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Are Digital Or Traditional Business Skills More Important?

Posted on May 01, 2013 by  | Tags: virgin, startups, scotland, digital skills  |

By Claire Corbin

(Photo: Dug Campbell

From our vantage point in MBM’s offices where we are all LinkedIn, proud members of the 'Twitterati' and privileged to act for some of the finest new and growing businesses in Scotland, as well as those who invest in them, we feel the unquestionable heartbeat of a so-called Industrial Revolution 3.0 gathering pace all around us. 

So it was with interest that I headed along to Virgin Media’s debate yesterday at Summerhall which focused on the question of how digital technology is creating exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs in Scotland asking whether digital or traditional business skills were more important in developing a new business. 

Hosted by Kaye Adams (@kayeadams) the debate included Edinburgh digital entrepreneurs Sam Zawadzki and Cally Russell, as well as the Federation of Small Business’ Gordon Henderson, consultant and Prince’s Trust chair Julie Grieve, Rhoda Grant MSP, Alastair Bryce from Business Gateway and Brian McGuire from ESpark

It also benefitted from an equally vocal audience who interacted both in person and, fittingly, through a lively twitter stream, which Kaye admitted was somewhat daunting, commenting she could be “dissected in the [former] dissecting room” of the Veterinary College. I am pleased to report she left intact!

A straw poll around the room confirmed that Edinburgh does not believe Scotland is up to speed with the digital revolution. Is this really the case, or simply evidence of ambition to do better? 

Sam cited frustrations with our digital infrastructure, particularly the inadequate speed available to businesses and lengthy contract terms, which make it difficult for a start-up to commit to – perhaps something Mr Branson could assist with? There were also comments from around the room as to whether some of the advisory bodies have the requisite competencies to provide appropriate support to the wave of digital businesses being established. 

However, Cally was quick to add that he now refers to Leith Walk, the location of his new office having left the ESpark nest, as “Silicon Walk”. He believes much of his gathering success is due to his location in Scotland and has combined marketing through digital media, which resulted in several thousand subscriptions to his product, with good old-fashioned business skills to achieve his current success with Mallzee. It was also pointed out that we have some of the best digital talent coming out of the Universities here, particularly the School of Informatics, but there is a danger of that talent being attracted elsewhere by better salaries. 

The conclusion the audience appeared to draw was that, whilst there is a nucleus of an Industrial Revolution 3.0 in Scotland, it has yet to reach critical mass. Perhaps once it does so, the question raised by the audience of a funding gap will resolve itself, as will the perceived shortage here of mentors experienced in growing and exiting a digital business. However, with the likes of Skyscanner blazing a trail through the Edinburgh sky, momentum is undeniably gathering towards that point. 

The potential of digital opportunity is clear but during the debate the room was unanimous in its agreement that it must be supported by collaboration, relentless networking, resilience and engagement with your market. It would appear that there are acknowledged collaborative efforts already under way at the likes of ESpark but perhaps it is the other areas which now need more emphasis. 

Listening to Alex van Someren of Amadeus Capital at his subsequent presentation at Informatics Ventures iVTuesday in Surgeons’ Hall, his success as a digital entrepreneur is undeniably a consequence of having applied each of those elements to the nth degree. I couldn’t help observing that just a two minute walk down the road from Summerhall, I was in the presence of a potential mentor experienced in growing and exiting a digital business who had made the trip north from Cambridge to speak to our entrepreneurs in Edinburgh. If I was able to shake his hand at the networking event afterwards, they were able to do so too.

Perhaps therefore, the first phase of the digital revolution has made us a little complacent. The capacity of the internet to shrink the globe is not infinite after all. An aspiring digital entrepreneur must still step outside his or her own front door and engage – with  the market, with mentors and with investors. As well as developing the new skills of the digital age, such as learning to code , the business skills of the old economy remain essential. Both will certainly be in evidence at next week’s EIE13 being held at the Assembly Rooms on 9th May. 150 investors, 60 exhibiting companies (who have all benefitted from several months of mentoring by volunteer investors and pitch experts arranged by Informatics Ventures) and 500 delegates will come together. Companies will pitch, hopefully shake hands to fill their funding requirements and find mentors. It is a perfect chance for Scotland to “Engage, Invest, Exploit” the opportunity to apply traditional and digital business skills to take the nucleus of its Industrial Revolution 3.0 one step closer to critical mass. 

For start-ups looking to engage with a successful digital entrepreneur who has taken a business to exit, Alex van Someren will be at EIE13.

What do you think? Are we lagging seriously behind in Scotland? Are we being too hard on ourselves or simply showing  ambition to compete at a global level? Please do let me know in the comments below



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