The Saltire Foundation Model and Surrogate Entrepreneurs

A leader is a dealer in hope.”—Napoleon

Today I had lunch with an entrepreneur who I’ve known for a number of years.  Some time ago he had started a technology firm that had a nice run but ended up crashing and burning, as they often do.  He had spun this company out from his research interest as a student (which was when I had first met him), and of course had learned a lot in process. But it seems the best thing that happened to him as a result was that he discovered the Saltire Foundation, and applied for a Fellowship, which he received. Now, he is a different guy a year or two later.  Unlike many of his peers, he understands the difference between a good technology and a good market opportunity, appreciates the power of networking,  is thinking bigger and has gained a sense of confidence about the opportunities as well as his abilities. Another Saltire Fellow was a former student of mine, but I have yet to talk to him about the experience and gauge how he might have changed. However, what impressed me most about the chap I meant with today is that he has positioned himself as a Surrogate Entrepreneur,  and has set about looking for an opportunity here in the community.  He was heading to a couple of meetings an events today at universities in Edinburgh. My thought was “just what is needed”.   I was able to help him think through some models and approaches to engaging with start-ups and spin-outs, and shared a bit of experience with him, for he asked a specific question about such.

So this led me to an interest in a little research, thinking and writing about the Saltire Foundation, in particular its model. From what I understand, the Saltire Foundation is an NGO (non-governmental organization, or non-profit organization for this of you in the USA).

The Saltire Foundation’s website states the following:

About The Saltire Foundation

The Saltire Foundation has been established because Scotland needs individuals with the business skills and entrepreneurial drive to transform Scottish companies into global businesses of scale.

An independent charitable organisation, it represents a new vision for Scotland, providing invaluable opportunities through experience, learning and business networking.

Our groundbreaking Internship Programme offers Scotland’s talented students the chance to experience life in some of the world’s top companies. By broadening horizons and opening doors, the aim is to encourage candidates to develop their confidence, skills and capacity to succeed. It will equip participating students with a positive, can-do attitude and an enterprising outlook.

Our other initiative, the Fellowship Programme, will generate a pipeline of confident, entrepreneurial-driven executives, ready to enhance Scotland’s commercial performance. The 12-month, full-time programme combines academic study with experiential learning –fast-tracking the careers of our most talented and aspiring business leaders.

The Saltire Foundation has the support of some of the world’s foremost multi-nationals and the backing of Scottish Enterprise, GlobalScots and Scotland’s International Advisory Board. More than 200 fellows and 700 undergraduates will benefit from our programmes over the next five to ten years.”

Interestingly, the Saltire Foundation is an independent organization that originally teamed up with Scottish Enteprise and received funding from this organization to run its educational programme.  For the Fellowship programme mentioned above, they teamed up with Babson  College University in the USA.  (Which is the top ranked US Business School for entrepreneruship teaching and research).  Babson provided business and leadership training to the Fellows, who then went to work for a larger firm in the US as an intern, gained experience, and then came back to Scotland to work in a start-up for a time, also as an intern.  Of course most pleasing to The Academic Entrepreneur is the Saltire’s recognition of the crucial importance of experiential learning it in its above mission statement.   As it turns out the organization also runs a programme for undergraduates as you read in the above self-description.

Babson College is inWellesly, MA, close to Boston, MA

The Saltire Foundation’s perception is that there is a shortage of leadership talent in the region, and this is related to a combination of lack of (global / entrepreneurial) experiences as well as good business education and skills development.   Also, just the act of immersing these fellows and undergraduate students in an entrepreneurial region, such as Silicon Valley, or Boston, as is the case, can make a powerful difference.  What came through today in my conversation with the fellow was his feeling that the greatest influence had been not from the Babson classroom, but rather the interactions in Boston, where he did his internship. (Boston is close to Wellesley, MA, where Babson is located on a serene campus). Specifically, he was enchanted by the buzz, the ideas, and the energy of the numerous entrepreneurship-related netwoking events in Boston, of which he attended many. One of the learnings that came out of this was the tendency to be “closed”  with ideas to “protect the IP” here in Edinburgh, vs. the openness of Boston. I pointed out that things were even more open in Silicon Valley. Another realization the fellow had was the relative minimum discourse about business models themselves in Edinburgh vs. Boston.

So the Saltire Foundation Model seems to be an effecive one, at least anecdotally, although some more research would help explore it more. Unfortunately, it seems that Scottish Enterprise is no longer going to fund the programme for one reason or another, as these things go. Also, it is too bad that more students and fellows can’t be involved than a total of 900 over the next five to ten years.  I expect that the model is quite expensive to operate — given the fact that room, board, tuition, and a stipend is provided to the participants. And its probably difficult to measure — given the long term benefit equation involved here. I understand that the foundation is now independent and seeking funding, so one of the interesting questions is “who would have an interest in funding such a mixed eductional model?”  and another is “how should success of the programme be measured”?

Another question I have for you the reader is “Should the model be focused on developing leaders or entrepreneurs”?  It has focused on the former, with the latter being a secondary consideration. Perhaps it could do both, and focus on developing surrogate entrepreneurs?  Is there an assumption that the “leaders” developed through the programme are going to somehow work themselves into firms and lead their expansion globally from the Scottish base?  Perhaps. But the logical question from there is “what if the product / service is wrong for the market”?  — this is the crucial piece that entrepeneurs can get right; and another one is “Are the firms that are currently operating that don’t have global ambitions goign to open themselves up to new fastracked leadership and share equity with these person(s)?  Without a scientific study of firms, I suppose there are a subset of companies that do want to go global, have the right products or services to do so, and are willing to bet on new leadership and reward it with equity and cash. But this implies a willingness to take risk on a larger scale, for it implies the possiblity of complete strategic shift and potential reorganization.  And I’m not sure how many of these there are in existence. One of the benefits of the Surrogate Entrepreneur model is that the leader-entrepreneurs get involved with the firm early in the process, and help set its strategic direction and influence heavily its initial product or service development; they receive equity in the firm and help it position and acquire resources, they can set a global goal, communicate the risk-reward trade-off, and use their global connections to benefit the firm’s growth. The Surrogate Entrepreneur Model may be easier to measure as well, as the firm’s state before engagement, one year after, five years after, and ten years after can be measured.

Another couple of questions are these:

Is a Leader necessarily an entrepreneur?

Is an entrepreneur necessarily a leader?

Successful entrepreneurial ventures need both — leadership and and an entrepreneurial approach. But with limited resources for education and “cultural immersion”, which would be better to focus on, leadership development or entrepreneurial skills and knowledge?

This argument has been played out in the camps of many business schools over the years. Its somewhat of a chicken-and-egg issue.

What about the idea of focusing the effort specifically on the development of Surrogate Entrepreneurs?

What do you think?

Some might argue that this is only appropriate for the fellow level, that undergraduates are too young to start thinking like surrogates, that they don’t have the experience, and that they are better off going and getting entry-level jobs. Others would disagree, such as Paul Graham of Y-Combinator. Remember what Tom Peters said  “experience is a bad teacher”.

Whatever the case, The Academic Entrepreneur is intrigued by the Saltire Foundation Model, wants to know more about it, and hopes to see it raise additional funds to expand its efforts, as well as optimize its model for the greatest returns on educational investment.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the on most responsive to change.”—Charles Darwin

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