In his previous role as Accenture’s Country Managing Director for Scotland, Les Bayne says his eyes were opened to a new, exciting and tech-driven Scotland; a landscape quite different to what he expected.
Picking away at the veneer of what he perceived to be Scotland’s traditional ‘image’ revealed an almost untouched canvas. One that has great potential, but still requires a great deal of hard work.
“When I took up the role for Accenture in Scotland, I sort of woke up to the latency of Scotland. I found that once you got past the stereotypical image of Scotland, the whisky, golf and tourism, you start to uncover the country’s fantastic tech ecosystem.”
Exploring the comings and goings of Scotland’s tech ecosystem, its flourishing start-up scene and renewed focus on industries such as manufacturing – the industry in which Les made his first forays into the world of work during the early 1990s – there was a sense of pride in knowing that great change and excitement was afoot.
At the time, however, one question continued to pop up – “”how didn’t I know about this?”
Scotland’s ‘Innovation Mindset’
“In previous roles, I was guilty of just getting on a plane and flying to London, Dublin, San Fran or wherever and only really seeing and understanding these tech communities,” he says.
“That’s partly down to my own ignorance. But I believe it also shows that Scotland has the opportunity to do more to promote itself or promote what we have, what we can offer,” Bayne insists.
Visibility, both at a national and global level, Bayne asserts, is an area where Scotland’s technology sector still has much to do. It shouldn’t be hard to talk the nation up, however.
A quick glance at a history book should give entrepreneurs, startups and businesses the length and breadth of Scotland the confidence and necessary inspiration to start believing.
“When you go through the chapters of our story you see great examples of global leadership in engineering, innovation, and manufacturing,” he says.
“But although we lost our way in the 90’s, today we’re seeing a resurgence of our engineering heritage, a contemporary manifestation of that upward trajectory. That’s exciting to me, because it demonstrates that you can’t suppress Scotland’s innovation mindset.”
“But what’s missing?” is a question that has been on Bayne’s mind for some time.
“There’s still a bit of a void here. Because we have a lot of great companies with great ideas so how come many of these start-ups don’t reach a certain point or get to where they want to be?”
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Published last year, Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review cast a light on this recurring issue and sought to offer a roadmap for how start-ups can be supported through their journey.
The Logan Review acknowledged that a key stumbling block for Scotland’s tech sector has been the ability of companies to scale-up.
While access to cash is an area that gradually continues to improve, as evidenced in the recent Tech Nation Report, Bayne believes the support for scaling businesses and entrepreneurs isn’t quite what it could be.
Businesses of all kinds, not simply those operating within the technology sector, require a guiding hand during what can be an arduous process fraught with difficulty and the potential to deviate onto the wrong path.
It is this void that Bayne hopes to fill in time to come. Through his new venture, Alba Arete, he hopes to become a point of contact not just for entrepreneurs and start-ups in the technology sector, but for businesses from a broad range of backgrounds and industry verticals.
“As we move on from Covid, there is a risk that all our focus is on the bright shiny new thing…the tech ecosystem, while the traditional SME sector is falling behind and not transitioning too digital fast enough.
“The same goes for our strong technical innovation network across Scotland. Funding will become more challenging, so we have to find better ways to monetise our efforts and make it even more business relevant. ”
Drawing on his experience at Accenture, Bayne believes there is an opportunity to provide a different type of guidance and support for scaling tech businesses, SME’s and Innovation Centres.
“In 2007, Accenture built a flagship innovation centre, which was established around the soft launch of an innovation strategy and how we thought about innovation. In the context of that, the innovation centre was focused around ‘breakthrough thinking’,” Bayne explains.
“We broke new ground in Accenture and fundamentally changed the way we engaged our clients and their challenges. It taught me how to think differently and shift towards a more open, exploratory mindset.”
The Alba Arete Journey
It is this experience, combined with his 20 years of driving growth and his Country Managing Director role for Scotland that Les is putting into Alba Arete.
“I’m looking to explore how this innovation mindset can be adopted at this level and enable founders, entrepreneurs, small business owners to embrace what they need to do in order to grow,” he says.
Bayne suggests that now is the moment for entrepreneurs and founders to think differently. In his experience speaking to business leaders, there is often a prevailing simplicity in how some people view their journey and an overreliance on conventional thinking.
“Covid has created a seismic shift in how we live and work, so it goes without saying that businesses have had to react. The same old rules no longer apply. Equally, nobody has a roadmap out of Covid. Nobody knows how life and work is going to play out over the next five years because we’ve never been here before,” he says.
“So, we can no longer rely on the same old stodgy advice of yester year. We all need to think differently.”
“For example, businesses no longer need a business plan – they need a game plan played to a new set of rules. The path to building your company, selling it and exiting has changed and in my mind that creates even more opportunity, not less, so long as you get your mindset right,” Bayne adds.
“My view is that we need to move out of crisis management and a ‘war-time’ mentality. If we are to move forwards, we need to adopt a growth mindset as the predominant leadership style to take is forward for the next 20 years.
“Coming out of Covid is not about unwinding the decisions you took coming into it. It’s also not as simple as just deciding whether to take Path A or Path B out of it. It’s going to feel much more like navigating in the jungle, where you need to really open up your senses to make the best decisions possible. I mean really, really opening yourself up to challenging conventional wisdom.”
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“The Logan Review laid out a lot around how the ecosystem can scale-up, and I personally embraced the recommendations. But we still have a lot to do and that means an opportunity to think differently,” Bayne says.
“For example, I love the idea of the Tech Scalers and what they will do. In fact, I think of them as Mindset Scalers, capable of helping Innovators find their growth mindset!”
Bayne emphasises that Alba Arete’s role won’t be to force answers upon a business in a confrontational manner but instead to help them embark on a process and embrace the challenge of change.
“With breakthrough thinking we’re talking about a process, a journey. It’s about helping business leaders get into a positive, forward thinking mindset that wakes a business up to what’s happening around it and unfolding in front of it,” he explains.
“I believe the next 5 years represents a moment in time to begin to change how we think about the future and see the opportunity we have to be national, international or global leaders.
“Instilling the right mindset definitely helps to answer questions, allay fears and helps businesses to embrace and execute their scaling plans – and I’d like to ride shotgun with them, in a way.”