The Duke of York has a remit for entrepreneurialism and runs a competition called Pitch@Palace every year throughout the UK which highlights young, innovative businesses. The wining companies are invited to a prestigious pitching competition at St James Palace. I was lucky enough to be invited by Informatics Ventures to the Scottish leg of the competition and throughly enjoyed watching the companies deliver their innovative presentations.
Scale – Up Scotland
The highlight of the day for me, however, was listening to Sir Tom Hunter, founder of Sports Division, philanthropist and according to the Sunday Times Rich List, Scotland’s first home grown billionaire. I’ve been lucky to listen to Sir Tom speak a few times and am always struck by his inspiring, motivational but down to earth persona. He informed the assembled audience that in order to foster a community of successful scale ups in Scotland, a mix of three core components was essential. ‘We need to foster a community with talent, capital and ambition’ he declared.
Scotland has the infrastructure to compete. we have a community that supports entrepreneurs and our small size geographically allows us to quickly bring together our community, making us agile and quick to adapt.
Reminiscing on a recent trip to Silicon Valley, he compared the seven million population of the area with the five and a half million people living in Scotland and highlighted that the two areas which are relatively equal in population mass presented a very different landscape: the valley is home to in excess of 150 Billion Dollar businesses… Scotland has two. How can we create more?
The Importance of Education
Sharing more insight into his recent trip to the US, Sir Tom described a meeting he had enjoyed with Bill Gates. He described the humility of the man and his aspirations through the Gates Foundation, to find a means to eradicate HIV, malaria and polio in his lifetime. The discussion they had shared centred around fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. The two had agreed that education was critical. Sir Tom believes that if you have the right teacher – someone who can inspire – then attainment levels don’t matter.
“Why are we not investing more in our teachers?” he asked the audience and questioned whether our education system is doing all that it can to encourage a can do mentality, equipping young people with the experience of working in small team and developing problem solving skills. He encouraged us to consider that the world of work has totally changed in the last few decades and yet our education system has remained relatively unaltered – maybe education should not be a political issue, swinging between policies every five years he lamented, stressing that it is too important.
Ambition is equally important in fostering success. We need role models to inspire the next generation so that they are looking at success thinking “I can do that… but I can do it better”. Describing how he had been ‘blown away’ by some of the inventions he had seen on his recent US visit, Sir Tom described the moonshot thinking adopted by Google to ensure that their employees are stretching themselves to the limits of their imagination, the Google ethos is to be curious, not to be daunted by challenges and to have the courage to try.
Sir Tom encouraged us all to adopt that ethos. “I am really proud of what’s happening in my country – we need you to succeed” he told the young companies in the audience.
As he announced that day’s pitch winners – at a drinks reception later at Holyrood Palace, The Duke of York agreed with Sir Tom’s observations on the strength of the Scottish ecosystem. Delighted with the quality of the companies that he had seen pitch, he acknowledged the strength of the network and the scale of ambition that he saw reflected in the audience.
Informatics Ventures deserve real credit for bringing such a high calibre event to Scotland and with the Duke declaring that Pitch on Tour would be back, I hope to see it become an annual event.