With over £30million invested in growing Scottish life sciences businesses in 2016, it is clear that scientific entrepreneurship is flourishing in Scotland. It has the most active business angel network in the UK, Archangels, and has thriving entrepreneurial spaces including Edinburgh BioQuarter and BioCity.
However, this sector growth also comes with challenges. Recruiting skilled employees is a growing issue across the Scottish business community as a whole, with 69% of business leaders not confident about being able to fill highly skilled positions in the future. With young life sciences businesses, which are often at the cutting edge of technology and require highly specialist skills and management abilities, the issue of hiring the resources needed to enable growth can be even more difficult.
There is an acknowledged talent shortage in Scotland, and as the life sciences sector continues to grow, may become increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs without a big brand name or corporate salaries to find and retain the skilled people they require to grow their business.
Is there a solution?
It’s not all bad news. The growth of the life sciences entrepreneurial sector in Scotland could in fact become its greatest strength.
A start-up ‘ecosystem’ is created when young businesses, support services and investment capital are concentrated in one area. When these three work in harmony together, then they begin to grow simultaneously, and a ‘virtuous cycle’ is created. This in turn attracts more individuals and companies from outside the circle, and so the ‘ecosystem’ is able to grow exponentially.
Once an eco-system reaches critical mass, its reputation and growth opportunities can attract top talent and capital from a much broader geographical region, and it can become a hub for innovation and growth.
We see Scotland as beginning to generate this critical mass. At Complete Resourcing we have helped Scottish life sciences companies find executives, senior leadership and scientists for many years. In the past couple of years we have seen the reputation of Scottish life sciences reach new heights, and an increased willingness both for Scots in England and Europe to return and take on leadership positions there, and for those who would not have considered Scotland before moving into the area to take up new opportunities.
For Scottish businesses that are struggling to find enough local talent, it is now feasible to look further afield for key individuals with the ability to make a significant impact on company growth.
What should I do?
If you are a young life sciences business that is struggling to find and retain talent, we have a few top tips for you:
- Tell a compelling story
People want to be a part of something great. Tell them the problem you are trying to solve, and what it would mean to the people you help. Tell them your story so far, and your ambitions for your company. You don’t want people who’ll just fill a job, you want people who’ll help you achieve your vision for the business – so share that vision from the outset and you’ll find people much more willing to become involved.
- Leverage your employees
Do you have a great team? Then no doubt they will know other great people from companies they’ve worked in before. Speak to the whole team, not just those in the same department as the new hire. Our one proviso is that you need to make sure this person is interviewed independently. If the person who has recommended them is influential in your company, then this can bias the hiring process and lead you to hire someone who isn’t a good fit. If needed, ask someone outside the situation like a board member or recruiter you trust to interview the candidate.
- Look outside your local area
If you are using a recruiter or headhunter, choose a sector specialist with a broad geographical reach. The right consultancy will conduct a thorough search of the market, find you the best candidates regardless of location, and effectively sell your vision. Make sure that they are doing a comprehensive search – a good firm will be happy to share their candidate sources and the process they have followed with you.
- Invest in your reputation
News spreads fast, and as a young business, if your reputation is anything less than squeaky clean, you may struggle to hire people from within your industry. On the other hand, if you invest in developing good relationships within your market, it will pay dividends in the quality of talent you can attract, as well as in your client base. This doesn’t mean you have to try hide previous mistakes or bad decisions – honestly owning up to a pivot will often gain you more respect than pretending that your growth path has always been smooth.
- Hire slowly
As your growth accelerates, you may be tempted to take on mediocre candidates in order to fill a hole in your team quickly. However, having the wrong person in your team can cost you more than waiting a couple of extra weeks to find the right person. Qualify your candidates carefully both in terms of skills and personal fit. Choosing people with diverse outlooks and experience is great for innovation, but they also have to fit into your team and company culture on a personal level. If they don’t feel a part of your vision and values, they are unlikely to feel motivated enough to deliver an excellent performance.
All growth brings both opportunities and challenges, and the growth of the life sciences sector in Scotland is no different. As the talent war intensifies, companies who expand their reach and look for the best talent regardless of location will be better positioned to build a world-class team that can truly accelerate their company’s growth.