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Fund Managers Must Support our Tech Start-Ups

The Kauffman Foundation, an American body that researches entrepreneurship, recently published a study indicating that substantially all net new employment comes from companies under five years old.

These are not the jobs that grab the headlines, but - as the country grapples with its highest unemployment rate for 20 years - they are the jobs that will sort the problem.

According to recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor surveys, the rate of formation in Scotland is substantially below the rate in peer economies around the world and below the rate of the best-performing regions of the UK.

We have some world-class intellectual assets here in Scotland and some excellent universities. But MIT, which is only one of several universities in Boston, claims to have created more than 25,000 spin-out companies employing three million people with annual sales in excess of $2 trillion (£1.2 billion).

Over the past 30 years, about three quarters of the great global companies created in America have been the result of technology start-ups.

The reverse is true in the UK, where our big companies tend to be the product of privatisation or mergers and acquisitions rather than innovation. We face greater challenges than ever in terms of energy, water and food security, the scramble for increasingly scarce natural resources and coping with an increasingly elderly population.

We will need increasing innovation to rise to all of these challenges.

This ought to be a time of enormous opportunity for Scotland, which punches way above its weight in terms of the intellectual output from its universities. But we urgently need a constructive dialogue between our innovators and our investors. How can we replicate the Boston miracle?

In 2008, the last year for which statistics are available, we only invested £100 million into our enterprise economy compared to Israel, which invested $2.1bn. We have some £720bn of funds under management in Scotland, about 15 per cent of the UK's financial assets, yet very little of this is invested into the local enterprise economy.

Our investment managers must obtain the best returns they can for their clients based on the mandates they are given.

However, if our enterprise economy is not perceived to be worthy of investment, then the high-growth companies that will create the jobs of the future will not be launched - or at least they will not be launched here.

There is a widely-held perception that investment in early-stage companies is high risk.

However, another study by Kauffman suggests the long run rate of return for business angels investing on a portfolio basis, and taking account of failures, is about 27 per cent annually. Similar research carried out for Nesta in the UK suggests a return of about 22 per cent.

While these figures disguise huge individual variations, the FTSE 100 Index has lost about 17 per cent of its value over the past decade.

Investing into new businesses can produce real returns for investors over the long haul.

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand why the "Bric" economies, and now sub-Saharan Africa, are showing compound annual growth rates of 8-10 per cent; they are establishing lots of businesses, investing in them and creating employment.

Our investment managers have mandates from all over the world and we should celebrate the success of this great Scottish industry. However, they are also responsible for the pension funds and savings of people who live here. Would it not be appropriate to allocate some of our own savings to ensure our children and grandchildren might look forward to a brighter future?

As the Holyrood elections approach, one of the biggest questions facing our politicians should be to consider what they can do to ensure Scotland is a place where our brightest youngsters want to stay because it is a land full of opportunity and not one they have to leave because there is none.

• Sandy Finlayson, a partner with law firm MBM Commercial, is a founder of Business Forum Scotland: www.businessforumscotland.com

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