From Telephones To Smart Technology
Scotland again seems to be making a splash in the technology world, impressively housing two of the world’s 152 technology ‘unicorns’ (technology firms whose valuation has exceeded $1bn): Skyscanner and FanDuel, along with a technology sector that has enjoyed a growth rate of 43.4% over the past five years, far exceeding the UK average. Within the sector, life sciences make up the largest proportion in terms of size and value, with real gains in information and digital technology.
Credit should be given to many of Scotland’s Universities and incubators, as well as the likes of Scottish Enterprise and other funding bodies who foster the ideas and provide the support for many start ups and spin-out businesses. With the right funding and the right idea, an invention can become a business.
But it’s not just spin-outs that can reap the rewards from commercialising technology. We should also recognise the value that family run businesses bring to the technology sector. Entrepreneurship often runs in the family and so too does ingenuity. Take Jordan Daykin, who along with his Grandfather came up with the idea for GripIT Fixings, going on to build a company worth over £10m. Or even Nintendo, which started its life as a family business manufacturing Japanese playing cards, emerged into consumer electronics and now produces one of the most popular gaming apps currently taking the world by storm.
Existing owner managed businesses (including family businesses) are also a good source of technology. While they may be more inclined to "stick to their knitting" (and that is often a good idea!), even the most traditional business could look within and consider whether anything they do could be exploited or taken in a different direction - perhaps as part of the business or as a separate venture. Or they might want to take stock and reflect on ways in which their business can do things better. This could lead to an opportunity to develop new technology and, if successful, would allow the business to add another string to its bow.
Innovations for the purposes of the main business may well have other applications; is that something that is always properly considered and exploited? Perhaps the IP that you use in the core business could also be licensed to a third party or you could joint venture with another which would generate another income stream? There may also be potentially lucrative tax benefits in relation to R&D and "patent box" reliefs; another incentive to think about how to capture the IP and ideas within your business and grow value in them.
Many businesses now focus on "collecting" IP developed by others. They see it as a key way of being able to diversify whilst also maintain a business over long periods of time, and with moving times. So, if you have IP within, make sure you harness and protect it.
Another angle might be to look at whether you can invest in or support tech businesses. Many businesses will have existing infrastructure, management skills and resources to partner up with others and help the inventors, academics and start-ups along the road. Too often good ideas don't get off the ground because the business doesn't have those things.
So even the oldest and most traditional family business or owner managed firm might find it a good time to look around at some of those ideas and opportunities.
This article was published in The Herald Scotland on 15 August 2016. To view it click here.
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