Steve Coates is part of a select group of entrepreneurs who, at school, would not have walked away with the “most likely to succeed” award.

In fact, the CEO and co-founder of Brainnwave says that when he looks back on his younger self, “I was probably a bit of a pain in the a***. I used to get in a lot of trouble.”

The path to his current role is a bit like a hopscotch. Dropping out of formal education he trained as a chef, but after deciding to sit A Levels, found he was something of a maths whizz, going on to study the subject at Edinburgh University, “that’s where I turned my life around”.

There was a decade as a management consultant and then a role in an energy business that he left when he had to spend more time in Moscow than with his family.

Then it was on to his own company, an innovative social enterprise called ICT Refurbishment  which tackled corporate waste. This put him on many people’s radar after he was awarded UK Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013. It’s a valuable lesson that everyone can make mistakes and that it’s never too late to change course.  

Around five years ago Coates met Don Baker and the idea for Brainnwave took shape. “The initial idea was around opening up data and making it more accessible. This was at the start of machine learning and the AI trend that we see today.” 

Brainnwave uses Augmented Intelligence to integrate data. It builds machine learning or advanced analytical models to transform data into insights. These can be used in the decision-making process. 

Originally based in London and Jersey, Baker has since left the business and it has moved to Edinburgh, with Coates believing that the Scottish business environment is more supportive. 

“Despite its size, Scotland definitely has a global outlook.”

Coates was due to tell attendees at the Entrepreneurial Scotland Summit in April more about his journey, but like all of us he is now involved in working through these extraordinary times.

Like any entrepreneur, Coates always looks for the opportunity that comes from adversity. 

“We have already seen, with our existing clients, that the need for our technology is more relevant today than it is was at the beginning of the year,” he says. “Technology platforms like Brainnwave’s are taking large complex and messy data sets and integrating them in a way that was not possible before, simplifying them into bite-sized pieces of information that can be accessed securely anywhere by workers based at home or in an office. 

“Technology like ours can help in a new world of distributed decision-making where everyone is not based in the same location but need to act fast based on the same information.”

Despite the distancing he feels the Scottish business community is striving to work together and will emerge much stronger. 

“Scotland has a thriving tech and data science community, and if we can focus that talent on the changing needs of our clients, we can help them build new operating models that start with the latest technologies, rather than trying to patch new technologies into existing and outdated ways of operating.”

So there are opportunities to be had to better serve clients in a world that has seen significant cultural changes. He can see that some elements of how we work might remain.

“COVID-19 has forced businesses to change the way they operate overnight and whilst it remains to be seen how many of these changes will last once we emerge from lockdown, I think it is safe to assume that remote working will be a lasting change,” says Coates.

“Nine weeks ago I never would have thought I could get my mother on a Zoom call, but now it happens daily. This is the new norm, people embracing the technology that in the past they were sceptical of. 

“This change in paradigm is a real opportunity and I am very optimistic about the future of Brainnwave and Scotland’s tech sector as a whole.”