Why Boston is firing up Scotland's entrepreneurial zeal

Why Boston is firing up Scotland's entrepreneurial zeal

Lisa Tennant, one of the Saltire Foundation’s latest cohort, explains why the eight-month programme – rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Facebook founder - is such an invigorating scheme for Scottish women in business.

As an experienced non-executive director, entrepreneur and management consultant, I really wasn't sure what the Saltire Fellowship would offer me when it was first suggested by a colleague.

Completing the fellowship, I can confidently say that it's a life-changing experience, turning my perspectives on entrepreneurial leadership inside out and inspiring me in ways I haven't experienced since I was a wide-eyed teenager travelling overseas for the first time.

The fellowship is an eight-month programme involving four months of business education at Babson College, outside Boston, project work with a US company, followed by three months supporting a high-growth company in Scotland.

Saltire’s aim is simple: to produce world class, globally-minded entrepreneurial leaders for Scotland. I also received a Fulbright Scholarship for the programme and this provided me with additional opportunities in the US, including 10 days in Silicon Valley attending the TED Women Global Conference and networking with the entrepreneurial community.

Boston provides access to an array of networks a neuroscientist would be proud of and an energetic entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are countless free events most nights on any subject you can think of. In a single week I attended TEDx Wall Street, learned how to price components from China, talked coding at a Girl Geek Networking dinner, leveraged data for social change and discussed whether heart or head was most important in choosing a career.

At Babson, we had daily speakers sharing cutting-edge thoughts on innovation. Whether it was the chief executive officer of Pneuron (a start-up disrupting the data science space), the founders of Unreal Candy (producing sweets without all the usual additives) or homegrown talent, such as Hugh Gill of Touch Bionics and Mark Bamforth of Gallus Biopharmaceuticals, the idea-sharing culture was incredible.

One idea which particularly caught my eye was Aging 2.0 - an innovation accelerator for technology improving the lives of older adults across the globe which I've been asked to bring back to Scotland. With a particular interest in increasing diversity on Boards, I was lucky enough to meet Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, who shared with me her ideas for getting more women into senior roles.

There's much to learn  from colleagues too:  18  Fellows with backgrounds spanning the public, private and voluntary sectors, living and working together 24/7 makes for interesting challenges and opportunities for collaboration. It also leads to a strong bond and a lifelong network of Fellows past and present.

Some of the most inspirational leaders have been our teaching staff. Babson College is rated No.1 in the world for entrepreneurship and not without good reason, as most of the professors have real-life entrepreneurial and business experience. Using the experiential learning method - comprising case studies liberally interspersed with stories of their own successes and, perhaps more importantly, their most gutting failures -  we were taken through buying a business, mergers and acquisitions, finance, sales and marketing, leadership and innovation.

High points were our transcendental marketing professor who often started classes with poetry and a business professor who recommended the shameless stealing of ideas which could be applied in other countries or sectors. I'll be following his lead by replicating an exceptional idea in the senior care market.

On the subject of 'borrowing', how can we take the best of the Boston start-up scene and replicate it in Scotland? At 600,000 residents, Boston has the same population as Glasgow, yet the entrepreneurial output could not be more different.

The powerhouse of educational talent within a 20-mile radius of Boston includes 74 universities and colleges such as Harvard, MIT and Babson. These are supplemented by incubators, accelerators, hacker spaces and Maker Labs galore which nurture talent towards success. Anchor companies such as Genzyme and HubSpot provide experience and big names like Facebook and EMC2 provide a source of staff. The embracing of Lean Start-up values - fail fast, fail cheap - is perhaps the most noticeable difference. With the Scottish economy on the up and a record-breaking 7000 new companies formed in 2012 in Glasgow alone, the entrepreneurial opportunities for Scotland in its big year of 2014 must not be missed.

If you want a life-changing experience, recruitment for the 2014 cohort is underway and you can apply at http://learning.saltirefoundation.com/2014-fellowship.  Come with an open mind and plenty of energy to immerse yourself. I'm looking forward to my Scottish project, developing a marketing strategy for sustainable homes and starting my own company. I'll return to my non-executive positions with renewed focus and a toolkit of skills and knowledge I could only have dreamed of.