Comment: Atlantic leap to tap into Scotland’s business ecosystem

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I’m sitting in Waterloo, Ontario where the sun is shining and the temperature is a comfortable 25 celsius. I’m also about to move back to Edinburgh almost ten years on from studying my MBA at the University of Edinburgh.

So why am I moving? Is it a need to incorporate “dreich” into my daily vocabulary? I do love the word – but of course that’s not the reason. As anyone who has visited can attest, Edinburgh is a majestic city with postcard views. Beyond its sheer beauty, Edinburgh has a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, welcoming business community, and boasts an incredible quality of life. I’m focusing mostly on Edinburgh, but Scotland as a whole is doing amazing things in the entrepreneurial space.

Waterloo is located in Southwestern Ontario, an hour and a half’s drive south-west of Toronto and not too much further to Detroit, Michigan or Buffalo, New York. The population is almost 600,000 compared with Edinburgh at just over 500,000. There are some Scottish connections here too – the double decker buses running between Waterloo and Toronto are manufactured by Scotland’s Alexander Dennis.

Edinburgh and Waterloo share reputations as entrepreneurial powerhouses in the making. Waterloo is often compared to Silicon Valley while Scotland’s tech hub star continues to rise. Both have world-renowned academic institutions producing some of the very top talent. The business communities in both are welcoming and filled with veterans giving back to their communities through philanthropy, funding of early stage companies, or giving their time to mentor the next generation.

Edinburgh and Waterloo also share some of the same challenges. Both work hard to attract and retain talent. For Edinburgh, the recent Scottish Start-Up Survey by Informatics Ventures and the Freer Consultancy and the latest Scotland IS research both note that finding the right talent is one of the top challenges facing the country’s young, ambitious tech companies. Several business leaders I’ve spoken with mention a need for sales talent in particular – a sentiment echoed in Waterloo.

Attracting attention from investors is also something both cities need to work hard to address. Edinburgh is addressing this head on with its highly regarded annual investor showcase Engage Invest Exploit (EIE). Not only does the EIE programme prepare companies for investment, the culminating event attracts investors from across the globe.

The private sector and government have staked a collaborative flag with the Can Do initiative, aiming to make Scotland a beacon for entrepreneurship the world over. Groups like FutureX, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International, Scottish Investment Bank, Informatics Ventures, Seed Haus, Elevator UK and Entrepreneurial Scotland are working to support entrepreneurs throughout Scotland. To highlight just one, Seed Haus is providing a powerful accelerator programme with investment, fundraising support, customer introductions, and help appointing key hires.

There are multiple contributing factors to Waterloo’s strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. Academic institutions like the University of Waterloo where intellectual property rights are owned by the creator – student or professor. Government efforts at the federal, provincial and municipal levels work to attract foreign investment.

From what I’ve experienced so far, the collective will within Scotland’s entrepreneurial sector is there to make it a world leader. With a business culture of support and given time, the power of the ecosystem will continue to grow. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work contributing to Scotland’s burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem.

- Glen Stocco is an interim COO and consultant, a former real estate and asset management executive, president of a craft cider company, and Ambassador for Canada’s Technology Triangle.