Comment: Putting the spotlight on innovation’s crucial role

Marshall Dallas with adventure cyclist Mark Beaumont. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Marshall Dallas with adventure cyclist Mark Beaumont. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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We have been running a series of public lectures, titled Innovation Nation, at our venue in Edinburgh since 2015, with the idea being to celebrate the best of innovation in Scotland.

Previous Innovation Nations have centred on technology, where we featured PureLiFi co-founder Professor Harald Haas who talked about emerging light technology, SocialBite’s agitator for the homeless Josh Littlejohn interviewed on social enterprise and the directors of each of the Edinburgh Festivals discussed how they are innovating to keep Edinburgh on top against international competition. Other lectures have covered architecture, heritage, medicine, space and robotics.

Last week, Scottish long-distance record-breaking cyclist and adventurer Mark Beaumont was interviewed by former BBC presenter Clare English on his incredible feat of circumnavigating the globe on his bike in under 80 days. With over 1,000 in the audience, it was our best-attended Innovation Nation lecture, branded Innovation Endurance, by some distance… excuse the pun.

With 2018 the Year of Young People in Scotland, we are already planning what we hope will be an even bigger Innovation Nation event to do justice to such an important aspect of our society. In no small part, we continue to be inspired by Barack Obama’s speech here in May when he put young people at the heart of his keynote address and highlighted the importance of young people to the activities of the Obama Foundation he established with his wife Michelle in 2014.

We have continued to build partnerships in 2017, including in the area of education alongside Edinburgh Napier University on the launch of the UK’s first MSc in Business Event Management. Collaboration with city partners remains key for us.

In our own organisation, we have focused on how we can innovate to stay at the forefront of an international industry that competes for conferences and delegates from every continent. In our recently launched vision statement, we have set out our ambition to “create an environment that inspires ideas that can change the world”. We realise it’s a lofty aim but we feel we are putting the right pieces in place to make this happen. After all, vision is not enough – we can’t just stare up the steps, we must climb them.

Earlier this month, we were chosen as one of 11 organisations across the world – including Arm, Bridgestone and Office Depot – to receive one of the inaugural Seal Business Sustainability Awards for our efforts to become one of the most sustainable conference venues on the planet.

Business sustainability is embedded at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), and, if anything, this award gives us even greater commitment to initiatives we strongly believe are not only good for the environment but also for business.

During 2017, the EICC has experienced a sharp increase in UK and international association business heading to Scotland’s capital and, together with an upswing in corporate business, we expect to report another record year in 2017 with event and delegate numbers up again following the most prolific year in the venue’s 22-year history in 2016.

We also look to generate ideas that lead to incremental business improvements. This concept of marginal gains was championed by another titan of the cycling world, Sir David Brailsford, the general manager and performance cycling director at Team Sky.

The global events industry is similar to many other business sectors, where to be good is simply not good enough. Instead, you have to be outstanding and really strive to go the extra mile – something familiar to Beaumont. He and his team personify this approach to achieving outcomes that -–through innovation, sweat and sometimes tears – reach incredible heights and can in no way be described as “middle of the road”.

- Marshall Dallas is CEO of the EICC