What are the origins of Scottish Business Network?
The origins could be traced to a chance meeting in 2014 between my business co-founder Russell Dalgleish and myself (Christine Esson) in Café Nero. Tottenham Court Rd London one rather miserable Wednesday morning. At this initial chat we both realised we had a strong interest in and passion for raising the profile of Scottish based businesses and entrepreneurs in the wider Scottish Diaspora, initially in London.
However the real origins of Scottish Business Network, a not-for-profit Social Enterprise, came long before this meeting. Russell, having worked across the world and in particular between London and Scotland for many years, was aware that no one was sharing the story of the excellent entrepreneurial activity happening in Scotland. Similarly, having 20 plus years in Economic Development and having worked for the Irish Government for a number of years, I was very aware of how well Ireland manages its Diaspora not just focussing on Irish history but in the active support of Irish companies that needed such support in global market development.
From our chance meeting in Café Nero, Russell and I had a number of other discussions and came to the conclusion that unless you were a rugby fan, golf player or a lawyer in London there was no opportunity to come together and hear about what is happening in Scotland now. We also knew from our own experience and understanding of other diaspora models, that there was a clear market gap in sharing the stories and global ambitions of Scottish entrepreneurs with the wider Scottish Diaspora.
We were very fortunate that for our first get together we were hosted in London by Standard Life Aberdeen, then Aberdeen Asset Management. Russell and I had reached out to a small number of Scots working in London and asked them to come along and hear about our proposal to connect Scottish based business leaders/entrepreneurs with the London based Diaspora. We like to think that it was this compelling business proposition that brought them along, but I suspect it was the opportunity to hear from the then CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management, Martin Gilbert.
That first event gave us very clear feedback that told us we were on to something and there was a clear market opportunity to practically showcase Scotland-based businesses to the Scottish Diaspora in London. One of the attendees was CEO of Shepherd and Wedderburn who very generously offered us use of their board room for the next couple of events. The credibility of having this London City location allowed us to host monthly sessions from then on and I am so appreciative of this early support. It is also great that we have outgrown many of our initial City of London locations as (Pre-Covid) we physically hosted 80-100+ Scots in London at our monthly session.
Please tell us a bit about the work you do now?
The origin of Scottish Business Network www.sbn.scot was to practically showcase to the Scottish Diaspora, Scottish based businesses across all sectors who have the ambition, passion and commitment to go global but need some support in the execution. This ambition is still at the core of the global community we have developed over the last 5 years.
We established Scottish Business Network as a members-based organisation structured as a not-for-profit Social Enterprise. The aim being to unite business leaders who are predominantly looking to export with the Scottish Diaspora.
The ultimate goal we want to achieve is to be the business membership of choice and the key focus of our work is to engage with the global Scottish community and create meaningful connections.
This goal and focus was backed by a research collaboration between Scottish Business Network and Momentous Change Ltd, to survey the Scottish Diaspora and determine their perceptions of Scottish exporters and the opportunities in global markets. The report was published in January 2020 and can be read here.
This study surpassed initial targets and received responses from 1,067 business diaspora Scots in 74 countries. From Momentous Change Ltd respondent analysis, there was a very clear desire in the Scottish Business Diaspora to see Scottish businesses increase their trade around the world. Many in the business diaspora stated they are willing to assist Scottish businesses by sharing expertise and opinion. They are able to provide advice regarding the country which they are located in and also countries they trade with. As a group, the respondents to this study trade with every country in the world, creating an incredible opportunity to build an effective international network of advisers.
As with every business, Covid19 has meant we have had to focus on our mission and review delivery models going forward. It is clear to Russell and I from our own discussions and the research report, that Diaspora engagement is more important now than it ever was. The ongoing support requested by our members and the feedback to date has confirmed this and recently several members stated that the international community that we have created is proving to be a huge benefit to the network.
We continue to provide the opportunity each month for Scottish companies to share their business story and their LASER-FOCUSED ask to our global community in support of their growth ambitions. At our last monthly online event we had attendees dial in from Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Lerwick, Richmond, Dusseldorf and Cape Town. The opportunity for our global community to engage with us now on a digital platform has been a great benefit both to the Scottish companies we showcase and to our global diaspora.
In addition, the SBN podcast series has been running for 2 years and we will shortly be releasing podcast 50. These interviews are conducted by SBN Member Fraser Allen of Allen Communications and, through them, we hear the stories of business leaders here in Scotland and around the globe. We have had a great response to these podcasts and they are an excellent opportunity to access and gain insights from world class business leaders across all sectors, commercial and cultural.
And while SBN is sector agnostic we have responded recently to members who wish to develop key connections with those in their business area and we are developing SBN communities within specific sectors. Watch this space!
Another fantastic development is our growing number of global ambassadors with Scots around the world approaching SBN and offering their support to develop the Diaspora community both in their area of sector expertise and geographies. We have Ambassadors in New York, Washington and Atlanta in the United States and, most recently, in Brisbane, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. We are looking forward to working with these international Scots and sharing their expertise with our members. We are always looking to growing our community and keen to talk with business leaders and the global Diaspora who share our ambition of supporting Scottish exporters by making key connections.
How do you envisage SBN developing in the future?
We are a membership based organisation and will therefore continue to respond and develop in line with our members needs and aspirations. As mentioned previously, the ultimate goal is to be the business membership of choice with a focus on creating meaningful connections with the global Scottish, and friends of Scotland, community.
The Momentous Change Ltd/SBN research highlighted the great prospect of developing engagement with the Scottish business diaspora which “could assist Scottish businesses accessing international markets by providing additional advice and intelligence to that already available.”
Being a small and focused Social Enterprise means we can swiftly adapt our delivery model and respond to our members requirements.
Our ambassador programme is a particularly exciting development bringing great expertise and insight into our community and we look forward to developing this further.
We are also working in partnership with a number of other communities including ScotlandIS, Africa Scotland Business Network and, again, we are looking for opportunities to develop these types of partnerships to the benefit of our members.
Why did you choose .scot as part of your internet identity?
For us it genuinely was a no brainer. Scotland as a nation has a strong cultural identity and .scot domain highlights immediately where we are from and differentiates us. Scottish Business Network is here to support Scottish based companies with global ambition and by using the .scot domain we are doing just that. A mutually beneficial relationship.
More information on the Scottish Business Network is available at www.sbn.scot