Opportunities lie over the horizon

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We Scots are great inventors, generators of ideas, of ways of doing things – from James Watt and his steam engine powering the industrial revolution; to the philosophical thinking of The Enlightenment which underpinned it; from the telephone to TV; penicillin to a range of discoveries in my own field, physics; to the first ever rugby international, which in modern parlance we ‘co-created’ with England in 1871; and a huge collection of other innovations – from beta-blockers to banking; all the way through to Dolly the Sheep and a test for meningitis. 

However, innovation – especially in modern commercial terms – is not such a great Scottish story. As our world-leading universities venture onto the road to commercialisation, neither the public nor private sectors in Scotland are performing well in the crucial area of innovation.

Although some small steps of progress have recently been made, we lag behind our major competitors in productivity – currently ranked 17/32 across the OECD – showing a lack of fleet-footedness, of innovation to drive success. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, it’s time we gave birth to a big family!

SCDI - Ross Martin Pic Peter Devlin

For an island nation, Scotland appears to lack ambition to compete internationally, to trade our way out of recession – with only 100 companies accounting for 60 per cent of our total export effort! Scotland needs a step-change in our ability to trade overseas. 

And yet, we have some stellar performers. In whisky, salmon and textiles we supply the world with products which continue to evolve, to innovate, staying ahead of the competition, remaining relevant to new generations, ahead of the consumer demand curve.

So why can’t the rest of us grab a piece of that pie and develop the lucrative supply chains that go with such export growth.

SCDI, an active inventor and innovator throughout our 84 year existence with a range of economic interventions to our name, led early trade missions to open-up new global markets in places including China and the former Soviet Union. UKTI and SDI have the ability to innovate with this tried and tested way of working, and open-up a whole new range of opportunities – especially in the emerging markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa – for the next generation of exporters – making trade missions more agile and responsive to the changing nature of business birth, growth and development here at home. SCDI is working with them to do just that through partnership – now that’s not a bad idea! 


Ross Martin
Chief Executive, SCDI



It never pays to give up on your own ideas

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Anthony Gerrard, CEO of Bad Idea, is a prime example of what drives the founding and development of this social enterprise. His experience gives him a deep personal understanding of the obstacles of inequality facing young people as he endured periods of poverty and homelessness that left him longing to transform his own future. He approached 27 support agencies with a business idea and was left bitterly disappointed with the support and advice on offer, as well as being left with a very strong sense that it wasn’t for people like him. He decided to depend on the one person who could make that vital change – himself.

“There is no such thing as a bad idea but it took me months of trying to establish a business to recognise that. In January 2012 I was invited to a strategic meeting hosted by Jobs and Business Glasgow, as one of their clients. A year earlier I had started a business called U18 Team, which provided a bespoke website for 13 – 17 year olds for exclusive online creative exchanges and the meeting focused on finding new ways to inspire 16 to 24 year olds to start their own business. At that point Glasgow was 5000 short of the SMEs it should have had for its population size and I have to admit that the strategy meeting annoyed and frustrated me so much because the discussions illustrated my own experience – that business start up is stuck in the 20th century and so superficial.

The first huge obstacle is at the point of entry, when you’re told to go and write a business plan and if you can’t fit that criteria, forget it. Your initial inspiration is that first idea, which gets you going, fills you with excitement and enthusiasm and propels you into a support agency – and then you’re asked to write a 3 to 5 year business plan. You’re young, full of creativity and innovation and given no chance to nurture that idea, to explore where it comes from and what the ultimate aim is. There are some fantastic people in these support agencies but there are also far too many bureaucrats, stifling that creativity with a tick list of must dos.

The only things I got out of that strategy meeting is realising that there is actually no such thing as a bad idea and that there has to be a way of nurturing ideas before they go down the very traditional, very frustrating route. We have amazing young people in this country coming up with original and fantastic concepts which are too often smothered before they come to fruition. Some ideas will never see the light of day, others will change and mature into something else, a few will be developed in their original form. Looking back at my own experience with U18 Team I knew it was time for change, though I didn’t realise then how long it would take to bring Bad Idea to life.

