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Blast at business advice system

‘Fluff’ and overlap blights startup ecosystem, says adviser

Kallum Russell

Kallum Russell: too much box-ticking


A startup adviser whose company has helped more than 80 businesses over the last five years has questioned the strength of the support ecosystem in Scotland.

Kallum Russell, who founded Acorn Enterprise in Fife in response to frustration over finding the right kind of advice, said there was too much “fluff” and box-ticking and a lot of overlap among the agencies involved.

Unlike many other organisations in the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem, Acorn Enterprise receives no funding from the state.

It generates revenue through sponsorship and philanthropy, offering 3D printing services and providing entrepreneurship training activities to colleges, universities and other organisations. This money is used to provide Acorn’s business accelerator programme for free to new businesses, typically pre-trading up to three years old. Acorn Enterprise does not take any equity in the startups it helps.

Co-founder and Chief Enterprise Officer, Mr Russell, explained: “Acorn Enterprise was launched in Fife because we felt there was a real need for support for new business owners that was structured, intensive and entrepreneurial-led. It was really borne out of our own frustration so my business partner Jerry and I decided to tackle this head on.

“A lot has changed since we launched more than five years ago. We constantly read stories about how great Scotland is to start a new business and this is true.

“However, there are some real problems with the ecosystem, namely: there is a lot of overlap, there is no clear ‘map’ for business owners to determine the type of support available to them, and many of these organisation are run by the Government or at arm’s length.

“Due to the way the system is structured, many of these agencies have to focus on ticking boxes or fluffing ‘impact reports’. Unfortunately, the problem is compounded because they are all vying for the same pot of money from the state.”

He said Acorn Enterprise is on a mission to grow the UK’s entrepreneurial culture and in doing so, challenge the way the ecosystem works for the better.  

“We can do this because we are self-funded and can speak out against some of the bad practices many of the new businesses we accelerate have experienced. We can be truly disruptive in a positive way.

“Isn’t it ironic that many of the organisations in Scotland that give new businesses advice on how to be entrepreneurial and innovative find it very difficult to be either of these themselves because of Government-led constraints?”

The Acorn programme is run in LibertySpace, Rosyth Business Centre, and in the Flour Mill, Dundee. Acorn is also co-ordinating the Edinburgh Business School Incubator, based at Heriot-Watt University.

The new businesses on the 10th Programme will benefit from: co-working space in the Flour Mill, weekly seminars on topics such as marketing, law and finance, led by business leaders, and a business mentor, to provide an extra layer of accountability.


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