In our latest blog, Social Investment Scotland deputy chief executive Thomas Gillan tells us why culture is the beating heart of an organisation and what makes Scottish advances in artificial intelligence so exciting. You can catch Thomas as chair of the Investor Pitches session at the CAN DO Innovation Summit, a VentureFest Scotland headline event, on November 20 at Glasgow Science Centre.
What’s your day job?
My day job is Deputy CEO at Social Investment Scotland. We’re an impact investor and our mission is to connect capital with communities. What that means is that we take investor capital, find awesome and impactful enterprises and help these organisations deliver their ambitions through investment and support. From an innovation perspective, we work with the ecosystem to design and develop solutions to help address society’s challenges and needs, primarily in a Scottish context. My role in that involves leading our market building and innovation strategies, as well as supporting the CEO to run the ship.
What’s your role in VentureFest 2019?
We’re fortunate in Scotland to be backed by such an energetic and talented enterprise ecosystem. Yet, we need to do more to realise our potential as a truly purposeful and diverse nation. Supporting VentureFest is a way for us to share experiences, provide education, access talent and hear from super interesting people. It is a platform for us to support, foster and advocate the purposeful enterprising activity of the future.
Why is fostering a culture of discovery, innovation & enlightened entrepreneurship so important for Scottish SMEs and for society as a whole?
Whether we like it or not, we’re living in uncharted waters. We only need to look at the political landscape worldwide to realise that the game has changed and there’s a lot of frustration in our communities. Enterprise is one of, if not the best, ways of creating positive change. Fostering a culture of discovery, innovation and enlightened entrepreneurship is surely an effective measure which will set Scotland up for a sustainable, successful and impactful future. Our experience tells us that the wave is coming where doing business means considerations for people, planet and profit – not just making a quick buck. Nurturing our entrepreneurs and enterprises, as well as creating a cohesive and collective ecosystem, means Scotland can lead the way in inclusive growth. Are we at the beginning of the next industrial revolution..?
In your opinion, what is the most exciting development in Scottish innovation in the past five years?
I still don’t really understand blockchain, so I’ll go for something easier to understand – well, slightly. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is becoming increasingly evident in our pipeline of opportunities. These technologies have vast applications and, if positioned well, can have a hugely positive societal benefit. For example, through how we deliver healthcare to how we build smart cities. Scotland is at the forefront and it’s an exciting time for tech.
What three key assets make Scotland a distinctive and world-class place to invest in innovation?
The resilience and creativity of our people, alongside top education institutions and a desire just to get stuff done.
What impact does the culture of an SME have on its ability to innovate?
Culture is the beating heart of an organisation. It sets the tone and ultimately determines whether an organisation can deliver on its vision. If you then layer that with a clear social mission, purpose and talent, then innovation naturally occurs as you focus on continuous improvement and delivery of your objectives.
Looking to the future, what technology challenges and opportunities do SMEs face?
Talent represents both a challenge and opportunity. Scotland has the opportunity to be a world leader in tech and people are taking notice. To deliver, we need to stop focusing on unicorns and more on outcomes – plus invest in our infrastructure!
What are the barriers to innovation in SMEs and how can they be overcome?
It’s easy to get stuck in the treacle of day-to-day delivery. To avoid this and be sure that our vision stays front-of-mind to drive us forward, we need to take a step back, reflect and make time to think about what’s next. My advice would be to start with your organisation’s purpose and ‘why’.
What advice do you have for aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?
Listen to the opinions of those that don’t share your vision but don’t let them stifle your ambition.
Your dream keynote speaker?
Got to be Mr Obama – that speech at the Democratic Convention c 15 years ago was incredible.
Who is ‘one to watch’ in innovation in Scotland?
Enterobiotix, founded by James McIlroy.
And finally… you’re having a dinner party and you have to invite an entrepreneur, an innovator and a creative, dead or alive. Who are your three guests?
Entrepreneur: Andrew Carnegie
Innovator: Marie Curie
Creative: David Attenborough