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At the cutting EDGE

15 January 18

Do you know of Scottish EDGE? It’s there to support new businesses with original ideas, and would like more solicitors to become involved. The Journal met chief executive Evelyn McDonald

by Peter Nicholson

“Yes, we’re a sort of Dragon's Den. But we’re nice.”

The words are those of Evelyn McDonald, chief executive of Scottish EDGE, who is currently on a mission to raise awareness among all those engaged in supporting businesses, including legal professionals, of her organisation and the opportunities it provides.

Set up to support new and emerging businesses with ideas they want to bring to market, Scottish EDGE runs a series of biannual competitions in which budding entrepreneurs pitch for a share of the available largesse. Funded initially by a mix of private and Scottish Government money, it hopes that through providing a combination of grant and loan support (about a 60-40 split, as from the round just completed), by 2021 the level of loan repayments will enable it to be financially self-sufficient.

Assessor’s role

Where do solicitors come in? At various levels, McDonald explains. First, and obviously, they can point potentially interested clients in Scottish EDGE’s direction. Qualifications are that a business is less than five years old, is headquartered in Scotland, has a clean trading record and its owners work day-to-day in the business.

Scottish EDGE naturally encourages its client new starts to take advice from legal and other professionals in dealing with the issues that inevitably arise as they attempt to establish themselves. 

It is also seeking people willing to become involved more closely in its assessment panels – not exactly as dragons, but rather providing their own perspective on the merits of applications in helping to select which ones should progress to the next round.

With about 250 businesses putting in initial bids for each funding round, Scottish EDGE aims to run 10 sifting panels to share the load. McDonald’s ideal membership on each six-strong panel would comprise a banker, a professional person, a former winner, a business support or business gateway representative, a business angel (investor) and a sector expert (there are seven sector-specific and three general panels), each member bringing their different perspectives to assessing the potential for commercial success. It’s a day’s work, plus preparation time, to deal with the panel’s quota of written applications plus three-minute pitch videos, scoring each application for innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, growth potential, customer focus, utilisation of funding and risk awareness. But McDonald, having been a judge herself, recommends it as an experience.

“We always get positive feedback from those who have served,” she assures me. “And those who have taken part have a better idea of the competition in the sector, when it comes to advising their own clients.”

Ultimate prize

From the initial round, about 100 will advance to the next stage, which involves pitching before a fresh set of judges – 10 minutes including questions – who again mark by the same criteria, resulting in around 18 (but 22 in the most recent round) going forward to the final. That comprises a full day of pitching interspersed with presentations from the likes of Sir Tom Hunter, and networking, ahead of an evening dinner when those ultimately successful are announced. Some 12-14 benefit from awards of up to £150,000 out of a pot of £820,000 – much more than, say, Scottish Enterprise would offer – with the loan element on “soft” terms.

It is not, however, a case of just taking the money. “We’re here for the long haul,” the website (scottishedge.com) proclaims, and McDonald confirms that mentoring, training and relationship building are an important part of engagement with winners. “Impact information” is collected every six months, and the day we met, she had just heard from a happy 2013 winner – the first year of the competition – about a breakthrough contract win. Unsuccessful applicants are also given detailed feedback from their judging panel.

But the competition described is only the main one of three run by Scottish EDGE. Young EDGE, for entrepreneurs aged 18-30, can enter a separate contest, going through the same process and with a pot of up to £100,000 at stake, this time all in grant form. And those with an idea but still at the pre-trading stage can have a shot at Wild Card EDGE, on the same rules but with the added incentive of the best three being put to the public vote for a place in the main final on top.

Taking all three competitions together, nearly 40 hopefuls are likely to emerge successful from each cycle; and to date, a total of 301 businesses have won awards, most of which are still trading, with some having achieved significant success.

“The whole reason we’re doing what we’re doing is to try and make an impact in Scotland, in terms of business and jobs,” McDonald sums up. “We’re essentially a social enterprise. We’re not investing in businesses; we’re giving them a financial opportunity.” 

The first 2018 contest launches on 31 January, with a closing date for entries of 7 March.

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