Evelyn McDonald: Investing in the next wave of start-ups

This week sees the tenth series of the Scottish Edge competition with over £1 million awarded by way of grants and loans to some of Scotland's most exciting entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Scottish Edge chief executive Evelyn McDonald. Picture: ContributedScottish Edge chief executive Evelyn McDonald. Picture: Contributed
Scottish Edge chief executive Evelyn McDonald. Picture: Contributed

Awards range from £2,500 to £150,000, money which can be integral to the prospects of companies striving to reach the next level of growth.

Since launching in 2013, we have seen some amazing founders and ventures come through our programme, like Cally Russell who founded fashion shopping app Mallzee, and fast-growing advertising technology startup TVSquared, who are lighting up their main target market in North America in a similar vein to what FanDuel has done in fantasy sports.

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Many of our award-winners are showing signs of going on to great things in their own respective markets. Brewgooder, a social enterprise brewery which donates all its profits to clean water projects; Amiqus, a civil justice startup now chaired by Sir Sandy Crombie; Care Sourcer, a technology platform matching care providers with those in need and already being compared to Skyscanner by some commentators, and Beauty Kitchen who stock their 100 per cent natural products in over 1,000 Holland & Barrett stores in multiple countries, to name just four.

Our mission is to maximise impact on our innovative and high-growth potential entrepreneurial scene in Scotland with the support of Royal Bank of Scotland, The Hunter Foundation, the Scottish Government and a number of other public and private sector partners.

We’re pleased with our latest report card, with 262 awards made totalling over £8m. More important is the number of jobs created, now at 981, and how we’ve helped to generate an additional £57m in revenues for awardee companies who have gone on to raise over £55m in additional investment.

We try to be as inclusive as possible, with awards tailored for younger directors and companies who are pre-trading but display significant potential in addition to our mainstream category. As a team, we’re constantly amazed at the quality of the ideas and products we come across, many of whom show early signs of having an ability to scale and go global.

Last week we announced an initiative that will strengthen our own ability to back entrepreneurial stars of the future. The “Edge Pledge” allows Scottish Edge-supported companies to set aside around 1 per cent from exits and future revenue streams to help us better fund up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Scotland is building one of the most exciting startup ecosystems in the world and founders are telling us they want to find more ways to give back to the community that supported their own growth and success. This reflects global movements like “Pledge 1%” in the US.

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We would like to see even more export-first thinking from our early-stage company sector in Scotland. At the same time, we know how hard it can be to make an impact in indigenous, let alone international markets. From our end, we’re working ever-closer with partners like Entrepreneurial Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Business Gateway to make sure our thinking and planning are as joined-up as possible.

It was interesting to hear RocketSpace CEO and founder Duncan Logan talk about export markets on his visit to Scotland last month. Logan, a previous keynote speaker at Scottish Edge, said start-ups in 2017 have to look to North America and, increasingly, China if they want to get to the big time.

We like to focus on some of the earlier-stage building blocks like team-building. This was something Logan touched on at EIE17 at the EICC when he counselled that rather than entrepreneurs concentrating on growing the company, they should apply themselves to building the team because it is teams, not individuals, who create the most successful companies.

Evelyn McDonald is chief executive of Scottish Edge

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