With a great community exciting things happen!

I’ve just come back from the launch of a really exciting new venture, Entrepreneurial Spark ! Its going to be great, because an amazing community of people will make it great, catalysed by the enthusiasm and tenacity of Jim Duffy.

Since taking over the role of CEO of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE) last year, I’ve been discovering a whole new community of people involved in the Scottish entrepreneurial landscape.  At the beginning, I wondered where to start. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know what organisations were out there, and it felt strange walking into rooms full of faces I didn’t recognise.  I discovered very quickly that it didn’t matter who I spoke to, however, as long as I spoke to someone.  As soon as I explained who I was, and what SIE were trying to do (turn students into entrepreneurs and support them), I got the same response; “How can I help?” and  “You should also speak to xyz (naming people & organisations); let me introduce you“.

18 months ago, I had around 400 LinkedIn contacts, from a decade in the global life sciences industry. Now I have nearly 800 connections, thanks to all the new people I have met and who want to help and support me and SIE. These people include young student entrepreneurs, university teaching staff, people from great not-for-profit organisations and many successful business people.

When I need help, I know I can talk to any one of these people; they may not be able to help me solve a particular problem, but they will tell me someone who can! This is the power of a great community. They are willing and able to help, but sometimes a little Entrepreneurial Spark is needed to provide ignition.

Posted in Entrepreneurial, networks, Start-ups | Leave a comment

Too busy to blog!

Wow, there is a lot going on at the moment! I’ve just come back from a great conference for entrepreneurship educators in Cardiff www.ieec.co.uk where I met a lot of fantastic people and got some great ideas. Tomorrow I’m heading out to Riga, Latvia, for another entrepreneurial education conference, entitled ‘Releasing Creative Energy’. I’m sure that I will come back from that full of energy and even more ideas!

Here at SIE we are preparing to welcome our new team members, our 20 student interns, who will be championing enterprise and entrepreneurship across all of Scotland’s higher education institutions. We are planning a fantastic series of activities and events spread across the academic year, so make sure you follow us on twitter @_sie_ , Facebook www.facebook.com/scottishinstituteforenterprise and on our own web site www.sie.ac.uk for all the latest news. (Our Facebook page has a sneak preview of some of our new marketing materials, which look amazing!)

I’ve been following the debate on some great articles too, on the state of entrepreneurship in Scotland, and on the lack of women at higher levels in technology companies. I will definitely be blogging on these topics soon!

But first I need to go and pack my bag for Riga…..

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Making the most of conferences

Escape the virtual world for a while
Despite the rise of hi-tech conferencing methods such as web seminars, nothing beats the real live experience of attending a conference. Whether you are a new company needing to generate your first few customers, an entrepreneur contemplating starting a new business,  or a seasoned delegate, speaker or exhibitor, attending the right conference will bring you tremendous benefits.

Why attend a conference?
There are many reasons that you will benefit from attending a conference; learning about the latest developments in your field, hearing influential keynote speakers and finding out about new technologies  are some of the obvious benefits. The single most important reason for attending a conference, however, is to meet people who will benefit your business. You may ask why you should bother meeting people face to face? After all, modern communications technology makes it possible to develop good working relationships with people we have never met.  No matter how good a virtual relationship may be, however, connections made in person will always be stronger.  And a conference venue full of like-minded people is a great way to start.

Choosing the Right Conference
Attending a big international conference can be exhilarating, but you may find that a smaller, more focussed event will be more useful. Think about the people you want to meet, and whether the conference will facilitate these meetings. Annual conferences are usually worth attending, but specialist conferences can also be very good, and may actually be better. You may find that there are scores of meetings that look relevant to your business, so ask friends, colleagues or customers for their recommendations of meetings they have attended. Check out where the competitors are going to be too, though don’t worry if they are attending something you have ruled out. They might not be as targeted as you in their approach.

Finding the ‘right’ people
Meeting the right people at a conference should not be left to chance; you need to do a bit of homework before you go. Contact the people you would like to meet at least a week before you go, and ask if you can get together with them at the conference. If you are lucky, you will have access to a delegate list beforehand. If not, then you will at least be able to see who is speaking and presenting posters.  It’s not all about meeting new people either, it can be a great opportunity to get to know existing contacts better, so tell people you know that you are attending the conference. Ask your contacts to make introductions to new people for you too. And don’t forget about social media, is there a twitter #hashtag for the conference? If not, create one yourself, but make it obvious and short (and remember that some industries people are not as twitter savvy as you are, so don’t worry if the twitterverse is quiet about the event, it doesn’t mean that the event will be quiet).

