Nick Freer comment: TEDSummit helps brand Scotland make a mark

Edinburgh beat off worldwide competition to land this year's TEDSummit, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Edinburgh beat off worldwide competition to land this year's TEDSummit, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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This week, TEDSummit rolls into Edinburgh’s EICC and brings with it some of the world’s greatest thinkers and agents for change, including around 150 past TED Talk speakers. TED describes itself as “a global community of people interested in how ideas can improve the world” and the chances are that many of us have watched and been impacted by a TED Talk, arguably an internet phenomenon since its inception.

Two of my favourites are by Professor Harald Haas, chair of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh and founder of PureLiFi, the wireless technology company. Professor Haas’s first address “Wireless Data from Every Light Bulb” at TED Global in 2011 has been watched over two million times, while his second TED Global lecture in 2015 – on the use of solar cells as LiFi data detectors – gives further evidence of why Time magazine has rated Haas’s inventions as some of the most pioneering of recent times.

Edinburgh beat off worldwide competition to land this year’s summit and it’s fitting that the city which gave birth to the Scottish Enlightenment in the 19th century continues to be heralded for its place in the world at the beginning of the 21st. In science, medicine, business, technology, creative industries, social enterprise, education, culture and sport, Scotland has proven that it can lead the way, be at the top table; less of a follower, more of an influencer.

If you consider Scotland as a brand, it is a pretty cool one. I remember thinking this not long ago when I was speaking to one of my brothers who runs the O Street agency in Glasgow that has been instrumental in the design process for Royal Bank of Scotland’s new £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes. O Street and its collaborators factored in Scotland’s people, artists, writers, poets, landscape and wildlife and it was great to see the end results. My favourite remains the fiver, with Scottish author Nan Shepherd on one side of the note and a mackerel eating a midge - with the small, biting insect admittedly being something of a drain on Scotland’s summertime brand - on the reverse.

Of course, Scotland as a brand may be hard for many natives to see; there’s that old saying about not seeing the wood for the trees. Perhaps it is the views of people from other places who choose to spend time here that are most telling in this instance.

While speaking to Natalie Novick, the research editor of Tech.eu, a European media and market intelligence company dedicated to start-ups and the emerging technology industry, she says: “Something I admire about Scotland and the Scots is their true sense of optimism and positivity about the future, which certainly plays into the innovation environment here. There’s an independent streak in the country’s innovators, whether it’s Lockerbie’s MacRebeur, who built their company on micro-investment and now builds roads across the world, or Edinburgh’s Project Heather, working to rewrite social finance. Scots are proud to stand for what they believe in, which can give a country of it’s size an outsize impact.” Formerly based in Germany and the United States, Novick moved to Scotland in 2018 with her partner who works at the University of Edinburgh.

Canadian tech investor Rita Nguyen, who splits her time between Scotland and Myanmar, says: “I chose Edinburgh as my second home for a lot of reasons, not least of which that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Scottish people are innate storytellers and hugely entertaining and there are very few cultures in the world which are so strongly ingrained in the psyche of its people.

“I’m in the technology start-up world and it’s interesting to see how founders in Scotland address their unique market challenges. Scotland itself is a relatively small market so in order to scale, Scottish entrepreneurs need to look beyond their borders.”

- Nick Freer, founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners.