Comment: Young businesses ride the crest of a new wave

Using surfing as a centrepiece in our plans to create one of the world’s most exciting leisure destinations is a big vision, but the plan is to be much more than just a place to surf.

Using surfing as a centrepiece in our plans to create one of the world’s most exciting leisure destinations is a big vision, but the plan is to be much more than just a place to surf.

Wavegarden Scotland, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, will be somewhere worth ­visiting whether you’re in or out of the water. It is set in 60 acres of country park in an old quarry that acts as a natural amphitheatre. With lodges, glamping pods, revolutionary wave-making technology and a host of local retail collaborations, it will be a place for families, friends and professionals and will inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiast.

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It’s been a tough but thrilling ride and one that continues to educate, humble and inspire on a daily basis. To start with nothing and end with something is impossible without certain ingredients that can’t be expressed on a spreadsheet.

From the shadows of the last recession has sprung a collective understanding amongst younger demographics that as individuals, we’re vulnerable to market forces outside our control. But times are changing. The thriving co-working sector is a great example of how business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Landlords don’t have to battle with tenants, business-owners don’t have to battle with contractors. It’s idealistic, but my Lighthouse Business Centre in North Berwick is living proof of a successful office development without the hierarchy. It’s just a building full of small businesses all pulling together to help themselves by helping each other.

Objectifying and monetising these relationship-based ideals for the Wavegarden Scotland project has been an interesting challenge. Is it property, is it equity, is it philanthropic, is it a holiday destination or is it a high-performance sporting venue?

Well, it’s all of the above and while they all work independently as work streams on a spreadsheet, the business model really sings when they all pull together. Undoubtedly, the backbone to this model has been developing business relationships by taking the home advantage – using local and trusted businesses. There’s no capital cost in our expenditure column that says “trust” or “local collaboration”, nothing that values relationships, social impact or habitat capital, and nothing that describes how we’ve yet to have anyone involved in the project that lies outside the “friend” or “recommendation of friend” bracket.

A good example of this is a relationship we’ve built over the years with Jamie Marshall, a former project co-ordinator of The Wave project in Scotland. We’re currently sponsoring Jamie though the world’s first PhD in surf therapy at Napier University. He will help us at Wavegarden Scotland ensure that we maximise the opportunities we have in this area at our facility.

If you have a couple of minutes, Google ‘surf therapy’ and look at the evidence. A positive wave of social impact is brewing and it’s driven by real, smart, local people, who not only want the best for themselves and their families, but for the communities around them.

Scottish people will benefit, and in their droves. It is meaningful to us, and to our investors. There’s a growing movement of people who deem it worthwhile to invest in businesses that don’t just make money, but that spread the right message. Implementing these ideals, or even having the care to pursue them, is much easier done locally, on a home pitch, with the backing of home support. It will be interesting to see if businesses who invest time in developing their corporate social responsibility will be rewarded financially, not so much when times are good, but when the next recession comes calling and goodwill remains at a premium.

A common mistake from the last downturn was businesses diversifying and growing at a rate that eliminated their home advantage – but to avoid that temptation requires patience and diligence. While profit can be analysed in quarters, it should be scrutinised in decades.

Andy Hadden, co-founder of Wavegarden ­Scotland.