Partnering opportunities
Many conferences now offer the chance to participate in formal partnering sessions. They may seem a bit like being set up with a blind date but, if you plan carefully, they can be very productive. Don’t just choose people because they look important; think carefully about who you want to meet and why, then send them a targeted invitation to meet. Bigger companies often register a number of ‘technology scouts’ at partnering events and, if you are able to meet them, they can provide you useful contacts at their company as well as advise you on the right approach to take with their colleagues.  When asking people to meet with you, you should make your invitation relevant to the recipient. You can write some standard introductory ‘copy and paste’ text to save time, but be very careful that you adapt the wording for each invitation. Set aside plenty of time to trawl through the names on the partnering list, and don’t be too disheartened if you don’t get prompt responses. It’s usually a bit of a waiting game, as people wait to hear from people they invited to connect with first.  However there is always a flurry of activity as the deadline for partnering approaches. Don’t be obliged to accept every invitation you are sent, but do give them a polite, relevant reason for turning them down, as you might bump into them at some point over the conference.

Presenting a Poster
It’s often worth submitting a paper or abstract, as there is a good chance that your submission will be accepted as a poster presentation and you may even get accepted for an oral presentation. Whether an individual or a company, this is a great way of getting published and promoting your work. You will have to pay a registration fee for attending the meeting, even if you are presenting a poster, but you can usually submit your abstract first and register once it is accepted. Make sure that you have a few copies of your poster to give out as people often ask for a copy. Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards too.

At the Conference
Check out the programme to make sure you know which talks are most relevant, especially if the conference has several tracks. If you don’t want to raise your hand during the formal Q&A, do approach the speaker later on, as they are always willing to talk about their work and may be able to give you some expert advice. Exhibiting companies can also be a great source of information and help, so make time to have a look around and talk to some of them – don’t just think of the exhibition as a place to grab a free pen! Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards, and give them out.

Don’t be scared of the networking events. The clue is in the name, people attend because they want to meet new people and the person you chat to over a glass of wine could be a useful contact in the future. This is an opportunity to chat to people in a more social setting, and the conversation should be more social than business. If having a social chat in this environment seems more daunting than giving a presentation to an audience of hundreds, then don’t worry, you are not alone in thinking like that. Good topics to start with could be travel and places, as most people will have travelled from different places to attend the conference!   You should still be able to chat a little bit about your work and what you are looking for, but keep it light and organise to contact them later if you want to discuss something in more detail. Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards, they are especially important for networking events. (Never hand out brochures at networking events: its hard enough juggling wine glasses and plates of food, and no-one wants a hard sell!). The formal networking events are often held in great venues and it might be the only chance you have to get out of the conference venue and see something of the city you are visiting. Relax and enjoy the venue and the networking,  but DO NOT drink too much of the free wine.

If You are Exhibiting
Don’t take too much literature, as you will only have to ship it all back again! It’s better to take a few sample copies of catalogues etc. and mail them out after the meeting, though a small company overview brochure is useful to take in bulk. Take plenty of business cards though (have I mentioned that already?) A prize draw is a good way of encouraging people to stop at your booth and it needn’t be expensive. A bottle of malt whisky is always popular, and makes a good talking point too as you shouldn’t always jump straight to the hard sell! Work out a booth schedule so that everyone has a chance to go to talks or look round the exhibition. If you are on your own, don’t feel you have to be tied to your stand, but make sure you are there for the busy times. You might want to ask a neighbouring exhibitor to keep an eye on your stand for a while, in case anyone comes looking for you. Don’t just rely on people coming to your stand; make sure you attend all the networking events to maximise your chances of meeting the right people. Finally, never take your stand down until the official break-down!

Home Again
Phew, you are exhausted but you survived, and now you can relax, right? Wrong! Returning home, make sure that you follow up on all the contacts you have made and send out all the information that you promised. If you don’t follow up on promising leads, then you have wasted your time and money attending the conference. (And if you didn’t get a chance to speak to the keynote speaker, or anyone else that you had hoped to meet,  it’s not too late to send them an email, but do it quickly.)

Do let me know what you think about this article, via the comments section below. Have you any questions or advice to share?

Posted in Conferences, Entrepreneurial, Go for it!, networks, Sales, Start-ups | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Please sponsor us – it’s for a great cause

My daughter and I will be taking part in a 17 mile ‘Midnight March’ on 6th August, on behalf of Wildhearts in Action. Its part of a much longer (45 mile, overnight) #WolfTrek event, but we know our limitations…

Its the first time we have done something like this together, and I’m really looking forward to it.  We will not have had much time to train for it, however, so it will be a bit of a challenge!

If you would like to sponsor us, please check out our fundraiser page 

WildHearts is a charity that provides micro-loans and business training to people in the developing world, enabling them to work their own way out of poverty and support their families and communities.  Once one micro-loan recipient repays their loan, that money is then lent out to another member of their community.  Our fundraising will be re-lent for years to come, so by sponsoring us now you will continue to help more people work their way out of poverty every year.  You will transform their lives beyond all recognition and your money will be recycled up to three times a year, every year, creating a lasting legacy.  WildHearts micro-clients also receive health advice, AIDS/HIV awareness training and advice on saving and planning for the future.

