Insight | Skills gap holding back Scotland’s entrepreneurial potential
The Business School’s Dr Ben Spigel argues Scotland’s startups are being held back by a lack of sales skills.
The entrepreneurial boom in Scotland looks here to stay. In the space of just a few months, Edinburgh has been crowned Entrepreneurial City of The Year and two of its largest success stories FanDuel and Skyscanner have revealed £ billion exits. Each giving birth to a new wave of millionaires with the deep pockets and experience needed to invest in the next generation of tech start-ups.
Meanwhile, despite Brexit fears Beauhurst Business Intelligence estimates suggest close to £180 million was invested in Scottish start ups in 2016—seven times the level seen in 2011.
Yet there are still very real challenges to overcome if Scotland is going to live up to its entrepreneurial ambitions.
Throughout the start-up ecosystem—from small firms to unicorns, government development agencies and investors – the country is suffering from a shortage of people with the appropriate talent and skills to capitalise on the groundswell of innovation entrepreneurs are driving.
Scotland’s workforce is severely lacking in the kinds of people with the right cultural outlook, can-do spirit and flexibility, to meet the ever-changing demands experienced as startups grow into global champions.
Meanwhile, the majority of the country’s mainstream financiers continue to suffer from a short-termist outlook, which prioritises quick returns over genuine long-term investment in progress.
Sure, innovations and businesses fail, but we have to understand that it’s the people willing to take these risks who are Scotland’s real assets.
But more than anything, somewhere along the road from heartland of traditional industry and family business to international tech hub, Scotland’s entrepreneurs have forgotten how to sell.
According to census data, Scotland has 30% fewer salespeople per capita than the UK average—only Northern Ireland has fewer. In our celebration of the programmers, we’ve taken our eye off the ball when it comes to instilling people with the communication capabilities and market awareness they need to get the job done.
The only real way to create an entrepreneurial culture today is to start 30 years ago. Sadly—technologically advanced as Scotland now is – that’s not an option, but there are still things we can do right now.
First off we can make a positive change by pooling resources to give our innovators the right tools to communicate the value of their products.
It’s time for universities, colleges, code-camps and School classrooms to get serious about sales.
Dr. Ben Spigel is Chancellors Fellow in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at University of Edinburgh Business School.
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