Scotland’s inventors still pushing boundaries

The opening ceremony of the Games highlighted some of Scotland's key innovations. Picture: Jane Barlow
The opening ceremony of the Games highlighted some of Scotland's key innovations. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A ground-breaking idea may win prizes and lead to success, but you must also be able to sell it to investors, says Austin Flynn

Any Scot who watched the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony from Celtic Park will no doubt have been both amazed and proud when the huge LED screen behind the stage displayed some of the many inventions and discoveries for which Scots have been responsible: everything from television and the telephone to the condensing steam engine and also including penicillin, the pneumatic tyre and logarithms.

Every one of those had, and in many cases continues to have, a beneficial effect in every continent on the planet. There is no doubt that Scotland has a wealth of talent and a history of innovation and entrepreneurship, with Scottish inventors continuing to push the boundaries and achieve the seemingly unachievable.

Now in its fifth year, the Converge Challenge is continuing to nurture that talent, attracting outstanding applications from staff and students at all Scottish universities and research institutes. Morton Fraser is delighted to have been a sponsor for the last four of those five years and in that time we have advised various of the winning businesses, including Bellrock Technology, Dynamic Bioarray and SACCADE Diagnostics on issues including shareholders’ agreements, equity fundraising, commercial contracts and licensing of intellectual property.

All of these winners of Converge Challenge have the potential to change lives and save money.

Bellrock provides unique decision-support software that helps industry to manage its capital equipment more cost-effectively, thereby saving money by maximising its long-term value. Dynamic Bioarray is developing new microarray processing technology for biological testing; SACCADE will bring to market for the first time clinically-validated objective tests to help doctors diagnose and manage psychiatric disorders in patients with mental health complaints.

Having worked over the years with many university spin-outs and businesses securing early stage funding, we at Morton Fraser know the importance of expertise matched with enthusiasm and energy in equal measure. These are some of the key ingredients required to secure a successful outcome for a project and its team. A clear, robust, shared strategy, where everyone knows their role (and knows others’ roles too), strong assessment and analysis to identify any gaps or problems arising as the project progresses, and an efficient process for adjusting the strategy, are also crucial.

Having a ground-breaking idea is just one element which contributes to success. If you can’t succinctly communicate the wider benefits it can bring, no-one will invest in the project to take it from concept to fruition, no matter how clever the technology. I remember one very successful investor telling me years ago that he wanted to invest in “the sizzle, not the sausage”, and I knew exactly what he meant.

Maintaining clarity and focus will be a key determinant in selecting a winner when the finalists present their business cases to the Converge judges in September. Grabbing the attention of the judges will require the same skills as grabbing the attention of an investor – an ability to sell the benefits of your idea in one paragraph in the executive summary at the start of the business plan.

Would-be entrepreneurs need to assume that investors, like Converge Challenge judges, don’t understand the technology behind the idea (although many of them will). However, what they will understand is the benefit of the idea. For example, Matthew Boulton did not invest in James Watt’s condensing steam engine because he necessarily understood the technology (the “sausage”). He invested in the “sizzle”: he could see that it would use less energy to create more power and give him a competitive advantage by allowing him to power his factories all year round using steam even when the factory’s water wheel (his usual power source) struggled to turn in the summer when the river’s flow was greatly reduced.

• Austin Flynn is a partner and head of Morton Fraser’s corporate division

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