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We are increasingly becoming a nation of entrepreneurs rather than shopkeepers - and a business networking event in Southampton helped underscore that. Government figures show that 4.6 million people are now self-employed in Britain, a record high. As a way of showing its support to the workforce trend, Ocean Village Innovation Centre (OVIC) in Southampton provided the backdrop to a networking event for the next wave of start-ups.

The gathering was hosted by Eastleigh-based Southern Entrepreneurs, which helps members grow their client base through meeting like-minded professionals.

Rob Greenberg, OVIC's centre manager, said: "The networking event by Southern Entrepreneurs is held every other month here at OVIC and underscores our support for Britain's growing army of self-employed business people.

"Government figures indicate the trend towards self-employment, borne out of the digital revolution, the Great Recession shake-out and that fact that jobs for life are somewhat of a rarity in this era.

"Indeed, the occupancy rate at OVIC, along with two recent surveys, is further evidence of small business confidence.

"We are now 90% full at OVIC, which has 57 serviced offices. A number of our digital-savvy customers started out with a commercial idea, phone, laptop and a kettle before moving here as demand for their services and products outgrew their home office.

"What we are seeing at OVIC resonates with the latest annual Small Business Barometer from American Express, which found 88% grew against 43% the previous year, and the AXA PPA Healthcare report which stated that two-thirds of small firms are "optimistic" about growth over the next five years.

"Our thriving centre also stands testament to Hampshire as a great place to do business."

According to figures, Hampshire's total economy is worth £38.4 billion, with around 8,000 companies. The county's economy is the largest in England outside London, providing almost 3% of total GDP for the UK as a whole.

Last year also saw a record number of start-up businesses in Britain - 581,173 registered with Companies House, including 5,020 in Southampton  and nearly 6,000 in Portsmouth.

OVIC is run by Oxford Innovation, which operates 20 innovation centres across the UK, including Portsmouth Technopole (94% occupied) and recently-launched Fareham Innovation Centre (55% occupied).

Services vary from centre to centre but generally an office package includes telephone answering and message services, reception services, mail handling, use of meeting and conference rooms and access to networking events, workshops and business support.

Guest speaker for the Southern Entrepreneurs' event was Ed Simpson, who explored in a workshop how to adapt your delivery style with audiences in order to match your message.