Posted in Go for it!, ramblings | 3 Comments

Taking responsibility and the importance of having a moral compass

The current furore about journalists from The News of the World hacking in to phone messages has highlighted an issue that I feel very strongly about. That is the issue of personal and business ethics.

How many times have you heard the excuses of senior management or CEOs when someone in their organisation is caught doing something controversial, or even illegal? They claim that they did not know what was going on, that it was nothing to do with them. Well, its possible that they did not know what was going on. There may be hundreds or thousands of employees and, even in the smallest organisation, no one person can  be expected to know exactly what everyone is doing at every moment of the day. But does that mean that those at the top should not be held to account? Absolutely, definitely not!

It is the absolute responsibility of the Chief Executive to set the values and the moral compass of the organisation, and for all senior managers to ensure that every person in that organisation knows exactly where they stand and what is expected of them.

I do not understand why anyone should think any differently, and yet many people in the public sphere (journalists. politicians, big business) do not seem to grasp that simple tenet.

Blame must rest at the top of any organisation as those at the top set the culture; pleading ignorance of employees’ activities is beside the point. And whilst any organisation’s ‘moral compass’ is set by its leaders, all employees must also take responsibility for their own actions.

For a detailed insight into the current scandal, read this great article from Peter Oborne in The Spectator  “The omertà of Britain’s press and politicians on phone-hacking amounts to complicity in crime”  (thanks to  @Aiannucci  for tweeting it) and the New York Times editorial, The Greater Evil (thanks to @idea15webdesign for drawing it to my attention)

Posted in Rant | 2 Comments

It’s summer in Scotland, don’t you love it!

It’s nearly the end of June, and we are still waiting for the warm, summer weather to arrive in Scotland.  I’m pretty fed up with waiting, so the only option left is just to get out there anyway. At least there are plenty of daylight hours…

So here’s a few photos of our walk today by the Greenock Cut, a 6.5km aqueduct that carried water from Loch Thom to the town of Greenock to provide people with drinking water as well as power for the industries.  It was built by Robert Thom in 1825-27 and is now a designated ancient monument.

I have to admit that we didn’t do the whole walk, but we did get plenty of fresh air and exercise, and I got to play around with my new camera.

So, here’s some photos of midsummer in Scotland, enjoy!


wee burn

wee burn

Islands in the footpath

Islands in the footpath

The cut

Green and pleasant land?

This should be a great view of the Clyde Estuary, but the clouds got in the way.

Wildlife 1 - some hardy blackface sheep

Widlife 2 - Gerard the slug (one of many seen on the path)

Nature study - Iain found another slug

Walk nearly over, jumping with joy!

Hey, as long as there is water, I'm happy!

I’d still prefer some sunshine though…..

Posted in Go for it!, ramblings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

That’s not true; we’re not like that!

I blame the media.

No, we’re not talking superinjunctions this time; it’s just a bit of a misunderstanding, that’s all. But passions are running high.

As I’m sure most of my regular readers are aware, I’m involved in a community (a tribe?) with an interest in the Scottish entrepreneurial scene. In case you missed it, there was a bit of a furore last week, about the latest GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) report that shows Scotland lagging behind most other countries when it comes to new business start-ups.

The report surveys 2000 people every year, asking them about their attitudes to setting up a business and the likelihood that they will do so. The annual report started in 2000, and the data collection techniques are comparable, so there is no reason to doubt the data. So why the fuss?

Well, the problem is that those of us in our community (tribe/clan?) don’t recognise what the report is saying. In our circles, the Scottish entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking. Certainly, in my role as CEO of SIE, I see plenty of amazing young people with great passion and drive, who plan to start their own businesses.

There is clearly a mismatch in perceptions. If we are seeing all these amazing entrepreneurial people, why is the survey not picking them up? If it is, then our own viewpoint is blinkering our view of the reality amongst the general population of Scotland.

So why do I blame the media? Are they not just reporting the facts? Well, yes they are, if the report is a true reflection of the situation in Scotland. But people believe what they read in the papers and what they hear in the media (old and new). So if we want perceptions and attitudes to change, we need to get much more positive in our reporting. Of course the media should report the facts, but can’t it also shine a light on all the good work that is being done by a number of organisations to encourage the spirit of enterprise in Scotland?

We all need to take some responsibility to make sure the good news gets out there. Some of us are making a start. Read our* response in this letter and this article, and make your voices heard!

*Scottish Institute for Enterprise, PSYBT, YES, The Saltire Foundation, The Entrepreneurial Exchange

Posted in Communicating, Education, Entrepreneurial | 1 Comment