Duncan Skinner: Celebrating Scottish entrepreneurism

Social entrepreneur Duncan Skinner. Picture: Contributed
Social entrepreneur Duncan Skinner. Picture: Contributed
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Scots have a reputation for being reluctant to embrace success. We tend to shy away from the limelight and can be humble about our achievements.

While nobody’s keen on arrogance there is a sweet spot where we can be proud of our triumphs both as individuals and collectively.

The announcement of the Scotland finalists for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016 Awards offers a snapshot of the contribution made by Scotland’s thriving entrepreneurial community.

This year’s finalists, representing 30 businesses across Scotland from Shetland to the Borders, North Ayrshire to Dundee, are responsible for a combined turnover of more than £530 million and employing more than 3,900 people.

It is also worth noting, although harder to measure, the significant impact entrepreneurs make to business, social enterprise and charity through their inspirational leadership which brings exponential value to Scotland.

Often attention is drawn to the personal wealth of an entrepreneur rather than the wider contribution they make to national prosperity through gross national product. Greater focus on and support for the extensive benefits they deliver would help nurture a healthier environment for entrepreneurs to thrive in.

In practical terms, becoming an entrepreneur is not smooth or straight-forward. There are various considerations and potential obstacles for start-ups to be aware of and negotiate.

READ MORE: Five productivity tips from Scottish entrepreneurs

In relation to funding there is greater reluctance from banks to risk investment in new, innovative ideas and they tend to demand more upside in a deal than before the 2008 economic crash. While banks are becoming savvier to entrepreneurial activities and are increasingly supportive the share of the upside needs to swing more in favour of the management teams and owners than the funders.

Only in the last year or so has there been a significant increase in the number and variety of emerging finance options – entrepreneurs should be sure to explore the possibilities. A range of bespoke debt and equity funding solutions are bridging the gap for businesses that historically may not have been able to access the mainstream funding markets. This doesn’t mean that everybody can get funding but the right proposition will have a wider selection of funding sources.

Entrepreneurs in Scotland would also benefit from greater access to appropriate, independent mentors to provide guidance through the initial stages of business development. Creating a sustainable national “mentor bank” of successful Scots willing to give up some time to advise entrepreneurial talent would be the answer. With the investment of time and financial contributions from successful, mentored enterprises this initiative could develop into a source of start-up funding with the potential to grow into a primary source of funding for Scottish entrepreneurs.

A trusted team of advisers is invaluable to a successful entrepreneur and long-term relationships should be developed with them, with an independent adviser/mentor on board, to sense check the general direction. Entrepreneurs should also consider entering awards such as the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year programme because winning recognition for your enterprise underlines to all staff the fact that the company is developing along the right lines and that it is an organisation to feel proud to be part of.

Taking a broader look across the entrepreneurial landscape policy changes could also help. For example entrepreneurial incubators, such as Entrepreneurial Spark, should be encouraged perhaps through more tax breaks for investment in such companies. Also, the reintroduction of the taper relief for entrepreneurs which was scrapped in 2008 after ten years could offer a valuable reduction on capital gains tax and encourage more long-term investment in start-ups.

Ultimately, a successful entrepreneur is a leader and a visionary, capable of persuading their people to follow and creating a team that capitalises on individual strengths. Entrepreneurs will look to consistently bring new methods to market based on sound market understanding and awareness of customer needs. They will recognise the importance of their place in their community, primarily as an employer but also with a responsibility to support those who need help in their communities.

It’s time to embrace success and celebrate Scottish entrepreneurism.

• Duncan Skinner, social entrepreneur at Social Enterprise Investments Aberdeen, is chairman of the judging panel for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Scotland 2016