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Swinney gives start-ups a boost

Anyone troubled by Scotland's business start-up rates would have had a huge boost last week had they been at the Edge judging panel.

welcome SUPPORT: John Swinney has responded to the challenges reported by start-ups. Picture: PA
welcome SUPPORT: John Swinney has responded to the challenges reported by start-ups. Picture: PA

The Edge – Encouraging Dynamic Growth Entrepreneurs – fund has been led by John Swinney, who deserves a watch for not only listening to the challenges start-ups face, but then doing his bit to plug the gaps.

The Scottish Government initially committed £ 1 million to the fund but then, having been inundated with applications from aspiring high-growth businesses, doubled it to £2m.

Investing up to £50,000 in entrepreneurial businesses, I alongside Sir Willie Haughey and many others sat on the panel to select the first lucky recipients from a shortlist of 20.

Except luck had nothing to do with it. These were driven, hardworking aspirational people dedicated to building their business ideas here in Scotland.

Some were undoubtedly domestic plays, but others were globally focused, up and at it to conquer the world. It was inspirational – Willie shed a tear (okay, I'm exaggerating).

Undoubtedly, no matter what happens some will fail – of that there is no doubt, but as in the United States we should not fear failure. It's the one thing that debilitates success beyond all others. As Thomas Edison put it, 'I've not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work'.

But we can do a lot, as this fund has in one respect, to prevent failure by providing these businesses, the next generation of entrepreneurial Scotland, with the right kind of support.

If there was one consistent area of these businesses where support was obviously needed it was sales and marketing. You can have the finest product in the land, but if you cannot sell it and get it in front of your consumer you are frankly wasting your blood, sweat and tears.

The panel quizzed the 40 pitchers hard. With one or two exceptions sales and marketing was an issue, which we have to address as we plug this finance gap. We then need to plug the next one: sales and marketing expertise.

This is an area that truly troubles me and has done for some time. Of the hundreds of entrepreneurs through my door over the years it's been a consistent theme.

Of course there are answers here and quick wins – entrepreneurial spark is one answer, but we need to expand that to reach out to all key centres of entrepreneurial dynamism in Scotland. We also need to ensure our education system prepares our young people for the world of work appropriately.

Enterprise education is crucial to this. I remember so well the pupil from an Ayrshire school telling me he hated maths and English as he polished his pizza marketing plan and pricing strategy for the local supermarket; no horse on it you understand!

So sales and marketing is our next gap to plug, John. But for the moment let's celebrate the high-impact businesses that had the courage to get up there and show how they planned to conquer the world. Well done to you all.

Sir Tom Hunter is the founder of West Coast Capital

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