Looking east, by way of Copenhagen

Ian Ritchie, the inspirational Scottish IT entrepreneur. Picture: Christopher Furlong

Ian Ritchie, the inspirational Scottish IT entrepreneur. Picture: Christopher Furlong

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New deal will help develop links for Scotland, writes Roddy Gow

Our work here at Asia Scotland Institute has taken us in some interesting and unexpected directions over the past few weeks.

Ian Ritchie, the inspirational Scottish IT entrepreneur, was our guest when we tried something a little bit different recently – a live question and answer session on Facebook.

Ian pioneered the rise of html in 1984 with his company OWL and famously turned down Sir Tim Berners-Lee who went on to give us the World Wide Web.

Around 2,000 people viewed Ian’s Facebook chat during which he offered advice and shared his thoughts on a range of topics – from Scotland’s failed Darien scheme four centuries ago to its present-day successes in the global financial technology sector.

Ian also focused on future opportunities created by social media and social use of the internet which, he said, is “a massive change” and “requires a complete rethink of the opportunities that they present. Marketing, retailing, broadcasting, publishing, are all completely transformed. Those who spot the best opportunities will reap the rewards.”

Responding to a question about how Scottish software companies can tap into “distant” Asian markets, Ian gave an answer that resonated with all of us here at Asia Scotland Institute.

“Everything seems distant until you get on a plane and get to know it,” he said. “Go there, make contacts, use whatever support [is available] from SDI and others. Plug into their local technology conversation… [it’s] so much easier today since this is all done on the web.”

I got on a plane recently – but my travels took me to Denmark rather than Asia.

In a separate initiative, I flew to Copenhagen to sign an agreement with Asia House there – the first of what we hope will be a string of strategic partnerships with like-minded organisations across Europe.

The deal with our Scandinavian friends allows us to share ideas, cross-promote events and work together to highlight the opportunities open to all in this Century of Asia.

As I said at the time: “Scotland and Denmark have for centuries shared common characteristics as great maritime nations, trading extensively with the Asian markets and settling in the principal centres of the East.

“I am really enthusiastic about the first of what we both hope may prove to be a number of links within Europe through which we can share ideas, events and initiatives.”

Carsten Nielsen, deputy chairman of Asia House, said: “Our aspirations and future goals are very much in line and as a result of our talks in Copenhagen we have been pleased to enter into an agreement to work closely together.

“We are looking forward to sharing our programmes with our friends in Scotland with the ambition, at an appropriate time, to invite Scottish participation at seminars focusing on young entrepreneurs with a strong appetite to engage in the abundant opportunities in the Far East.”

Both the recent Ian Ritchie Facebook Q&A and the visit to Denmark arose directly from our inaugural “Building Bridges: Connecting Scotland to its International Communities” conference at Gogarburn.

This two-day event, sponsored by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, RBS and others, looked at new ways for Scotland to connect with its “global tribe” – the 50 million or so people around the world linked to Scotland by heritage or by a strong affinity to our country.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Virgin Group boss Sir Richard Branson both sent personal video messages of support.

Ms Sturgeon said, “Internationalisation, boosting exports is key to growing our economy. It’s at the heart of Scotland’s economic strategy. The work you all do is therefore key to helping us meet that ambition. I wish you well.”

Sir Richard said, “Building Bridges is focusing on an aspect that is vital for Scotland – engaging with global markets through the better use of e-commerce and developing enhanced social networks.”

Our challenge now is to distil our various findings from the conference, our events and our travels and produce an action plan for sharing with both the public and private sectors that can translate into a roadmap for the future.

The opportunities for Scotland to seize the chances presented by technology and the better use of e-commerce are immense. Carpe Diem!

• Roddy Gow is chairman and founder of the Asia Scotland Institute asiascot.com

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