You know that new emoji with the head exploding? That was me yesterday.
The Entrepreneurial Scotland annual conference is always a highlight in my calendar – but this year they outdid themselves. The calibre of speaker was outstanding. So much so that serial entrepreneur Angus MacDonald took to the stage third and announced “I’m bricking myself”.
I guess the tone was set by Chris Van Der Kuyl when he stepped on stage in full cycling gear (if memory serves, two years ago he was an air steward) – in preparation for Mark Beaumont’s keynote. We were only just recovering from his insightful parallels of cycling round the world in 80 days and running a business, when Dr Vivienne Ming took to the stage.
This woman is a force of nature. I actually had to stop live tweeting so I could concentrate. She works in neuroscience and AI but more impressive than that is her attitude. She gives a huge amount of her work away for free. “My purpose in this world is to make other people’s lives better – and better is a big and loaded word” she said. “I don’t care who someone is, I care who they could be and I build AI to figure that out.”
She ran over her time and no-one cared – she was all anyone could talk about at the coffee break. “Wasn’t she amazing?” Marihah Kushi from Trespass said to me. We agreed we were completely overwhelmed and inspired by her. As a mother, I particularly related to her stories about her son. After he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she promptly invented an AI model to use all the data she collected about him. She could then manage and predict his symptoms – and she gave that model away. When he was diagnosed with autism, she invented glasses to help him see an augmented world. I’m in awe.
But you know what? It got even better. Paul Forkan stood up in an anorak and casually told us the story of Gandys London. He and his family were living a boho life travelling around Asia when the tsunami hit in 2004. His storytelling was so undramatic that it took a while for the audience to realise his parents were actually killed – though the four children survived and “hitch-hiked” home to England. He and his brother went on to found Gandys London to support their Orphans for Orphans foundation.
The conversation turned to neurodiversity when Gib Bulloch, Ana Stewart, Heather McGregor and Steve McCreadie took to the stage. It was a fascinating twenty minutes of Q&A as the panellists talked about thinking differently in a business setting.
We finished up with Gareth Williams, Skyscanner’s founder, talking about the company’s journey and discussing its acquisition by CTrip.
I’m taking so much away from the event, as I’m sure every delegate is. For a small country, Scotland sure is punching above its weight.
Other stories from Kim McAllister