Unlocking Ambition Challenge: speech

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, introduces the Unlocking Ambition Challenge at the Startup Summit 2017.

Thank you, Bruce. And thanks to all of you for coming to the Assembly Rooms this morning. I've just toured the exhibition area and the energy in the room was quite incredible.

This is a great venue for an event like this. I don't how much you know about the history of the building but it has a really a distinguished role the history of our country. Over the last couple of hundred years it has hosted talks by Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and William Gladstone, among many others. It is quite something to be standing here given the history of the venue.

Scots history, distinguished though it is, doesn't mean we don't have to look to the future and support the people with the best ideas. So hopefully the discussions you're having here today will play a really important part in doing just that; shaping and building the future of the country. Hopefully people will look on the discussions we're having here as just as influential as those that took place here, all those years ago.

I've just had the opportunity to speak to some of the established entrepreneurs here – James Watt, the founder of Brewdog, Callum Murray from Amiqus and Sarah Stenhouse, who started up Pixey, and others.

And it's very striking that at an event like this to have a company like Brewdog – a hugely globally successful company – but one that was actually was only founded 10 years ago. When we talk about BrewDog it seems like it's been around a lot longer than that.

Pixey and Amiqus hadn't been founded when I became First Minister – that's less than three years ago. And now they are successful companies going from strength to strength.

It's an important reminder that there are people in this room who at the moment only have a good idea and lots of enthusiasm – or who have maybe only been running a business for a few weeks or months. Not long from now, you could be the businesses standing up here sharing your experience with others. It could be you that creating new jobs, developing new products, and making a very significant contribution to our economy and our society.

The people that you hear from today, those who have travelled the journey that you are about to travel, I hope that inspires and motivates you to take your ideas and turn them into in the companies and solutions of the future.

So I think this Startup Conference is undoubtedly one of the most exciting events I'll attend all year. It is hugely important I think everyone owes a real debt of gratitude to Bruce and to everybody else who has helped to organise it.

In the last few recent weeks, I've been talking an awful lot about the future of Scotland's economy. The reason I've been doing is because it's important that countries have a strong and vibrant economy. But we live just now, and Scotland is not unique here – countries across the world are living in and adapting to rapid change.

The world around us has never changed as fast as it is now. Probably never more so than in our lifetime has it changed as fast as ours is. Some of those changes – the technological changes, the transition we are in the midst of, the move to a low carbon economy, the changing demographics and aging population – all bring challenges and pressures. At no time in my lifetime has the world been changing as fast as it is now.

When this happens countries everywhere have a choice to make. Will they be the leaders and shapers of change or we can sit back instead. And I think Scotland absolutely should have the determination to do the former. Just as Scotland has done through past generations.

One of my favourite books is – and if you haven't read it I'd recommend it – called How Scots Invented the Modern World. And it's written by a Canadian. What he does is look at the period of the enlightenment and all of those Scottish people who literally created much of the modern world we live in today. This generation can have great pride when you think of the list of inventions as long as your arm, of things that originated or were invented here in Scotland or by Scots.

I think one of the things we need to strive to do right now is do the things that mean, 100 years from now – when people are looking back on this period – that somebody then can write a book on how Scots invented the modern world to come.

So if we decide we're going to be the entrepreneurial innovators of the future, we can know we were also the entrepreneurs of the past. That means being at the forefront of economic and technological change in the years and decades ahead. That means that we want to invent, design and produce the innovations of the future – not just use innovations from other countries. That's a big challenge but one that should focus all of us.

We are taking steps, important steps, to support businesses and promote innovation. For example, we're in the early stages of establishing a new national development bank. We're substantially increasing funding for business research and development – we know without research and development we won't create the innovations we need.

We're providing additional support for manufacturing and have announced the location for a new manufacturing institute, and also promoting other key sectors like fintech. And we are continuing to invest in skills and in our enterprise agencies, so they can give support to companies that need it.

One of the most important things we are doing, and most relevant to our discussions here today, is our support of entrepreneurship. Our prosperity, today and in the future, depends on successful new ideas and new businesses being created here in Scotland, so it stands to reason that entrepreneurs will be fundamental to generating jobs and future economic growth.

In past years, we have worked with the private, public and third sectors to develop the Scotland CAN-DO framework. It sets out our very firm ambition for Scotland to be a world-leader in enterprise and innovation. And it aims to ensure that people no matter where in Scotland they live, have the confidence, encouragement and practical support that they need to become entrepreneurs and set up their own businesses.

One way of achieving that is through our education system. When I look back, 30 years now, when I was at school, no one was encouraged to start up their own business. We must make sure that that's not the case today.

Young Enterprise Scotland have been doing some really vital work in our schools, colleges and universities. Now more than 400 schools across Scotland now take part in our Enterprising Schools Network. We need to do more of that and see that extended more widely across our education system.

We also need to do more to encourage more women to establish businesses. I spoke last Thursday night at the Business Women Scotland and Women's Enterprise Awards. It was great to see so many talented and successful female entrepreneurs already established in Scotland.

But it's still the case, and this should give us pause for thought, that men are currently twice as likely as women to start up businesses. And that has implications for our economy. If women started up business at the same rate as men, then that would be worth millions of pounds every year to our economy. We are taking steps to tackle that – for example, by doubling our support for Investing Women.

