Dr Olga Kozlova, Director of Converge Challenge, argues that Scottish entrepreneurs should be encouraged to talk about ‘world domination’ as without outright ambition and belief, they will never build truly global businesses.
Over the last five years I have been privileged to watch over 500 individuals and teams trying to turn their ideas into reality by start a business. It comes as no surprise that not all of them have succeeded but from those 150 that Converge Challenge has engaged with, 68 went on and formed companies.
These businesses range from life sciences to energy and from the fashion industry to food and drink. However, there are a few things that unite them all: coming out of the seventeen Scottish universities, they are highly innovative companies with global potential and ambitious growth aspirations.
When they first come in through the door, their technology is usually the most exciting part of the proposition for them. But when I meet them 6-12 months later, all they talk about is finding the right people, obtaining the next round of funding and getting customers to open the purse strings.
Cash is a bloodline for any businesses and in the early stages of growth and scale up, a lot of it comes from grants and investments. In Scotland we are fortunate to have a diverse and well-developed system of support including a range of grants from a variety of sources, competitions and a very well developed network of business angels. However, there is a lack of VC funding, which is often bemoaned by many. As a result, businesses’ aspirations are often adjusted to fit the locally available finance.
The other day I was talking to a founder of a company who asked me whether they should write a business plan based on their true beliefs of the potential opportunity or should they present a modest picture that people will accept and won’t laugh at.
This question made me pause, as I went back to the first year of the Converge Challenge when one of the business plans talked about “world domination”. It caused a real split among the judges as people laughed at such a statement. In the end, I was outvoted and the project didn’t go through. I have to say that I am really delighted that that particular business is going ahead strongly and I was proven right to believe in the founder. Coming back to my recent conversation I have advised the founder to stick to their guns and present a true picture of what they believe the business could achieve and to say that they are planning to look for funding both in the UK and internationally.
And I think if Scotland wants to have more than two unicorns or as Gareth Williams calls them RABBIT(s): Real Actual Business Built from Interesting Tech, we need to encourage our founders to talk about world domination as without this outright ambition and belief in themselves they will never build truly global businesses. It might not be with the first idea they have, but ultimately ambitious individuals will aim high and succeed in their careers bringing value and prosperity into Scotland.