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Opinion: Alisdair Gunn

Innovators need to think global…

Opinion: Alisdair Gunn

Innovators need to think global

Some may say that one of Scotland’s best exports is talent. Others talk about the innovations we have produced through the years. And wherever you travel, you will probably meet someone who has been educated at one of Scotland’s leading higher education institutions.

But instead of looking back at our historical achievements and patting ourselves on the back, let’s focus on the new generation of entrepreneurs.

The scientists, technologists and business leaders featured in this issue of Science Scotland are not just talented and innovative people, but entrepreneurs seeking to transform their expertise into global businesses.

The new generation also seek to follow in the footsteps of previous entrepreneurs by facing up to many of the challenging issues affecting modern society. For this, they need patience, perseverance and vision, but they also need to be creative and risk-tolerant, adaptable and confident. Today they also need to be more collaborative than ever before.

Entrepreneurs also need expertise in their domain, but as Steve Blank recently discussed in his Berkley Blog1, being a domain expert doesn’t make you competent in commerce – he observes it’s rare for the smartest technical innovators to also be the most successful entrepreneurs.

Whether you are making a breakthrough in science or developing a new technological gizmo, the overlap between an Innovator and an entrepreneur is the ability to develop an idea which creates change.

What distinguishes the most successful entrepreneurs is that they can take a great idea, service, process, product or invention and turn it into a successful business opportunity.

The new economy

In Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, Adam Smith proposed that wealth should be measured by its total production and commerce. Today we have entered a new economic era where commerce is shaped by technologies. It is also an era which the analysts Mckinsey & Company describe as “distributive” – where different rules apply.

Increasingly, the engine of our economy is transforming from a people-driven economy towards a domain that’s influenced through digital technologies – most notably, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Blockchain, the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0.

Investment in these shiny new technologies increases productivity – the linchpin of economic growth which leads to improved living standards.

With Scotland’s digital technology sector forecast2 to grow twice as fast as the Scottish economy overall in the years to 2024, our newest Scottish technology businesses are building some of the best design teams in the world, designing great products as well as innovating transformative services for the global digital economies.

Although some industries are receiving the “tech treatment,” most organisations are having to deliver more, with less. As a result, many private and public organisations are taking an “agile” approach to developing their business, an approach which PA Consulting3 emphasises can help organisations be responsive to change, allowing them to pivot their focus on priorities and value.

Solving some of the greatest client challenges in financial services is one of the key challenges for the Edinburgh-based business, Float. Tapping into the power of cloud technologies, the Float team designed their cash-flow forecasting platform to be accessible to small business owners, helping them to optimise their productivity.

Identifying new market opportunities is one of Scotland’s best characteristics, especially when you look at the recent growth of Scotland’s’ space industry. Driven by a global industry with an ambition to produce reusable rockets and reach towards manned missions to Mars, Morgan Stanley4 predict revenues generated by the global space industry will increase to US$1.1 trillion or more by 2040, up from $350 billion today.

Nestled alongside established Glasgow-based satellite and data development businesses such as Clyde Space and Spire, the emergence of pocketcube developer Alba Orbital and satellite data services business Bird.i has helped Scotland’s Space industry account5 for 18% of all jobs in the UK Space industry, which is now the largest sector amongst Scotland’s rapidly growing Aerospace, Defence and Space Industry, adding an estimated annual turnover of £2.5 billion6 to the Scottish economy.

Central to the transformation of global industries is data – the “electricity of growth” – which is redefining service design. Ever since Google was founded 20 years ago, data has dominated service design. With businesses developing new services and society becoming increasingly dependent on data, new risks have emerged which threaten the integrity of data – e.g., cyber threats.7

Having just completed its first year in business, Wallet.Services recognised the burst of innovation around securing data and discovered the transformative security qualities of distributed ledger technologies such as Blockchain. In response, the team created a platform called Siccar, a solution which applies blockchain, allowing citizens, businesses and government to share information securely. Built in close collaboration with the Scottish Government, Siccar has the potential to create paperless, digital-first public services, an area which McKinsey8 recognises can protect trusted records and interactions with citizens.

With PWC reporting global entertainment and media revenues to hit $2.4 trillion in 20229, creating new experiences which transport a customer to a never-before-seen world is something that Glasgow-based Axis Animation aims to produce through its bold, hyper-real cinematic stories. The team have created some highly original content and have already secured an impressive showreel of global clients, including the BBC, Universal, Activision and Microsoft.

Like many people living and working in Scotland, Icelebrate what we achieved in the past, but what is happening right now is even more exciting. The global economy is rapidly changing. Technology and markets are rapidly changing. And the new generation of start-ups in Scotland is not just responding, but driving the changes, using Scotland as a platform for their global ambitions.

Alisdair Gunn is Director of Framewire,® an advisory practice which works with corporates, tech start-ups, government, universities and the public sector to deliver growth through service transformation, market engagement, international development, innovation, business strategy, partnering, digital technology and equity investment. Alisdair is also a board member of BIMA’s Scotland Council, the British trade association driving innovation and excellence across the digital industries, providing independent expertise on service transformation and delivery of growth. He is also a strategic advisor to tech businesses Amiqus and Very Connect as well as tech accelerator Seed Haus.


1 Steve Blank Berkley Blog – Innovators and Entrepreneurs: What’s the difference?
2 BBC: Digital technology ‘is Scotland’s fast-growing sector’ 
3 PA Consulting: Experience Agile – Agile Transformation and Delivery
4 Morgan Stanley: Space – Investing in the Final Frontier
5 BBC: Scottish space industry soaring high
6 ADS: Scotland’s space sector
7 PWC: The Global State of Information Security Survey 2018
8 McKinsey: Using Blockchain to improve data management in the public sector
9 P9PWC report: Global entertainment and media revenues to hit $2.4tn in 2022




"Opinion: Alisdair Gunn". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-two)
Printed from on 31/03/20 02:48:03 PM

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