Scottish Entrepreneurialism and Brexit — comfortable bedfellows?

Scottish Entrepreneur editor Kim McAllister attended the EY Scottish Entrepreneur of the year awards last night (Thursday 23rd June), the same night as the Brexit vote.

The award winners from the EY Scottish entrepreneur of the year awards 2016

The dichotomy is startling — from a night of inspiration and celebration to a morning of shock and uncertainty.

Last night I sat with some of Scotland’s best entrepreneurs at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

I chatted to Lesley Eccles about FanDuel’s expansion into the UK market; I listened to John Scott of Scott Properties describe the talent he’d seen as a past judge for the award and learned about some of the groundbreaking technologies Scottish companies are producing.

The eloquence of the winners’ acceptance speeches was widely acknowledged.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” overall winner Andrew Lothian of Insights Learning and Development said.

Australian Tim Cornelius, whose Scottish-based company Atlantis harnesses tidal power, said “I genuinely have to thank Scotland,” while Douglas Samuel of Spartans Community Football joked “I feel like the wee corner shop up against M&S!”

Everyone spoke of motivation, team work and community — and yet there was an undercurrent of worry.
Many were checking their phones for referendum updates, one admitted he had millions of pounds at stake.
We left the event at 1am with everyone agreeing it was OK — more people would vote to remain, the markets would stabilize, it would be business as usual.

How wrong we were.

We were a glum group at breakfast, with so many questions, we almost didn’t know where to begin. We couldn’t help but reiterate that Scotland didn’t want this. Not a single authority voted in favour of leaving the EU. What would this mean for us? Another independence referendum seems to be inevitable now — what would the implications be for business, trading and, most importantly, staffing?

Annie Graham, the programme leader for Entrepreneur of the Year at EY (who incidentally made partner at 30 years old) did make a good point that entrepreneurs enjoy difficult trading environments.

“Great change can spark great opportunity and innovative and dynamic entrepreneurs thrive in disrupted markets,” she said. “Perhaps whilst larger businesses will take time to digest the news and even halt decision making, nimble entrepreneurs will be already scouting for new openings and plans will be afoot to capitalise on them. The winners will be those that can find their way through the uncertainty and deliver the best solution with speed to market.”

I like to think she’s right. We have to be pragmatic. The result of the referendum — at which there was a 72% turnout — has led us to this point and now we must figure out how to move forward (much as I would love to appeal the result).

I’m reminded of the conversation I had last night with Mike Loggie of Saltire energy about Aberdeen. “It will come back,” he told me, to my great relief.

Let’s hope the UK will do the same.