I recently attended Venturefest Scotland 2015. In this article I share the key insights of the day, including some helpful advice on how to build a formidable team for your SME.

Venturefest Scotland was described as bringing together an ‘innovation eco-system’ to strengthen connectivity between innovators, academia, investors and entrepreneurs – and it didn’t disappoint.

The day began with an informative plenary session introducing Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network. Both organisations aid in the development of innovative products or services, by providing technical help, admittance to specialist facilities and access to expert knowledge from universities and research organisations.

Kevin Baughan, Director of Technology and Innovation highlighted the work of Innovate UK’s nationwide remit. Catapult centres were originally launched in 2011; collaboraring business with research to help start-ups bring ideas to market. These catapults are located throughout the UK – with the Value Manufacturing Catapult and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult calling Scotland their home.

Adrian Gillespie of Scottish Enterprise explained that “innovation is alive, well and thriving in Scotland”. Innovation is a central focus of the Scottish Government’s agenda – and is central to driving societal and economic benefit for the country. Gillespie reinforced the need for innovation, explaining that is was critical to the growth and development of SME’s across all sectors and essential to attracting inward investment and competing on a global stage. International reach is important as Scottish companies who are trading throughout the world are typically 18% more productive.

Ian Reid, CEO of CENSIS, outlined the Scottish Funding Council’s commitment to innovation and took the audience on a ‘whistle stop tour’ of the creation and development of the Innovation Centres. There are eight centres – six with a sectoral focus (Oil and Gas, Construction, Digital Health, Stratified Medicine, Scottish Aquaculture and Industrial Biotechnology) and two with a cross sectoral focus – Sensors and Sensoring and Data.

The Innovation Centres are designed to bring to together government, academia and industry to propel innovation across the country. Ian was quick to remind the audience that prosperity for Scotland is more important than GVA – the centres are there to create a legacy and provide prolonged economic growth.

The sessions were followed by an interesting panel discussion around corporates and SME’s working together. Gillian Docherty, CEO of the Data Lab, shared a great example of how a global corporation supports early stage companies; Apple collaborates with smaller organisations to develop cutting-edge technologies.

Lisa Thomson of Purpose HR encouraged the audience to get involved with StartUp Grind. The events provided real insight into growing and scaling a business with successful entrepreneurs sharing their business experiences, war tales and advice.

There was a wide range of workshops but I was really drawn to ‘talent and Skills’. The first session was chaired by Sandy Kennedy of Entrepreneurial Scotland who decreed that talent is the single determining factor to the success of a business. Here’s how the likes of Skyscanner, Petrotechnics, Genius Food and Celtic Renewables all draw in the best talent.

CULTURE – Make it the kind of place you would want to work and build a strong employer brand. Ruth Chandler explained that at Skyscanner they approach all aspects of their business with the unusual notion of ‘would your mother be proud?’ And urged the audience ‘hire people not roles’ – you need to allow individuals to stretch and grow. Chandler walso emphasised the need to engage people in your business to develop them. Employ people who take responsibility and want to share and grow the culture of your organisation.

FOSTER DIVERSITY – The right people in the right job at the right time doing the right work. Always put your people and your customers at the heart of everything you do.

The following session approached a different angle – the benefit of employing entrepreneurial talent.

The panel discussed the fact that not all entrepreneurs are extroverts and to truly find and nurture entrepreneurial thinking we need to find the means of allowing introverts to shine.

We need to be mindful of the fact that not all start ups are tech start ups – and that there isn’t a one size fits all for entrepreneurship. Resilience and tenacity are core skills but emotional intelligence is just as important and being able to recognise your skills gaps. Soft skills are also important to win favour with those who can help your journey!

Rebecca Pick of Pick Protection agreed with both these points, sighting the role of her mentor as ‘essential’ in helping her shape her offering. She also explained the difficulty of recruiting a team to share the passion and values of the founder. People need to be a great ‘fit’ when you are scaling and share your vision and aims.

The first Venturefest far exceeded my expectations – it was a great event and I’m thoroughly looking forward to Venturefest Scotland 2016.

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