Mark Bell: Support must adapt to help young entrepreneurs steer course into a post-Covid world



Mark Bell, partner at Anderson Anderson & Brown Consulting (AAB), discusses how business development programmes in Scotland are adapting to help young entrepreneurs cope in a post-COVID world.

Mark Bell

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of business creations in the UK in Q3 of 2020 was slightly higher than the corresponding period the previous year. It’s a statistic that belies the headlines charting the disastrous impact of COVID restrictions on the economy.

In Scotland, young entrepreneurs are at the forefront of this development, with a significant proportion launching businesses during this turbulent period. Against the odds they have gone on to not simply survive, but to thrive. In fact, statistics show that there are 54,000 company directors aged under 35, at the helm of 47,000 businesses and contributing £25 billion to the Scottish economy.

I have worked with many of these young entrepreneurs. Drawing on a wealth of expertise and insight, I design business growth programmes, and leads multidisciplinary teams collaborating across the private sector and public sector to support company directors in growing their businesses.

There is a common school of thought that these young entrepreneurs are the future, and that we need to nurture them to achieve their full potential sometime in that future. In my view they’re not only the future; they are also the ‘here and now’. In the course of working with these young business leaders I have been thoroughly impressed by their energy, their pragmatism, their work ethic and their desire to grow and seek out new opportunities. They are making a vast contribution to our economy right now, and I think it’s vital that we recognise the importance of that at every level of society.”

While a renewed sense of community has been heralded as one of the very few positive social changes of the past year, it’s a movement that has been gathering momentum in the business world for several years. An increasing number of the young entrepreneurs that we support and engage with are driven by more than making lots of money, but neither do they want to run a social enterprise. On the contrary we’re seeing the rise of a new type of business, a hybrid that views profit very favourably, but not as an end-goal in itself.

These businesses want to use their profits to do good for others. Whether that’s creating employment opportunities, supporting the local community, operating in an ethical, sustainable way, or doing their bit to protect our environment, they aim to leave their mark in a very positive way.

I lead a business growth programme supporting young entrepreneurs in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, including Fergus Thom, director of Highland candle manufacturers, Cairn Candle Co. The firm is a prime example of this new breed of business. Cairn Candle Co describe what they do as ‘earth-first candle-making’. Not only do they create and manufacture their candles in a sustainable way, but they also plant trees in sub-Saharan Africa for each product sold.

These businesses form a significant part of the SME base in Scotland, creating employment and revenue for the Scottish economy. It’s incumbent upon those of us who support these businesses to understand what kind of support they need and the form in which they want to receive the support.

This support also needs to recognise that young entrepreneurs are living in a ‘buy now’ world, a world where everything is at their fingertips at the time that’s most convenient to them.

This has implications for the service delivery of business support and accelerator programmes. At Anderson Anderson & Brown Consulting we have long been advocates of personalising and tailoring our support packages to most effectively meet the needs of our clients.

We take time getting to know both them as leaders and their businesses. Then we design the support around them – from how they need it delivered, to the where, when and why. No two businesses are the same, so why would we assume that a ‘one size fits all’ solution would help them to grow?

While the last year has certainly brought some existing business support into sharper focus, I feel that the real moral of the story is that everyone involved in supporting new businesses - across both public and private sectors - needs to recognise the changing needs of young entrepreneurs and adapt their service delivery accordingly.



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