Innovation is a real buzz word at the moment, used by many places to describe many things. In Scotland, however, it’s a word that has become part of our culture, a proud association that has been present for centuries and continues to be just as relevant, even more so, today. In fact, at the flagship meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tradeshows such as IMEX Frankfurt, IMEX America and IBTM Barcelona, we often lay claim to have ‘invented everything.’ It’s not strictly accurate and does invite a few chuckles, but it’s not too far from the truth.

In the spring edition of EventsBase Magazine, my boss, Neil Brownlee, highlighted the work by VisitScotland’s Business Events Team to promote Scotland as a destination for large and lucrative international business events. It’s true that this is an international job, as we compete with the big global players in the business events market to win prestigious international congresses. Arguably, Scotland’s USP is its knowledge wealth. We have an abundance of world-leading academics and industry experts across a diverse range of sectors who take up the mantle (with VisitScotland’s support, of course) to bid for and plan these events that showcase pioneering work. These brilliant people, knowingly or not, join the ranks of being a ‘Scottish Ambassador.’

And so, along came VisitScotland Business Events’ INNOVATETHENATION.

It’s billed as the ‘National Talk Series’ as that’s exactly what it does. We invite speakers from various subject matters to come and talk about their work, showcase their latest accomplishments and explain why Scotland is still a pioneering country and invite anyone who’s interested to come along. Why? By talking about what we’re good at, why we’re good at it and what there is to look forward to in the future, we’re already taking the first steps to recruiting new experts to help us bring events to Scotland.

Knocking at your door to ask if you’d be interested in bidding for a conference which, amongst many things, involves planning and paying for it, you’re likely to slam that door in my face. However, when I learn about your line of work, take great interest in it and explain that what you’re doing could be helped by the global exposure, the connections potential, the inward investment possibilities that events bring, an eyebrow may just be raised and you may just allow me to get my foot in that door, even invite me in for a coffee. In fact, from a recent event in February that took place in St Andrews, InnovateRobotics, one of our speakers (Prof. Oli Mival from Napier University) commented that events such as InnovateRobotics and wider conferences are the “life blood of new connections, new collaborations, new work and new ideas.” I couldn’t have put it better myself and think we’ve found our new spokesperson.

Innovate Robotics was just one topic in a growing catalogue of events. We started out with InnovateMarine last September, took the world of Tech to Inverness last October, we’ve studied the latest in learning at InnovateEducation in Stirling and we’re back in Inverness celebrating the silver screen at InnovateFilm in June. Not only do we engage with the leaders in their field, we’re exposing VisitScotland Business Events and the potential that business events bring to a whole new audience. Some of the best conversations have been from audience members who we don’t know, attended because a friend brought, possibly dragged, them along and yet, they seek us out during the obligatory post event drinks reception and want to talk more about the process of bringing events to Scotland. Jackpot. The bonus ball; our relationships with Scottish Universities, Innovation Centres and trade associations, the institutions with whom we work for content, speakers and potential ambassadors, have never been better. From St Andrews, Stirling, the Highlands & Islands to Oban (Scottish Association for Marine Science HQ), we’re taking the message of Business Events and how to get involved to the whole of Scotland.

Success will ultimately be measured in how many events we bring to Scotland and the economic impact as a result. Ambassador recruitment and the bid process for events takes time, and with INNOVATETHENATION having only launched in September 2016, this ultimate success will become apparent in the near future. However, we are proud to have already welcomed nearly 200 potential ambassadors to the talks with discussions regarding several future events, both established and inaugural taking place. Twitter has played its part in igniting interest and furthering engagement amongst attendees. Following InnovateEducation it was clear from online conversations that there was real passion for the education sector in Scotland, both in practice and in academia. Audience members created their own blogs, tweeted live continually and carried on the conversation during the days after the event.

With four events under our belt INNOVATETHENATION continues to grow from strength to strength. A concept that started as a regional series, outwith Scotland’s principal cities, it is branching out and we will be working with our cities to host joint events with the local convention bureaux. We’re creating a new spirit within the business events world, we’re creating ‘Team Scotland.’ By hosting these events either in our regions or in our cities, we’re going out with a clear message. It’s not just one region or one city that will support you to win business events. It’s Scotland. With your help, we can showcase Scotland to the world. We can INNOVATETHENATION.

By Rory Archibald, Associations & Sectors, VisitScotland