Article as appeared in Scottish Review:-
Original article attached:-
Last night I parted easily with £40. The statement in itself may not seem all that shocking. However, those who know me will attest that I suffer from an age old trait. Others have said that I was born with short arms and long pockets. However I could not delve deep enough last night. Indeed, had I been afforded more time I would have spent more.
I had the pleasure of judging the Young Enterprise Scotland 2011 national awards at Hampden Park. All the companies who instinctively made me part with my hard earned cash epitomised all that is good about Scottish entrepreneurialism- innovation combined with simplicity. I use the word “is” very deliberately. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor launched last week told of a “lost generation” of Scottish entrepreneurs. Following the GEM report five major players in this area called for action from the First Minister. A jointly signed open letter from the Entrepreneurial Exchange, the Saltire Foundation, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, Young Enterprise Scotland and the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust will hopefully spark some action to ensure that the current generation of entrepreneurs are not ‘lost’ and future generations are indeed ‘found’. Going on last night’s award ceremony they are certainly out there. However, they do need recognition, continued inspiration, stimulation and support.
While one cannot argue with GEM statistics one cannot help but be influenced by what I saw with my own eyes. In front of me last night, in ample supply, were the skills and attributes that businesses have been crying out for amongst workers. Teamwork, leadership, innovative, determination, perseverance, effective communication skills and sound market research and accounts was evident in each team I judged throughout the day.
So what about the team who forced a skin flint like me to part with my money? Garioch Grains from Grampian Region captured not only the best presentation award but my money with a polished sales pitch on their innovate sports relief wheat bags. Using only locally sourced products, the wheat bags can be either heated or frozen to offer pain relief or just to ease tension. The product was aptly named “Relax”. Simple, yet effective. Their product and presentation has now gained local and national plaudits.
What about the second company to take one of my crisp notes (NB taken from a bank machine near to Hampden that charged £1.85 for the transaction!) Shetland based company Revive, have brought back to life an age old Viking game. Neatly packaged and professionally presented Hnefatafl not only enhanced the skill set of the company members who marketed and sold the product, but could easily test the mind of future generations. Its chess like strategy and well presented game pieces could well prove popular with young people and parents alike. What is more this product has an appeal beyond Scotland. In particular the Scandinavian market seemed ripe for this sort of product.
This was not the only product on the night to have Scandinavian links. Farr Safer, from Highland used a Scandinavian designed product which used rubber heel cleats with resilient steel studs to stop walkers slipping on ice. Despite this innovation, the product has never been sold in the UK market before. This group of young entrepreneurs packaged this product along with other safety devices which the normal consumer might never have access to nor even think about buying before. Their whole packed not only won the top prize last night but will be in a strong position going forward to the UK finals this summer in London.
Both Farr Safer and Revive did something that for me sums up Scottish entrepreneurialism. Not only did Scottish entrepreneurs invent but they also achieved for me a greater feat altogether. In essence, the best Scottish entrepreneurs saw something and made it simple to use and altogether better. Both Revive and Farr Safer did this with their re-packaging or grouping of products. Too often we go in search of the impossible. What was evident throughout the night was that simple solutions are out there. What is more, young people are more able to discover and expose them.
The list of success stories from last night goes on: coffee shop tycoons in a local community, students re-establishing a local cinema, recycling companies combining environmental and business concerns and social enterprises concerned with the well-being of others in less well off countries.
Returning finally then to our international links. The link to Scandinavia seems particularly evident in the activities last night and the success stories. Scandinavia of course a much hailed example for our state systems to aspire to. What are the fundamental differences between the two? There are many. But one strikes me more than most. Our Scandinavian neighbours would have been high in their praise of the young people last night. Front covers would be filled and news stories broadcast. However I picked up my daily national newspaper today to find more doom and gloom: top firm withdraws from Borders Rail Link.
I can only conclude with the following as an reflection on an excellent day of judging and evening of celebration. I felt ten times better handing over two crisp £20 notes to our young entrepreneurs for two innovative products than I did handing over loose change for more doom and gloom. So let’s start to publicise the success of these young people and give them a fighting chance. With continued backing and a bit of inspiration at entrepreneurship they will excel and internationally they can compete. Now that is a story that would be worth reading.
Neil McLennan is an educator and President of the Enterprise Practitioners’ Association.
The EPA aims to bring together educators from all areas and all sectors interested in the most innovative approaches to educating future generations.