On Wednesday 12th of June I attended the Opportunity North East (ONE) Annual Event, along with 200+ business minds across the North East region. ONE “is the private sector’s response to the obvious and serious long-term economic challenges facing North East Scotland.” led by Sir Ian Wood.
The events focus was “Transformational Change” and it was a chance to celebrate the achievements of ONE over the last 3 years. I felt inspired to share my observations and offer potential solutions to be considered.
The air was filled with positivity and a buzz of excitement circled the room. What can we learn from these leaders and each other? I have a lot of respect for Sir Ian and the ONE team. What they are trying to achieve can only be good for the future of the region and the country.
Throughout the evening the audience had access to a live interactive feed to ask and answer questions and communicate with the speakers. At the start we were all asked to enter one word we associate with transformational change.
Words started to appear on the main screens around the room as people posted their responses, words like Opportunity, Innovation and Exciting!
While these comments are certainly true, it can be tough for a region to embrace the change we need, en masse.
Panel members of ONE took to the stage for a Q & A session, the first of which addressed a huge problem many growing startups are facing.
“There is a distinct lack of access in the North East to investors, angel, VC’s and syndicates for scale up funding. This is leading companies to move south, how is this being addressed?”
If we look back 5 years there was little support for startup companies, were now there is a plethora of funding options to help these companies find the traction they need. What is needed now is a focal point for scale up companies that have made it through this stage. I was frustrated as there wasn’t a strong answer to this question. Something as simple and low cost as a website for advertising your company for angel investment so approved investors can then view your company and get in touch.
How do we change the mentality “we’ve always done it this way”?
Last month I met with a potential new client who in response to our offering, “get back to us when *insert competitor* has tried you out”. Another client at a similar company said “culture and change here is a big problem”.
I met with a company in the food sector which I can’t name here, recently mentioned that they have tried for years to work with higher education bodies to create conversion courses and tailored modules to encourage engineers away from O&G and into the food sector. To no avail.
Sir Ian nailed it with this comment “As leaders we must be prepared to invest and take risks to achieve fast entry into the new markets and technologies. We must be highly enterprising, prepared to collaborate and support joint initiatives to more clearly establish and then capitalise on our regional strengths."
“The challenge of transformational change is everyone’s responsibility.”
The new codebase tech hub is a huge step in the right direction, and I am excited to see how this impact can help start-ups trying to break through.
Image credit: Codebase
What surprised me the most was that there was no mention of the creative industries.
I believe the creative and tourism industries have the most potential to act as a glue, making all the other sectors more relatable to the wider public. The new exhibition and events centre, TECA is a big leap forward along with a drive for an annual food festival and funding for adventure sports.
Film, TV, video, radio and photography – we don’t need to look far for examples of the impact on tourism for successful film and TV shows. Could Aberdeen host the next “Peaky Blinders” must see film set location?
Before Udrafter, I worked as an Internal Recruitment Partner with Computershare in Edinburgh. Computershare is a global financial technology company listed on the Australian stock exchange, dealing with share registry among other services. CEO Stuart Irving decided Edinburgh would be the place they would centralise the company’s global technology headquarters, creating 300+ new tech jobs in the city. It begs the question, why Edinburgh?
The concentration of universities, tech focused businesses, quality of life, cost of living, transportation links, things to see and do, events, music, arts and cultural vibrance to name a few. Each part contributes to the whole and this creates a compelling picture of a place people want to be.
Why would people come to Aberdeen?
Aberdeen has a lot going for it. The beach, Aberdeen Nuart, the rise of craft beer, sport, 2 world class universities and an excellent College, a bubbling start up community and food scene. Further out you have beautiful spots for outdoor pursuits, hill walking, mountain biking and the list goes on. We need to build on this and shout about it.
ONE’s current industry focus, with the creative industries added to this would create an interesting opportunity to harness this historic metamorphosis to a Global Energy Capital.
Think upcycled offshore equipment transformed into interesting art work or decommissioned rigs into tourist destinations. This could tell the story of the area in a new way.
Shining a brighter light on world renowned Grays school of Art and University of Aberdeen Music department. Perhaps a “young” music festival for breakout artists with invitations sent to record labels to attend?
Pairing with another tech city to attract talent, invest and business to the area. The US already has a romantic notion of Scotland with 25m Americans claiming to be part “scotch”, according to some estimates.
Image credit: ACC
The skills to get us there.
How do we attract, retain and train people in the North East?
The buzz words of the evening were “cross sector learning and skills sharing”. Is cross sector skill sharing a thing? When talent demand is high are industries going to be so amicable?
Someone at my table highlighted a different issue, “Everyone I spoke to said they were waiting for the market to pick up again and weren’t interested in other industries that needed their skills”. It’s a battle to convince people to look beyond Oil and Energy.
I believe Udrafter can solve part of this problem. Introducing – smooth, successful, collaborations.
Udrafter is the first working-pipeline platform where Employers build tangible relationships with student talent before they graduate. Companies draft skilled students to complete bite size projects, with hours even minutes.
Udrafter dramatically reduces the cost and risks of graduate recruitment while increasing retention rates and the quality of hires. Unlike other two-sided platforms, our aim isn’t to retain student users but to see them be successful in their dream jobs as full time employees, upon graduating.
We believe that when companies buy into this new way of attracting, assessing and retaining local graduate talent and from further afield, we can all collectively benefit. This growing pool of talent has the potential for true cross sector exposure, it’s a win-win.
Ideas for the North East region
- Funding for creative industries: film, TV, music, video, photography, performing and visual arts. Also, a creative hub similar to ONE Codebase.
- Government initiatives to draw in creative economy boosters, for example Game of Thrones production in Belfast.
- A network / syndicate of investors that can view scale up companies seeking investment from £100K to £500K in the North East. A simple “Gumtree” style ad site could work well.
- Executive leadership training on cultural communication, helping organisations embrace transformational change from the top down.
- Free public transport – We don’t need to look far for examples of fare-free cities. Some examples include government funding and commercial funding from local industry. Offsetting carbon emissions through increased use of public transport is a cause worth supporting.
- Thinking bigger, why couldn’t Aberdeen be the first city in Europe to trial and adopt autonomous vehicles?.
- Development of an iconic attraction for the city of Aberdeen.
- Airfare subsidies
- Global ambassadors, outreach and attraction.
- Young Ambassadors on the ONE team.