In addition to supporting start-ups, we're also encouraging businesses to scale up. That's one reason for establishing the investment bank, which I mentioned a moment ago. It will give Scottish firms the opportunity – which they would not otherwise have – of accessing long term, patient capital they need to grow. And that's particularly important with businesses that are innovative – doing the things that haven't been done before – as there is a greater level of risk attached, which may mean traditional banks are less likely to invest.

These are the things we are trying to do to support an entrepreneurial culture, which is so important for our country's future. It stands to reason that government can't do this alone and everyone has to work together to make it a reality.

One of the things I've found very encouraging in recent months – at today's event, or last week's Women's Enterprise Awards last week – is that there is now a real sense of shared purpose in encouraging new start-ups within Scotland. I'm struck, and this is backed up by some of the conversations I've had this morning, by how many entrepreneurs say they know the support they get here in Scotland. Not just financial support, but the community and network, the ecosystem support – is better than any other country they have knowledge or experience of.

The Scottish Government's actions sit alongside a whole range of schemes that are helping to transform Scotland's business culture. Some are supported by Government, but many are led by individual and entrepreneurs themselves. You'll be familiar with some of the many examples – Entrepreneurial Spark, which has provided support for over 600 businesses, the EDGE Fund – which is backed by the Hunter Foundation and the Royal Bank of Scotland – and has already supported more than 250 companies.

Tech incubators like Tontine in Glasgow and Codebase in Edinburgh – and the Biocity life sciences incubator in Lanarkshire – all of these and more are supporting the development of ambitious new businesses in their specific sectors. They're providing a base – and more importantly, an environment – where entrepreneurs can collaborate and share their expertise, contacts and ideas, giving each other moral support and encouragement.

And of course, organisations like Women's Enterprise Scotland and Entrepreneurial Scotland are also helping to inspire, develop and connect current and future entrepreneurial leaders.

Events like this one are a really important part of it – they enable hundreds of ambitious and talented people can gain advice, support and inspiration from a quite incredible line up of investors and entrepreneurs. So for those of you who are just starting out in your business careers, I hope you'll get the sense today that you're not on your own - you are in Scotland part of a movement, an entrepreneurial movement. And it's one which the Scottish Government is determined to support.

This takes me to what I specifically want to talk to you today. As we expand our entrepreneurial aspirations, we want attract and nurture the brightest talent – from within Scotland and across the world. People from other countries can be encouraged to come here and develop their ideas and establish their businesses.

That's the purpose of the initiative I want to talk to you about – and encourage some of you to apply to. The Unlocking Ambition Challenge is one we announced in our Programme for Government in September, and it will open for entry early in 2018.

This is an invitation to entrepreneurs from Scotland and from right across the world to submit ideas which have the potential to be transformative. You don't have to be in Scotland or Scottish – you can be anywhere in the world to apply. The only condition is you agree to relocate or establish your business here in Scotland.

Every year we will select up to 40 individuals – who will be chosen by established entrepreneurs and on the basis of their own potential, the quality of their ideas, and the contribution that they might make to our economy and to wider society.

The individuals who are successful will receive intensive support and advice from established entrepreneurs, and help with living costs, for at least a year and possibly two years. It's an initiative which will be funded by the Scottish Government – we will allocate up to £4 million towards it – and which has already received from organisations to partner with us, such as Virgin, Entrepreneurial Spark, Entrepreneurial Scotland, Elevator, the EDGE fund and FutureX.

We have a range of entrepreneurial mentors who will be part of this, including James Watt from Brewdog, Leah Hutcheon from Appointedd, Cally Russell from Mallzee, Amy Livingstone of Cheeky Chompers, and Chris van der Kuyl, the co-founder of 4J studios.

I hope you think that's an exciting opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs. We will announce details on how to apply very soon – and I hope some of you will do just that.

The Challenge is, first and foremost, a practical measure to encourage innovation. It relates back to what I spoke about at the start. It's a changing world and if we want to succeed in that world we need to be inventing and creating in the year ahead.

It's also though more than practical support. It's intended to epitomises and publicises our determination – not just to encourage entrepreneurs within Scotland, although that is hugely important, but also to attract the most talented and ambitious people around the world to see Scotland as the place they want to establish their business. We hope it will play an important part in achieving our ambition of turning Scotland into the best place in the world to do business.

There's one final point I want to make which is central to the Government's support for entrepreneurship. We talk a lot about investing in new ideas, new products and new technologies. But the single most important factor in the success of companies is investment in people.

For all of the people here who support start-ups, it's important that we invest – through money or through advice and mentoring – in developing the skills and talents of Scotland's entrepreneurs.

Similarly, for all of you who have set up, or will go on to set up businesses, investing in the people you employ will be a huge factor in your future success. That focus – not just on products but on people – must always be fundamental to our approach.

That's why the Unlocking Ambition challenge – which is focussed upon helping and supporting people – is something we see as being so important to Scotland's future. And it's why this conference – and the support and advice it can provide for individuals – is such a welcome and inspiring event.

I hope you have a great day and I wish all of you, every success for the future.


Central Enquiry Unit

Email: ceu@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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