I got really excited and thought I had the perfect solution to the strategy meeting- not to create another support service, but to inspire more young people to attempt business start-up in the first place. However when I tried to get back to everyone involved I was bounced around, eventually met up with someone who more or less told me to calm down, said my plan was too ambitious and said they would be in touch. I was pretty sure they were just going through the motions and I was having none of it. I’d lived and breathed that experience myself and I wanted it transformed for all other young people in Scotland and to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship at a much earlier age.

I’m speaking from experience here – I grew up in poverty and was homeless at 18. I tried to survive on benefits, which is a horrible place to be and at age 26 I decided to study and completed my first year in law at university, but at the start of second year I lost my best friend to cancer and was so devastated the uni decided I should defer for a year. That left me with nothing – no family support, no benefits – and struggling to survive. Sometimes education is the only place kids on their own can survive and by November 2010 I was despairing so in January 2011 I started U18 Team.

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That experience meant I knew what was ahead of me when I started Bad Idea but it was hard. I was sleeping on friends’ couches, surviving on Enterprise Allowance while putting on a brave face, like going to meetings and paying for the coffee knowing that was the last of my benefit money so I wouldn’t be eating that night. I was very very hungry a lot of the time but I had a vision of how this could work and I had to make it happen. Some people made that vital difference – Professor Vic Lally at Glasgow University gave Bad Idea academic gravitas, Liz McGuire, Senior Policy Development Officer at Glasgow City Council gave me sponsorship and James Muldon at the Scottish Government provided practical advice and support through Scotland Can Do. The first Bad Idea competition was a pilot in 2014 and the organisation now has 14 employees in 7 cities and the 2015 competition is in full swing – every minute of effort has been worth it but I hope to make life considerably easier for anyone else hoping to do the same and get their business up and running.


Article first appeared in The Herald, Friday, May 1 2015

Inspired young people hold key to a successful nation

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A successful Scotland will always prosper if we put our people first. Great world inventions have emanated from our lands – from Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone to Alexander Fleming and the invention of penicillin. But we are in a completely different world now, digital technology and social media has changed our working and living environments. It has opened up massive opportunities, but only if we are brave enough, and have the tools, to grasp them.

We only have to look at the success of businesses such as Skyscanner, BrewDog and Clyde Space – creating new business models that fit today’s consumer and global environment. These are Scotland’s new entrepreneurial giants and it is their legacy and leadership that must inspire a new generation of inventors and innovators.

But to do this, we must first invest in the future of our young people.

I want to see every young person in Scotland with the opportunities to become inspired, have ambitious plans and feel valued, regardless of their background. This is fundamental, not only in creating an inclusive Scotland, but making sure that Scotland is tapping into the exceptional pool of talent that has always set us apart from other nations.

A trio of Scottish Saltire flags are displayed at the Scottish border at Berwick Upon Tweed, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. Scotland has been warned. If it votes to leave the United Kingdom later this year, then it walks away from the pound. That's the hard-line message presented Thursday by U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne, who ruled out a currency union in a speech in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

From day one of a young person’s education journey, I want to see Scotland offer bold and ambitious opportunities. This means we have to look to the future and from a business perspective, the future is international and we have to prepare our young people now. We simply cannot let the legacy of Bell and Fleming become relegated to a class in history – their discoveries must be the inspiration for the next generation of Scottish entrepreneurs.

We have proven that we have great entrepreneurial role models – but simply not enough! We need to re-imagine how we promote a global mind-set to our young people and, yes, that requires bold steps and showcasing those that continue Bell’s legacy such as Clyde Space – a Scottish based supplier of spacecraft systems. We need to create an outward-looking culture amongst our young people and this has to start from day one of their education journey, moving towards a model which provides international languages of business as a regular and ordinary element of the school curriculum. This will inevitably support Scotland’s future trade ambitions and will naturally open up a wealth of opportunities for all of our young people to feel proud of their achievements.

