Despite the savage business climate, the rich vein of entrepreneurism that characterises the IT channel remains irrepressible.
With the double-dip recession deepening, competition intensifying and margins shrinking, the prospect of launching an IT reseller or distributor has perhaps never been less appealing.
But while channel launches may be thinner on the ground than before the recession, there is still no shortage of channel entrepreneurs looking to beat the odds with new start-ups.
Jason Holloway, who founded VAR Bridgeway Security in April 2011 after leaving vendor Sandisk, maintained that newborn outfits can thrive if they locate the right niche.
Bridgeway's mantra is to plug the holes that are appearing in end-user defences as they become more mobile and flexible, working in areas such as mobile device management, vulnerability management and log management.
"It is an appalling time to launch any kind of business, let alone one working in the IT sector or channel," Holloway admitted. "The market is depressed and it is highly competitive.
"That said, we think there is an opportunity in the market for a niche player to differentiate from the status quo, and that has been proven by our success in the past year and a bit. We have recently moved offices, taken on more staff and merged with another reseller. We have won some very high-profile accounts that in most cases had at least one incumbent supplier. For a young company, we have done well."
At first glance, Companies House figures paint a picture of the UK
as a hotbed of entrepreneurism. There were 456,000 incorporations in the tax year ending 30 April, compared with 401,000 a year earlier and 366,000 a year before that.
According to analysis by business intelligence vendor Qliktech, IT consultancy and software form the bulk of new businesses created since 2010.
However, this frenzied activity is likely to reflect the rise in the number of often-transitory, sole traders launched by those laid off from larger firms that have downsized or gone bust, a Companies House representative said.
One new channel firm with genuine ambitions of domination is Pragma Distribution, which is set to begin trading next month after inking its first distribution contract with LG-Ericsson (see box opposite).
Like many other recent channel start-ups, cloud will form the backbone of Pragma's strategy.
Pragma managing director Tim Brooks said: "We think that cloud is an area of confusion and disruption for many resellers today. They are being bombarded with products and services that relate to hosted or cloud propositions but without the education or support to help them take advantage of the technology.
"There are a lot of all-or-nothing-type propositions being put forward, which are not helpful."
Pragma chairman David George, who sold previous outfit Crane to Westcon in 2007, added: "We started Crane in a recession but were successful because we had a winning mentality and delivered what customers wanted. If we do that now, I think it will be the same story."
Another recent channel start-up focusing on cloud is Perform IT, which was founded in April by former 2e2 sales director Sean Norris. It focuses on helping customers build private clouds and providing cloud-based services, working with vendors including HDS and Microsoft.
Norris claimed innovative start-ups can thrive in the current climate.
"Your proposition must save money, improve service and grab people's attention. If you can do those three things, you are in a great place to grow a business," he said.
Norris added that securing credit had been his biggest challenge, but also hit out at the lack of available government support.
"Any funding [for start-ups] has to be secured against a director's loan or personal assets, which is a very expensive way of borrowing," he said. "It does not seem as if a lot of cash is being made available to start-ups, either in the form of loans or cash.
"If the government is serious about SMEs being the engine of growth, it has to make credit available."
Paul Barlow was managing director of Equanet at the time of its sale to Dixons in 2005. He admitted he has taken a more cost-conscious approach for his current outfit, Servium, which he launched in 2010.
Servium saw a 25 per cent growth in revenue and profit in its last year and is on target for £9m revenue for calendar 2012, Barlow said.
"If you have the right strategy, I don't think it is a bad time to set up a business.
When you set up in a recession, you can get things such as office space at a reduced cost," he added.
"We use social media for all our marketing as it has a significantly smaller cost.
Compared with the early 1990s, we ship more product direct from the distributor to the end user, which reduces delivery costs."
Holloway also chided public sector organisations for not being clearer about how long sales engagements may last and how many bidders they are talking to.
"My concern would be if a new channel partner went into a public sector organisation thinking they could get an immediate turnaround, it could be much longer than they anticipated," he said.
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