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Corner Shop vs. Corner Office: Should Graduates Rethink?

Jessica Wilkins | Special to CNBC.com
Wednesday, 17 Oct 2012 | 11:36 AM ET
Photo by: David Pond

A career in finance was long regarded as a golden ticket to the future, bringing enviable wealth and status. But news of exhausted traders, immoral bankers and huge job cuts at investment firms has graduates wondering if a career in banking is really something to aspire to.

Jobs in the U.K.'s financial sector are set to shrink to 255, 000, the lowest since 1996, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Add to that a raft of regulatory reforms, the euro zone debt crisis and countless amounts of toxic debt and the thought of a career in banking loses much of its appeal.

So should graduates be taking up government grants to set up a business of their own, rather than pursue a career in finance? The U.K. government recently teamed up with entrepreneur James Caan to launch a new scheme offering funding for start-ups run by 18- to 24-year-olds.

"For me growing that business is far more exciting than taking that corporate job, " Caan told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Asked what he would say to a talented graduate choosing between a career in the City over starting his own business, Caan said: "I would certainly like to encourage him to start a business."

Caan, who has an estimated net worth of 70 million pounds ($113 million), dubbed the U.K. "a nation of entrepreneurs" and called on ambitious graduates to join the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector rather than leaping on the corporate bandwagon.

"The government has allocated nearly 84 million pounds for funding specifically for that youth market, to recognize that we are a nation of shopkeepers, " he said.

While start-ups remain unstable ground when it comes to profitability, they may be the final frontier for creative graduates looking to get a foot in the door.

Entrepreneurs have more control over the deals they make and the products they invest in.

That freedom meant China's Naibo Yu, founder of cloud computing company Howlang Group made a conscious decision to slow his computing business down in order to improve his team.

Yu, who recently won the "entrepreneur of the year" award and now employs 200 people said the development of his company depended on that move.

Caan "applauded" Yu's direction and said: "That is one of the beauties of being private. When you are not under that kind of pressure, [you can] consolidate, improve your product, and understand your market before you take that step forward."

James Caan hosts CNBC's new series "The Business Class , " which charts the route to success for small businesses. It starts Oct. 17 at 10 p.m. London time.

  • Caan is one of the U.K.'s most successful and dynamic entrepreneurs as well as the guest presenter of "The Business Class."

The Business Class Extras