Photo: Cathryn Lavery

Taking Scotland’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem to the Next Level

Three ideas to improve the support Scotland offers entrepreneurs

I was recently asked how we might make entrepreneurship more accessible. Given how lucky we are to be surrounded by such a talented and prosperous entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Scotland, this question challenged me. How can we better the support and environment we offer to enterprising individuals in this country? From listening to a wide range of young entrepreneurs as part of my dissertation research, and from more general discussions with the entrepreneurship community in Scotland, I’ve pieced together a few ideas.

Joining the Dots: A Roadmap for Startup Development
Entrepreneurs and start-up businesses in Scotland undoubtedly receive some of the best support in the world. Recently, Ben Spigel highlighted just how many support organisations exist in Edinburgh, and many of these organisations can be found up and down the country. Nevertheless, an ever increasing network of support organisations may very well be the downfall of Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is too complex for entrepreneurs to understand, content is repeated far too often, and one is more than likely to bump into the same individuals time and time again at networking events.

What we need is a roadmap for entrepreneurial and startup development, and a more streamlined support structure for entrepreneurs to tap into. Many of the entrepreneurs I have spoken with believe that fewer support organisations each with their own unique role to play in developing start-up businesses and entrepreneurs — and a centralised funding source would result in a more efficient, easy to navigate, and fair environment for startups and entrepreneurs. Their argument is that, by reducing the number of support organisations, content will no longer be repeated, resulting in greater quality programmes, and with measurable outcomes. When one finishes the support programme with one organisation, you move on to the next in the roadmap, eliminating the need to jump between three or more support organisations at the same time as is currently necessary. A central source of funding would also eliminate the cyclical competition nature of entrepreneurship funding, replacing it with one easily accessible funding source where any start-up business could request funding providing they met funding criteria, all within a matter of days. One has to admit, a roadmap for funding and support isn’t the worst idea ever.

Opening Barriers: Fueling More than Tech and Health Innovation
Too often, startup support is aimed at helping those in tech or health innovation. That is not to say that supporting these organisations is a bad idea, rather, it is to say that many entrepreneurs get left behind for failing to have an idea which can grow into a multi-million-pound business or be sold to a conglomerate in the future. With small and medium-sized businesses making up the backbone of the British economy, it is essential that we support entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, regardless of industry or growth potential. There are numerous enterprising individuals out there, waiting for existing support organisations to help them develop their business ideas, and now is the time to open the doors and encourage their businesses.

“It is essential that we support entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, regardless of industry or growth potential.”

Starting a Unicorn vs. One Step at a Time
 As an entrepreneur I interviewed recently put it, “you can’t just aim to be the next Skyscanner. There’s too much talk about ‘unicorns’ in the startup space.” I couldn’t agree more. While companies like Skyscanner and FanDuel are great sources of pride and inspiration for Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, billion dollar businesses are not made with a snap of the fingers.

If we are to produce another unicorn start-up, we need to establish the ‘one small step at a time’ approach in the minds of our enterprising individuals. The same advice can be offered to support organisations and public bodies who provide funding to a selection of start-up businesses; it is impossible to tell which of today’s start-up businesses will be the next Facebook or Uber, and, as such, we should treat all start-ups and entrepreneurs equally. Choose not to, and you may turn away a start-up business which, in ten year’s time, becomes the next unicorn.

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