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Making the most of this crucial year

Businesses are urged to grab all the opportunities that will be afforded by Scotland's year in the sporting and political spotlight by ­speakers at The Herald/Scottish Enterprise seminar. By Antony Akilade

Scottish businesses were given a pre-match pep talk last week in Glasgow. Gathering at a seminar hosted jointly by The Herald and Scottish Enterprise, Scottish businesses were given the inside track on expanding their businesses internationally as a year of unprecedented global sporting events begins that will place Scotland firmly in the spotlight of the world's media.

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"If we can't find opportunities this year of all years, then to be frank we might as well give up and go home," said Magnus Llewellin, editor of The Herald, who opened the proceedings at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow.

"2014 is a unique year for Scotland and should be the perfect springboard for exporters to pursue their global ambitions," he added.

Llewellin said that over and above the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games which will be hosted in Scotland, the vote on Scotland's future within the United Kingdom was also an opportunity that Scottish businesses should seek to exploit.

He said: "We have the independence referendum. Whether you regard that as a milestone or a millstone, this will bring Scotland to the centre of attention later this year. The world's media will descend on us and, politics aside, this thrusts on us an opportunity to showcase our talents."

The Herald has been working with Scottish Enterprise for several months on its Knowledge for Growth activity, which aims to encourage Scottish businesses to actively consider the potential to expand their markets internationally and improve their productivity and efficiency.

The benefits from a year of unique events with a Scottish focus are already being realised as trade fairs and diplomatic ceremonies shadowing the progress of the Queen's Baton Relay on its route to the Commonwealth Games yield significant commercial agreements.

Linda Murray, director of Scottish Enterprise's 2014 team, said: "On the very first stage of the Queen's Baton Relay event to India in October last year, accompanied by External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf, more than £8 million in bilateral trade agreements on clean water supply and healthcare was secured and a further £6.5 million of investment in Scotland."

There is a wealth of events coming up that will provide routes to business growth. There is the Commonwealth Games Business Conference in July with high-profile figures including Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and Virgin founder Richard Branson.

Glasgow's City Halls and Old Fruitmarket will be transformed into Scotland House during the Commonwealth Games, providing a hub to celebrate Scotland's sporting success, culture and business potential.

Murray said: "This year we have an unparalleled opportunity to build a long-term international trade and investment legacy for our economy. We want to connect Scottish businesses with new and emerging international commonwealth markets, opening up new avenues for growth and collaboration."

One of the Scottish companies which has already secured success from the events taking place in Scotland this year is IT services company NVT.

Hamish Fraser, director at NVT, said: "We are a SME company but we took the plunge, tendered and won the opportunity to provide the IT infrastructure for the Games. Essentially we provide the platform that the communication of the scoring and results of the Games will rely on."

He added: "The main challenge for us was resourcing. As the Games start, the demand for staff increases beyond our capabilities. But we were asked to come up with an innovative solution to the problem.

"We created The Players Programme. This makes use of clients, partners, and our extended network of contacts in universities, colleges … right down to schools to get individuals in those groups to come forward and be volunteers; to get involved and be part of the support team. So the legacy will be that we've created 300 ambassadors who can go out and talk about what they did at the Commonwealth Games."

As well as this legacy, NVT has also significantly increased the number of apprenticeships it can support from one or two per year to 15 as a direct result of the Games opportunity. Following its success with the Commonwealth Games, NVT has gone on to secure similar work with the Ryder Cup and golf's European Tour.

"One of the main advantages we have gained is credibility. This will give us the ability to establish ourselves in new markets," Fraser said.

Watch our interview with Hamish Fraser

However, the opportunities to internationalise are not all centred on sporting events, according to Arran Brewery's managing director, Gerald Michaluk.

He said: "We were sitting in a pub on Arran when we noticed that among the extensive range of whiskies on offer was a Japanese whisky. So we thought if the Scottish market can support a Japanese whisky, surely the Japanese market would support a Scottish sake.

"So we learned how to make sake in Japan and we are now well down the road to establishing a Scottish sake brewery.

"The market loves Scottish products and more Scottish companies should consider Japan as a Scottish-friendly open market."

This message was endorsed wholeheartedly by Kirsteen Higgins of international business skills programme, Smart Exporter.

The programme offers companies help to plan their strategy and develop export skills, find new markets and set up ­overseas, So far, Smart Exporter has supported more than 3500 Scottish companies in their international business growth ambitions.

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