Scots lead the world in helping new businesses

HUB at Gogarburn is a global first and will boost Scotland’s already flourishing ecosystem, finds Martin Hannan.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meets young entrepreneurs.

THE announcement last Wednesday that The Royal Bank of Scotland was placing part of its headquarters outside Edinburgh at the heart of Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem may have intrigued many members of the public.

When you read the word ecosystem attached to business matters, you might think that is just a trendy word to describe what businesses and industries do to appear “green” or modern.

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Yet there really is no better word to describe something that has built up in Scotland over the past few years and is now ready to move across the UK thanks to the RBS group’s commitment to encouraging the creation and development of new businesses.

An ecosystem can be loosely described as a community of individuals and organisations working together in a systematic way for the common good.

In Scotland, we now have a flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem, in which individuals or business partnerships or groups who start and develop new businesses – entrepreneurs, in short – are assisted from the outset to grow their businesses.

The Scottish Government and a whole host of organisations have contributed to, and remain committed to, that ecosystem, and RBS is the chief supporter of the ecosytem from an array of financial institutions who contribute to the various activities and processes that go towards encouraging entrepreneurs.

Last Wednesday, RBS showed its commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem by announcing that it would turn over the entire executive wing of the banking group’s Gogarburn headquarters to a new entrepreneurial centre for Scotland.

The launch ceremony was attended by many of those involved in Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including Lord Willie Haughey and co-founder of Stagecoach, Ann Gloag, who have both regularly shown their commitment to providing advice and mentoring to the creators of new businesses.

The announcement was made by RBS chief executive Ross McEwan, while sitting alongside him was Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

She said: “We want to see a Scotland that is a world leader in innovation – that’s a key way in which we can continue to grow our economy. Everyone should have equal opportunity for entrepreneurial success so it’s fantastic that this new centre will now be home to organisations which work to give people that chance.

“Working together– across all sectors – to make Scotland a great place to do business is a key part of ‘Scotland CAN DO’ – our national platform for boosting entrepreneurship.”

For Gordon Merrylees, the recently appointed head of entrepreneurship for RBS, the announcement was the culmination of years of helping to develop the ecosystem in which collaboration is key.

A key point emphasised by Merrylees is that RBS employees will also be encouraged to collaborate and network with business owners located in the centre, not just to share their expertise, but to help staff learn first hand more about the challenges faced by start-up businesses.

He said: “This is a big day for us. That part of the building was rarely seen by most staff, but they came to see the announcement of the new centre, and I believe they are truly excited and enthused by what we are planning to do here.

“For us to have such a centre and bring in to our home entrepreneurs and organisations from across that ecosystem in Scotland to collaborate for the benefit of entrepreneurs is nothing short of phenomenal.

“It’s such a positive development. I spoke to some of the staff who attended the event and they were quite emotional. So was I, if truth be told, as this is a milestone for RBS and for me personally.

“It is a significant investment, and I really believe the new centre could be at the heart of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, as it will be a place where things will get done – and we do like to get things done in Scotland.”

But what exactly will happen at the new entrepreneurial centre and what will it do for new and fledgling businesses?

It’s important to note that the centre will house staff from numerous business organisations who are already part of the ecosystem. They include Entrepreneurial Spark; Entrepreneurial Scotland; Business Gateway; Napier University; Scottish Edge; The Princes Trust Scotland; The Lens (Scotland’s social EDGE Fund); Big Noodle; Bright Red Triangle; and We are the Future.

All of these organisations have a role to play in helping entrepreneurs to create and develop new businesses, either through direct advice, mentoring, or many other forms of business support. Check their websites to see exactly what they do – you may be amazed by the breadth of activity they undertake.

Merrylees said: “These organisations are key players in the ecosystem and there will be a real benefit from bringing them all together under one roof.

“And when you have that collaborative support wrapped around entrepreneurs it will be great for the entire ecosystem.

“They will also have access to RBS’s corporate connections and our sup­ply chain, and that is good for the economy, good for entrepreneurs and good for RBS.”

The new centre at Gogarburn will also be home to an Entrepreneurial Spark Business Accelerator Hub, including a ‘hatchery’ for early-stage start-ups and a ‘nest’ for high-growth, high-impact businesses.

The accelerator hub will house up to 80 entrepreneurs, who will receive free office space and WiFi as well as access to specially-trained RBS staff and business mentors. They will also benefit from the opportunity to collaborate and network with the enterprise support organisations and fellow entrepreneurs sitting alongside them.

Entrepreneurial Spark is the free Scottish-created business accelerator programme – the only one of its kind in the world which has astonished the business community by achieving an 80 per cent-plus survival rate for the businesses it helps to grow, compared to 50 per cent or less for other new businesses.

Jim Duffy, chief executive of Entrepreneurial Spark said: “We are delighted that Entrepreneurial Spark will be moving into the new RBS Entrepreneurial Centre this year. The support we’ve had to date from RBS has really helped Entrepreneurial Spark in our own entrepreneurial journey, from providing cash investment and physical space in our new cities, through to opening up the group’s extensive business network to us.

“We have seen a great number of technology entrepreneurs come through the Edinburgh hatchery to date, so will seek to build upon this success as we strengthen our tech start-up offering in Edinburgh, whilst also supporting entrepreneurs from each and every other sector.”

Scotland already has three Business Accelerator Hubs with Entrepreneurial Spark, but RBS will work with Entrepreneurial Spark to open eight across the UK, the first of which opened in Birmingham last month. One interesting point to note – applicants for the accelerator hub will be welcomed from any sector and do not need to be RBS or NatWest customers.

It is envisaged that up to 1,000 new companies per year could be attracted to the eight hubs. Entrepreneurs will also have the opportunity to pitch to potential investors and compete for growth awards of up to £100,000, which will provide much-needed cash injections when their businesses need it most.

Merrylees concluded: “It is not just about finance, because you cannot monetise the worth of the advice you get and the connections you make in the ecosystem.

“There are still not enough people out there focusing on the entrepreneur, but the new centre and the new accelerator hubs will help.”