Interview with Heidi Barnes of RBS – right in the middle of the entrepreneurial ecosystem

If anyone has their finger on the pulse of the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem then it’s Heidi Barnes, Entrepreneur Strategy Manager at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Heidi graduated with a first class honors in Management Studies with Sociology from Aberdeen University in 2013.  

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After spending a summer working in the corporate and institutional banking department of the Royal Bank of Scotland in London, she was offered a place on the graduate training programme.

She soon found herself in the enterprise and entrepreneurship team looking at how the bank could leverage their knowledge, connectivity and expertise to support ambitious businesses.  

After spending a year working in this team she was offered a permanent UK wide position focusing on developing their ongoing strategy and managing an operational/events team.  

Her current role within the entrepreneurship team ranges from programme creation & large events management, to stakeholder management, strategy development and management of an operational/coordination team.

Royal Bank of Scotland supports businesses and entrepreneurs through their partnerships, networks and relationships, and by offering their time and expertise as well as their banking products.

A major part of this involvement surrounds Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the world’s leading startup incubators.

Tell us about your involvement with Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has been an Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Royal Bank of Scotland partner right from the start in 2012, providing financial support, premises, mentoring and access to networks.

We are the only bank supporting this free business accelerator initiative on this scale and we are truly putting our heart and soul into it. We are determined to help entrepreneurs by making our reach, expertise, knowledge, buildings, finance, mentoring, connectivity and know-how available. These are all vital ingredients to a start-up business.  

In Scotland we support hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ayrshire, whilst in the rest of the UK we support hubs in NatWest buildings. This partnership is already transforming people’s lives by supporting entrepreneurs’ dreams and motivating and developing our staff.

Apart from the significant involvement in Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Royal Bank of Scotland, what other specific services and events do you offer growth companies in Scotland?

A lot of what I do is about supporting entrepreneurs through our partnership with Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Royal Bank of Scotland, but a big part of my role is working across the ecosystem to bring entrepreneurs together with like-minded people, mentors, support organizations and investors through our Opportunity Knocks event programme.

Opportunity Knocks is a collaborative event that brings together the best entrepreneurial talent, leading business experts and the wider eco-system.  

After the success of the first event in Scotland in May 2014, Opportunity Knocks travelled north to Aberdeen and then toured the UK last year.  We have now run seven of these events reaching nearly 1300 delegates.

Opportunity Knocks events bring the ecosystem together and are truly inspiring for ambitious entrepreneurs, allowing them to learn from each other and make fantastic business connections.  

The events include keynote speakers highlighting success stories of companies who have grown their business and know the challenges SMEs face, so can provide insight on how to succeed.  

Delegates also see a live pitching competition, hear from a panel of experts and have the opportunity to attend a range of case study led educational seminars including Crowd funding, Pitching, and Growth Finance for early stage businesses.

You mention the words ecosystem and collaboration. How important is it to the development of the Scottish business infrastructure to develop an ecosystem that works in harmony to foster entrepreneurialism?

Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy.  We need to ensure that we leverage the support of each part of the ecosystem to make it as easy as possible for ambitious entrepreneurs to navigate and to gain the right support at the right time.  This not only benefits the entrepreneur but it can help the other segments too, for example bringing innovative ideas into large corporate organisations to disrupt their market.

RBS seems to be front and centre in this ecosystem. Does the ecosystem still need more development to make launching and growing high growth companies easier?

Scotland has a great network of support for early stage businesses and the ecosystem is very well established with universities, businesses support organisations, corporates, successful entrepreneurs and banks all working together.  

The Royal Bank of Scotland is celebrating the first birthday of our Entrepreneurial Centre, which is housed in Gogarburn HQ. The centre accommodates our ESpark hub, the Scottish EDGE fund, The Prince’s Trust  and many other business support organisations.  

The challenge for Scotland now is to focus on how we support pre-scale and scale up businesses – these businesses need a different type of support from those starting out .  This stage of business needs help to build high performing teams, get the right level of investment and lay the foundations of infrastructure to scale up their operations. If we can get this right then Scotland is onto a winner!

So in order for a high growth company to be successful it goes through different stages – start-up, pre-scale and scale up.

Do you think start up entrepreneurs think this way? “Start-up” just seems to be an all encompassing description for all growing companies.

I would imagine there is a different skill set for each stage and maybe entrepreneurs need to recognise that they may not have the right skill set to scale up a company?

Absolutely, and Scotland is booming with support for start-ups which is fantastic.  When companies get to  pre-scale or scale up phase in their growth the focus should shift into a couple of key areas including (but not limited to!)  building a strong management team who have the right skills and motivation to manage the operations and organic growth of the businesses whilst the entrepreneurial leader focuses on the strategic direction of the business and setting up for their next phase.

So at this scale up stage, there may be a need for the entrepreneur to raise money. If they wanted to approach RBoS to access growth funding, what is the best way to approach this?

We’re committed to helping Scotland’s businesses grow. To do this, we know you’ll need more than just financial support. That’s why our Business Growth Enablers are here to share local knowledge and connections that will give your business a boost. Register for a local event near you and our business growth enablers will be able to have a more detailed conversation about individual business requirements:

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