Scotland does not have many serial entrepreneurs.
It has entrepreneurs who have scored big one time, then decide to go into investing in smaller companies to help grow them.
But something is lacking in Scotland when it comes to global-thinking entrepreneurs who truly want to change the world instead of just flipping a company for quick sale. So what is the problem? Why is Scotland so poor at developing and fast-tracking entrepreneurs who have the capacity to create billion-dollar companies? Well, the answer is simple. Not enough of our entrepreneurial talent pool takes the time to get out of Scotland and go see what the big wide world has to offer.
MassChallenge is a fabulous world-class business acceleration and incubation model that has churned out amazing results. Essentially, it invites teams from all over the world to compete in Boston for $1 million in prize money. The whole Boston ecosystem of mentors, investors and a whole lot more all get around MassChallenge and support it.
I’ve visited it several times and it is hugely inspiring. When combined with commerciality, it is a game-changer. But it seems us Scots don’t care much for the opportunity as we are miserably represented. Indeed, when I ran the Entrepreneurial Spark initiative I challenged many decent entrepreneurs to head off there and challenge themselves. Not one rose to the occasion.
Scotland is having a go at developing its entrepreneurship culture, but with much of the pool emanating from our universities, we are ostensibly doomed. Only Strathclyde University is hitting the mark with entrepreneurship programmes and initiatives. The others appear to be lagging behind with many currently seeking entrepreneurs-in-residence to make them more “entrepreneurial” or “intrapreneurial”. But until the “bums on seats” culture is gotten rid of, our universities won’t cut the mustard.
Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have had a go with international learning journeys, seeding the Saltire Fellowship programmes and bringing MIT professors over to teach us how to do entrepreneurship. I was privileged enough to get a place on the charter class of the Saltire Fellowship.
It blew my mind and opened up a whole new belief that I would never have developed in Scotland. I believe the programme is still running and would encourage parents to have look at it for their offspring. But all this is not enough. Unfortunately,
Scotland’s politics always get in the way. And it’s not the government’s fault. Initiatives and individuals go cap in hand to the Scottish Government asking for funding. Approval is granted and many decent programmes get kicked off. But they lose momentum and, as is quite rightly so, the Scottish Government mandarins want to see results, albeit too quick. So, what is to be done? Perhaps a look at China and Mr Jack Ma will spark something in you.
There is no doubt that he is a brilliant entrepreneur, currently estimated to have a net worth of $39 billion. To put that into perspective, Branson is worth a mere $5 billion. Founder of Alibaba, Mr Ma is now focusing much of his energy on shaping up China’s next generation of world-beaters.
At Ma’s Hupan University, education through failure culture is already generating new world entrepreneurs who have huge ambition, massive intelligence and a willingness to create special ventures that will change how we all live. I simply cannot remember a time in Scotland when I heard anything like this from a budding entrepreneur. Can you?
So, maybe Scotland should stop trying to develop in-country programmes and start to look outwards
A visit to Jack Ma’s University is on my bucket list. But, how wonderful would it be if 20 of Scotland’s brightest headed there every year for a world-class experience?
Jim Duffy is co-founder of Moonshot Academy and author of Create Special.