I was recently in Edinburgh, at We Are The Future’s (@WATF_) Startup Summit and then on to The Festival of Entrepreneurship and Scottish Business Awards (@scotbizawards)(also attended by Hollywood star George Clooney and six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy).
These are undoubtedly two of the largest events for entrepreneurs in Scotland and they’ve been recognised as amongst the best in Europe.
So, I was privileged to host the expert panel at the Startup Summit on Wednesday. The panelists were serial entrepreneur Bill Dobbie (@BillDobbie_LC), founder of Entrepreneurial Spark, Jim Duffy (@GoDo_Today), Trillion Fund CEO Julia Groves (@juliasgroves), Mallzee founder, Cally Russell (@CallyRussell) and venture capitalist Rory Stirling (@rorystirling).
The panel took place to a packed room of five hundred attendees from a spectrum of the business community, all at varying phases of growth. As a passionate supporter of small businesses, it was amazing to see such enthusiasm and engagement from the audience.
Some interesting themes emerged from the many questions and comments directed at the panel. Here’s a summary of my top takeaways:
How can I overcome the fear of failure?
There’s a perception that entrepreneurs are hard-wired risk takers but, having worked with small business owners for over a decade now, I have to say that this just isn’t true. Entrepreneurs are well aware of the risks, but they just have a much higher level of tolerance to it than others.
Running a business can be lonely, especially when you’re bringing entirely new products and services to the world. Inevitably there will be bumps in the road, so it’s important for entrepreneurs to have a mentor or trusted partner to turn to for advice. The pace of business is relentless and there’s no time to bury your head in the sand. The answer might be a fundamental change to your business model and having a dependable sounding board will provide you with the reassurance you need to take that leap.
How do I build a team?
A recurring theme from the audience was how difficult it can be to find the right partners and employees and, crucially, keep those relationships and nurture them.
As we’ve seen, having the right partner on board can be a critical success factor. When looking for a business partner, of course it’s important to ally with someone you trust but you also need him or her to challenge you. Opposing views are good for business, as long as one person ultimately has the final say.
When it comes to building your team, think carefully about the skills you’ll need and don’t just hire in your own image. Once you have the right people on board, support them with fair pay, training and benefits to keep them engaged and healthy.
How can I scale my business?
Without doubt, the most frequently asked questions at the panel revolved around funding and scaling. When should I spend money on my business and on what? Where can I seek funding from? Which is the right form of funding for me?
There are so many forms of funding out there that this can seem like an impossible question to answer. From overdrafts and credit cards to bank loans, Government schemes, asset based lending, invoice finance, crowdfunding and more.
A particularly popular and sustainable way of raising funds for entrepreneurs just starting out is through venture capital and angel investment. There are however a couple of pitfalls associated with this approach that entrepreneurs need to be aware of, both of which come down to business planning and foresight.
Firstly, without a really strong business plan in place, it can be hard to know exactly how much capital is needed, leading to dangerous peaks and troughs, with the business in a perpetual state of fund-raising. Secondly, this lack of foresight can damage the business’s credibility with investors – a dangerous position to be in.
This said, having solid investors in place along with the advice they can bring, is infinitely preferable to funding a startup on credit cards.
Though these were the key concerns raised by entrepreneurs at the Summit, none of these issues are insurmountable. Far from it, there are so many inspiring entrepreneurs out there determined to make their business dreams a reality, that with the right help and support, I believe many will do so.
Indeed, I was invited to sit on a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style panel hosted by ScotEdge (@ScottishEDGE) at the Festival of Entrepreneurship, where the next generation of Scottish entrepreneurs pitched for over £100,000 of funding. The calibre of ideas was so exceptional that we decided to award not one but two businesses the fund; EuroBiotix (@EuroBiotix) and Kitsch Drinks (@kitschdrinks), with additional funding supplied by KPMG Small Business Accounting (@KPMG_SBA), Iomart (@iomart) and Itison (@itisoncom).
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