Fiona Godsman: Let’s grow more Scottish unicorns

BrewDog, co-founded by James Watt, left, and Martin Dickie, made the list of fast-growing SMEs. Picture: Contributed
BrewDog, co-founded by James Watt, left, and Martin Dickie, made the list of fast-growing SMEs. Picture: Contributed
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If you look hard enough you’ll find unicorns in Scotland. From the mercat cross in Melrose, to Falcon Square in Inverness, this mythical beast can be found adorning our historical landmarks.

Seen as a symbol of purity and strength, the unicorn became our national animal in the 1300s, but its existence only disproved some 500 years later. However, its spirit lives on in our national psyche, not least in the creation of the next wave of business unicorns.

More can be done to harness the creativity and ingenuity of our young people

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Adopting such a mythical term for a successful business may seem an unfitting moniker, but Scotland can point to real-life examples – Skyscanner and BrewDog, to name but two.

Scotland has long served as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, resulting in many ground-breaking business ideas. In Glasgow alone, an average of 22 new companies are born a day.

We are at another crossroad of political change, but we mustn’t allow potential uncertainty to affect the number of businesses created in Scotland. Our economy is strong, with a wealth of medium to large companies that we shouldn’t take for granted. However, where we are likely to see real and much-needed growth is in our SMEs and start-ups.

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This means equipping young people with the entrepreneurial mindset to succeed; the support, environment and tools needed to generate an idea that can be turned into a commercial viability. Adopting this mindset now can prepare new businesses for the challenges caused by political uncertainty, ensuring that these companies not only have enough room to start up, but to succeed.

Scotland has an impressive network of successful business accelerators, but more can be done to harness the creativity and ingenuity of our young people at the conception stage. Where better environment to provide this support than in our world-leading universities and colleges, where creativity is fuelled and ambition knows no boundaries. We can encourage students to take higher education further than the end of a course, allowing us to set new limits and broaden horizons.

At the Scottish Institute for Enterprise we’re working with students from across the country, helping to cultivate their ideas, and providing essential start-up support. We’ve already seen a number of success stories; from Rebecca Pick’s Pick Protection, which recently secured more than 7100,000 in funding, to Chris McCann’s snap40, which recently secured a £1 million NHS contract. Both are great examples of the impact of incorporating innovation and enterprise to academia.

These relatively fledgling businesses have been fed on a diet of hard work, encouragement, and the right environment. Let’s not confine the concept of unicorns to history, but harness the entrepreneurial energy and innovation happening all over Scotland right this very second.

• Fiona Godsman is chief executive of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise

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