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Strengths and weaknesses in Scots attitude to entrepreneurship

THE LATEST ‘Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’ (GEM) report has just been published and as usual it makes interesting reading. GEM is a survey, now conducted across the world in over 80 nations, which measures the attitudes to entrepreneurship in these countries. 

 

In addition to measuring this by country, here in the UK the four devolved nations are also counted separately – the Hunter Centre at the University of Strathclyde is responsible for the Scottish survey.

 

The chart that caught my eye was one which plotted relative attitudes and opportunity to entrepreneurship, and it shows that although we are strong (first quartile) in opportunity, education and competition we are very weak (fourth quartile) in the relative status we award to entrepreneurs, and that our ‘fear of failure’ is very poor. We are also relatively weak in our perception of opportunity and also we don’t score high on knowing anybody who has started a business – so having good ‘role models’.

 

In other words we have a fairly good environment for starting businesses here in Scotland, with a healthy supply of risk capital and a range of good advice available, both from Scottish Enterprise and professional advisors. Where we are still weak is the attitude of the average Scot towards starting a new enterprise, and their worry about taking the risks involved. As a result our business birth rate trails the rest of the UK.

 

Young Enterprise Scotland has been trying to tackle this problem for some time with projects in most schools aimed at getting young people to build small businesses and so gain a little hands-on experience of entrepreneurship. But one of the findings of a recent GEM survey indicated that entrepreneurship education at school was less effective than that provided in higher education.

 

The Scottish Science Advisory Council last year held five gatherings attended largely by people from high growth technology-based businesses. The conclusions of these meetings was fascinating; all agreed that the quality of University education in Scotland was first-class in imparting theoretical scientific, mathematical or engineering knowledge, but that they all fell short in providing practical guidance on how to apply these skills in practice. In other words, students were not being provided with the skills they would actually need in the workplace. 

 

Historically, larger corporations used to hire graduates and put them on a formal ‘graduate training programme’ in order to give them the negotiation, project management, and budgeting skills that they will need to do well in industry. However these days more and more good graduates don’t join larger corporations and instead work with smaller companies where such training programmes are not available. 

 

The conclusion of the Scottish Science Advisory Council was that business awareness and management skills should be embedded in all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, and that Scotland should make that a feature of all Scottish STEM degrees. All students, even the few who who pursue an academic career, will need to actually budget a project, and monitor and report on its progress, so these skills are essential.

 

In addition to this, there should be an opportunity for students who wish to experience some entrepreneurship skills in subjects such as marketing, raising risk capital, and corporate governance to gain some knowledge in these areas.

 

Scotland’s STEM skills are world class – but we need to ensure that we can also reap the economic benefits of our cutting edge science, and we need to ensure that our graduates are effective when they join the real world. 

 

Ian Ritchie was the Co-Chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council from 2010 to 2012. 

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