It is often stated that we have more world-class universities in Scotland per head of population than anywhere else in the world, but are we becoming complacent, and are we truly ahead of the curve, or are others taking over? We must become bolder and braver in our innovation, consider doing things in a different way to achieve even better results; or example, making international experiences a standard part of our degree programmes. We must also recognise the positive contribution made to Scotland by international students because they are also the leaders of the future. We have to remain an attractive destination and seriously begin to look at adopting a more flexible attitude to post-study work visas, so we can continue to attract top talent into Scotland and also provide opportunities for the international graduates to contribute to businesses in Scotland.

These are all practical tools that can enable an inspired generation to start their own business in the knowledge and confidence that they have the right skills to do so. We all have an absolute obligation to ensure that all of our young people have opportunity and skills enabling all of our community to feel valued, respected and able to contribute to our economy. We need to create a culture where this is a natural decision, the norm. I know that this is rare, so it is up to us, the influencers, to create a vibrant inventor culture for Scotland, where all of our young people can build on the legacies of our entrepreneurial giants.

Liz Cameron OBE, Director/Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce



Prabhjot testimonial (runner-up 2015)

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I thought that the organisation it self was really interesting and engageble for young people. I was proud of myself when I knew when I was in the final and was the 2nd winner. I think parents should encourage there children to do something like this. It was a great experience having met other people and their ideas. If you don’t really get into the finals or the national ones you should never feel bad because at least you tried and got to that point which is a great success.

Thanks to all the BAD IDEA ORGANISATION and you.

Age 12, John Paul Academy

Demi – Bad Idea WINNER 2014

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My business idea was a new exciting app which will show you what your hair would look like before you dye it. The app offers you easy choices of the colours you want to dye your hair and a social media bar allows you to share your photo on any social network site and get other people’s opinion so you don’t waste your money on dyeing it if other people don’t think it’s nice.

After my win with Bad Idea I decided that business was something that interested me and when I went to pick my Highers for school I choose Business Management even though I haven’t done it before because before I didn’t think I would be interested in it. I am doing a 2 year Higher with Business and I have nearly completed my first year which I have really enjoyed. At various points of the course I can link back to Bad Idea and the stuff I learned. I have just finished the marketing section and one day during the Bad Idea was focusing on marketing which I think has really helped me understanding marketing in school.

Also because of Bad Idea and the presentations I had to do I believe I am more confident; in October my school was taking part in the YPI competition where you had to compete in a competition in a group to present a charity and win £3,000 for the charity. Later on in December I did an event at Apple where Anthony from Bad Idea asked me about my experience and I think this also helped with my confidence. My group won and I think because I did the Bad Idea completion it helped with my presentation skills and with my confidence.

When I am older I would be interested in doing something further with Business because I enjoy it.

Demi, 2014

Taylor testimonial

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The bad idea competition helped me with my confidence, speech and my attitude towards talking/taking part in groups and being able to share my idea with 20+ people. The bad idea has helped me with my confidence because when I first went I wouldn’t even say my name to my group or the answers to the questions, to me it didn’t matter about being able to know all the answers or winning money to me it was about getting my act together and being able to do it!

After I got used to everyone being around me I came out my shell a little and I would share the answers and help everyone else, by the end of the week I could talk to anyone I just wasn’t confident enough to talk out to everyone with the microphone. As I said at the beginning, it wasn’t about the money, it was to achieve my goal and by the end of the week I had also done that. One of the staff at the bad idea Anthony Gerrard he boosted my confidence the most as he was always boosting my confidence because he was always making me laugh.

I would recommend bad idea to anyone, if I could do it again I would!

Taylor, 2015