Paula Skinner: Eagles aid entrepreneurs in spreading their wings

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Legal world generates business by helping firms to get started, writes Paula Skinner

Brexit and uncertainty. Those two words have been used so much recently you could be forgiven for thinking that, when it comes to the UK and Scottish economies, nothing good can happen over the next few years.

There has been a deluge of articles on Brexit, populated by many ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ in the absence of hard facts. This is not one of those articles.

Corporate lawyers tend not to get involved in politics, ­preferring to deal with the ­circumstances as they stand and advise businesses and individuals on the best way for them to achieve their goals.

But uncertainty in particular has almost become the new norm in light of the political events over the past few years and that has to have an impact.

As with many branches of the law, ours is essentially a business based on events occurring. In the corporate lawyer’s case, this means clients being active in one way or another. While some people thrive on the opportunities they see amid any turmoil, in general it’s fair to say that uncertainty causes most to think twice about entertaining risk.

Another aspect of the uncertainty, the devaluation of our currency, also means indigenous businesses could become even more attractive to foreign buyers – a trend noticeable in recent years which inevitably leads to fewer Scottish-controlled corporate entities on our patch.

However, the point of this article is not to complain about circumstances beyond our control. Instead, what do we do about it?

The days of lawyers waiting for work are long gone. Clients have changed, as has the way we find and carry out work. The recurring question is, what steps can you take to guarantee your pipeline of deals and transactions?

Four years ago Harper Macleod first got involved with Entrepreneurial Spark – then just an idea in the mind of its founder Jim Duffy. Now it is the world’s largest free business accelerator with Hatcheries across the UK and even in India. Last week we announced that Harper Macleod was joining RBS, KPMG and EMC as an official Partner (conveniently known as Eagles) of Entrepreneurial Spark in Scotland for the next three years.

On Friday, we were part of an initiative which saw Entrepreneurial Spark pilot an ambitious virtual Hatchery in the Highlands and Islands. This brings an approach which has already been hugely successful in other parts of Scotland, the UK and overseas to an area which poses distinct geographical challenges.

To date, Entrepreneurial Spark has supported 660 companies, helping them to raise more than £45 million in investment, generate turnover of £85 million, and create more than 1800 jobs.

My colleagues and I provide one-to-one support to fledgling entrepreneurs, known as ‘Chiclets’, run legal clinics and masterclasses and offer ongoing support, as well as opening up our network of contacts. We’ve worked with hundreds of ‘Chiclets’ at the Hatcheries in Ayrshire, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Our knowledge of what a successful start-up needs has grown exponentially and we have seen some incredible businesses arise from virtually nothing thanks to the Go Do attitude, Entrepreneurial Spark’s mantra.

However, we’re still corporate lawyers and while it is enjoyable, rewarding work we’re not simply getting involved in business creation through a sense of altruism.

When the economic picture is gloomy, investment harder to come by and growth a challenge, businesses which will drive corporate Scotland in the future need to come from somewhere .

Organisations such as Entrepreneurial Spark, along with Scottish Edge and the many other initiatives which make Scotland’s enviable entrepreneurial ecosystem are now more important than ever.

We didn’t have a crystal ball four years ago, but the decision we made to #GoDo may prove to be one of the best long-term investments we’ve ever made.

• Paula Skinner is a partner in Harper Macleod’s corporate team.