Are our Enterprise Agencies enterprising too?

by Bill Watt, Scottish Enterprise

Unlocking Ambition SE team meeting, Glasgow

Throughout my life I have always enjoyed taking on new challenges, whether it was setting up and running my own businesses or developing and implementing complex projects. I enjoy the newness of projects, businesses, learning new skills and doing things differently, with the goal of making a difference.

Being enterprising has many definitions however, in a simple form it is about thinking and doing new and challenging things. It requires creativity, taking risks, being ambitious. All of which ably sums up my experience as part of the Unlocking Ambition (UA) programme Account Team.

My day job is as an Account Manager working with Scottish Enterprise (SE). I have the great pleasure of working with and assisting a number of small, medium and large organisations to enable them, with the support of a wider account team and range of services available within Scottish Enterprise, to grow and develop, innovate, increase turnover, create jobs and benefit the Scottish economy.

So where does Unlocking Ambition fit into this, I hear you ask, and what makes it different? Isn’t it just another example of standard SE support? Indeed it is not. The Scottish Government committed £4 million to the inaugural Unlocking Ambition programme, launched by the FM at the end of 2017, with the vision of creating a pilot programme that delivers support to ambitious entrepreneurs in a radically innovative new way. In a way that harnesses the best support the Scottish ecosystem has to offer, from a number of different partner organisations, and delivers this support to the entrepreneurs in an agile, flexible way, removing the typical barriers that can come with public sector support, so it can really meet the needs of young, innovative businesses to help supercharge their growth. Scottish Enterprise has to be even more enterprising to make this shift in culture and trial a new way of working.

The UA programme comprises of a cohort of 40 entrepreneurs; with 20 early-stage companies being managed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh through their Enterprise Fellowship programme, and the other 20 established entrepreneurs joining a customised SE Unlocking Ambition Programme. What makes the UA programme even more of a departure from the norm is the focus on purpose-driven companies who want to intentionally have a positive impact through their activities.

The SE UA programme provides the 20 entrepreneurs with a dedicated Account Team comprising of Account Managers and Specialists in areas such as Innovation, Financial Readiness, Sectors, Research and more so that they can tap directly in to the very best expertise SE can provide. Combined with a world beating Master Class programme, senior industry mentors from a range of backgrounds and experiences plus international connections visits to other entrepreneurial hubs, it makes for an amplified programme of support, unlike anything we’ve offered before.

Most of the companies I currently work with are established businesses, employing between 30 and 1000 employees, so, when asked if I was willing to assist entrepreneurs to start, grow and develop their organisations, I jumped at the chance. Unlocking Ambition provides me with a great opportunity to impart knowledge and advice, built up over many years to the entrepreneurs. It is also a great opportunity to work with new colleagues, share experiences and shape a new approach to Scottish Enterprise working. There are exciting opportunities for all involved in the UA programme, not just the companies.

So great opportunities for me as an Account Manager, but what about the challenges? I suppose the biggest challenge for me is ensuring that I avoid the ‘seen it done it’ syndrome. It would be too easy in an advisor role to tell entrepreneurs how to develop their business, because perhaps we have had similar experiences. However, I believe my role is to assist, question, guide, suggest and challenge, enabling the entrepreneur to make their own decision. As with all colleagues, juggling priorities particularly when doing something new, when the temptation is to revert back to what you’ve always done, can be challenging.

The most exciting part of the experience so far is listening to the entrepreneurs discuss their businesses, some pre-revenue and other already started, in such a passionate and enthusiastic manner with such belief in their ideas. Although only a few months since the start of the programme changes are visible. The entrepreneur’s demeanour has noticeably changed. They have already participated in a few of Masterclasses and this is making a difference in their approach by looking both at their business ideas, and perhaps more importantly looking at themselves, which is an important part of the programme. The Programme’s success will be determined by the leadership skills of the entrepreneur and our part in shaping these entrepreneurs to become a key contributor to the Scottish economy. It’s an exciting transformation to be part of.

Being involved in UA has reawakened my passion for working with ambitious new starts and has made me realise that the experience and knowledge that I have gained within Scottish Enterprise over the years and the networks that I can call on for the benefit of the entrepreneurs, is worth its weight in gold. Applied in an enterprising new way, the learning is can benefit us all.