The Startup View From Across the Pond: Lessons From Scotland's Successful Startup Accelerator, ESpark

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What one founder from Detroit observed during a visit to Entrepreneurial SPARK, Scotland’s accelerator.

By Emily Hay (Founder, HayThereSocialMedia.com)

As a non-technical founder of a social media marketing company, it has been an exciting – and often challenging — journey to venture into the world of building a tech-based startup business.  The journey started with reading “The Lean Startup,” which led to a full immersion in the local Detroit startup community and the national Women 2.0 community. Now after placing 2nd in my first Demo Days Pitch Competition, hosted by the NewME Popup Accelerator, and recently being accepted into the 2014 ACTiVATE ® by Inforum class, a program that provides experts, mentors, potential funders and sponsors to help entrepreneurs create a viable, growing company, I am truly aware of and grateful for the global ecosystem of support for startup businesses.

On a recent trip overseas, I couldn’t turn down the chance to gain an international perspective on how startups are incubated and hatched into long-term successful businesses.

While in the U.K., I had the pleasure of visiting Entrepreneurial SPARK, otherwise known as ESpark, Scotland’s startup accelerator. This business incubator is changing the way Scotland produces and facilitates the growth of new ideas into long-term businesses. In case you aren’t up to speed with the ever-lively debate about whether Scotland should seek independence from Great Britain, the question of the country’s long-term sustainability comes up frequently.  While no one is pushing Detroit to secede from the U.S., the topic of economic sustainability – built on the base of a strong, entrepreneurial spirit and history – is a common theme and topic here in the Motor City.

Scotland is embracing a startup renaissance and is hoping to churn an economic fire with an entrepreneurial spark.  ESparkUK has three hatcheries: Edinburgh, the West Coast and Glasgow (where I visited).  Here are a few things I observed that are clearly impacting the success of this accelerator:

1) ESpark has an impressive roster of successful entrepreneurs and mentors to help the startup founders.

As the saying goes, it’s best to follow someone who has been where you want to be.  Sir Tom Hunter, Ann Gloag and Sir William Haughney are some of the most successful people in the Scotland, and they are demonstrating their leadership by getting behind this important national effort.

2) ESpark truly embraces the entrepreneur.

Surely the leadership team wants individuals who will grow successful long-term businesses; however, they understand it is important not to solely focus on the technology but on the entrepreneur behind it. They work with startup teams varying in size: from a single founder with a new idea, to a team of six closer to commercialization. Both men and women are evenly represented.

3) Startup is a global language.

The ESpark team knows what it means to be “scrappy;” a word I often hear in the Detroit startup space.  #Founderisms are embraced such as: You must learn as you go; entrepreneurialism is like fixing the car while it’s going 100 mph.  They are constantly tweaking and evaluating and readjusting as needed.  Their most recent change was going from a 12-month program to a 5-month accelerator period.

4) It takes a village

ESpark has obtained support from both the private and public sector.  They are taking in lessons from around the globe.  Prior to my visit, the team had just returned from MassChallenge in Boston to validate their approach to nurturing these startups.  In addition to supporting entrepreneurs formally enrolled in their hatcheries, ESpark offers events that are open to the public, which truly fuels a collaborative spirit among current and aspiring entrepreneurs.

All in all, many – including myself — are rooting for their success. ESpark has gained tremendous momentum in Scotland and as a Detroiter, it’s very encouraging to see these startup efforts embodied here in our own backyard through programs like Bizdom, TechTown, ACTiVATE ® by Inforum and Ann Arbor SPARK, to name a few.

A huge thank you to Lucy-Rose Walker, chief solutions officer at ESpark, who spent her time with me that day.

What thoughts and observations do you have about the startup scene around the world?

 

emily_hay_headshotAbout the guest blogger: Emily A. Hay (@emilyahayis the founder of Hay There Social Media and co-creator of “Saving Face for Parents and Schools." She was recently named one of “52 Empowering Women of 2013” on the WooHoo Radio Network, serves on the Challenge Detroit Board and as a core volunteer member for Founder Friday Detroit (#FFDet) by Women 2.0.