This weekend saw another successful Turing Festival take place here in Edinburgh. Over the course of a fascinating couple of days, attendees had the opportunity to network and learn about advances being made around the world across a wide range of fields. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opening up a discussion about how technology brings with it huge potential for driving improvements in business meant that the event attracted a higher than average number of entrepreneurial attendees – a good thing, I’m sure you’d agree.
So whilst many talks shone a spotlight on the development of technology startups with high growth potential, it was Bill Aulet, the well-regarded MD of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center who set out strong evidence to show the explosive growth in the numbers of young people who are now seeking to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. There’s been a significant change over the years and despite the fact that this may create some unrealistic high-profile outliers, (such as Nick D’Alosio of Summly fame, a self-made millionaire before the age of 18 and another engaging speaker at the event), it’s hugely positive that so many people want to be entrepreneurs. Why? Because in doing so, they’re actively looking to solve big and genuine real-world problems by creating sustainable solutions.
One of the sessions that was particularly fascinating focused on the future of money. Whilst the developed world’s financial system remains fairly traditional, there is some very innovative work taking place in a number of locations. The length of time that it takes for new ideas to reach widespread adoption within the traditional confines of finance may be longer than in other sectors as a result of the restraints of existing rules and regulations. But those advances are no less – and indeed arguably more – important as a result. It’s something that I believe that we understand well here at ShareIn. Jim McKelvey gave a strong talk in which he explained how the simple (in retrospect!) creation by his company Square of a card reader which plugs into a mobile phone has disrupted the credit card payment market for small vendors in the US. It’s also a great example of a relatively simple concept forcing the payments industry to evolve and shows how by focusing on a real-life problem – in this case, capturing the sales that were traditionally lost by small businesses who could not afford to use current card payment systems. Yet however revolutionary this concept might be, the delays in rolling Square and other innovations out to other countries – each with their own legislative procedures and constraints – show the delays that are unavoidable when you are dealing with something as fundamentally important as money.
There was plenty of discussion about how hard it can be to raise investment of a certain size within Scotland. Yet there was also a strong message, in particular from John Peebles of Administrate, that the location that you use to grow your business is irrelevant. The important thing is possessing the ability to apply yourself to solving real problems and to execute successfully by learning from repeated iterations. In other words, don’t be afraid to fail. There are some areas that Scotland, and the UK in general, cannot compete with – the seemingly ready-availability of VC money in the Valley being the most obvious. And yet, the ecosystem exists here to grow a global business by taking advantage of a lower cost-base by being based here. In short – use the advantages that you have access to whilst doing the hard work to overcome every other disadvantage.
For me, the key takeaway is that the pace of change is only going to accelerate and those that are not willing to innovate and try are the ones that will be left behind. For those that are, however, it’s still good news – the possibilities are limitless.