship in Europe and the UK.
She has since put together investment rounds worth £300m, helping companies including Skype, Monitise and Zopa go to market and be bought. She has been named as one of the top 50 alumni of Insead, the Paris business school, and has featured in Time magazine’s “Digital 50” and Wired magazine’s “Top 100” lists as well as ranking among Europe’s 30 most influential women.
Given such an illustrious background, her debut book on entrepreneurship, entitled Welcome to Entrepreneur Country, was always likely to be interesting reading and she does not disappoint, arguing that Britain’s attitudes to entrepreneurs are dated and risk stranding the nation in a future where the traditional employer and employee culture is on the wane.Complaining that the Government operates in a “numbers-free zone” where citizens have no idea about the country’s profit-and-loss account, she says: “The big problem in society right now is that the average citizen doesn’t understand the set of numbers of the country. We have to create new businesses.
“There’s a new social contract emerging which is around the individual. Everybody is aware of the high unemployment in the group that’s coming out of universities. A lot of them will never get a job. They will create their jobs and we need to encourage that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
“The creation of jobs by people in their 20s should be encouraged. And there is also a group of older people that are working for themselves now and they don’t ever want to go back into the corporate labyrinth.”
Hailing a new era of individual capitalism, Meyer believes there is a new social contract that involves a changed relationship between individuals, big business and government.
“We see it in kids who are 20 years old,” she says. “They look at government and corporate jobs completely differently.
“I don’t think that anyone under 30 truly believes that they work for anyone anymore. They think of themselves as their own profit and loss account, their own brand, their own business.
“Because they are enabled through the web, they look very differently at the relationship between the forces in their lives.”
She also warns that the business and political worlds need to adapt to this new social contract or face huge societal problems.
“We have to get our arms around the new social contract,” she says.
“We can’t just allow it to emerge because then the new digital world, running over the rails of networked technology, is going to create such phenomenal unfairness that what we think is unfair today is nowhere near where we are going.
“People will fall off the system and never get back on track, and that concerns me deeply.”
Meyer was asked last year to sit on the Business Secretary’s Entrepreneurs’ Panel and the health department’s Innovation Panel. She also joined the Board of Start-up Loans, a government-backed start-up project, earlier this year.
In her book, Meyer sets out her vision for an entrepreneur-led Britain in 2020 and warns that the nation must “follow the entrepreneur” in order to survive recession and see the economy grow.
She wants to encourage industrial giants, or “Goliath enterprises”, to open themselves up to innovation from entrepreneurial “Digital Davids”. If that happens, Meyer contends, it will be the small business owners, digital industrialists, technology entrepreneurs and individual capitalists in the UK who will create the real GDP growth and net new jobs in the economy – regardless of what the Government does.
She also sets out her view that the world is going through a structural change akin to the invention of the combustion engine and calls for society to understand that high-growth, technology-enabled start-ups are transforming big business, presenting a 15-point manifesto aimed at generating growth.
Warning that Britain needs to boost entrepreneurialism in order to survive the recession, Meyer points at research by the charity NESTA showing that the 6pc of all UK businesses with the highest growth rates generated 54pc of the net new jobs created by existing businesses between 2002 and 2008. She believes “Goliath enterprises” face a battle for survival, requiring them to create new digital revenue streams.
“The large corporate industrial groups, whether they are Rolls-Royce, the NHS or financial institutions, are now being remade and reconstructed by new technologies and the new economics of those technologies,” she says.
“The Government and corporations need to follow the entrepreneur. Society works best when it’s organised around the entrepreneur.
“We need to create wealth. People don’t become entrepreneurs because of government policy but the Government can make it easier for them.”
(This article originally appeared in the print edition of the Sunday Telegraph. Written by Andrew Cave. Image: Tom Stockill)