2002
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300 delegates attended our sixth annual Spring Conference and listened to inspirational presentations around the Shackleton theme from Barbara Cassani of GO fame; David Sibbald of Sumerian Networks and founder of Atlantech, which he sold to Cisco two years ago for $180 million and Mike Ramsay, ex pat Scot who founded TIVO in Silicon Valley.

Delgates were also treated to a surprise visit from Sir Richard Branson who strolled through the audience to join Brian Souter on stage in an informal question and answer session.

This is what our members had to say:

'First time I have attended, but I'd certainly expect to b a regular in coming years.  I found the whole thing to be inspirational'  David Buchanan, Logical Innovations

'Gets better every year! Best event in Scotland'  Richard O'Connor, Ambergreen Internet Marketing

'In my opinion this was the best conference yet, and that is saying something...inspirational and I must confess to having already taken major decisions that were heavily influenced by the uplift I received'  Bill Young, Electroconnect

The following article by Victoria Masterton in BusinessAM (26 April) says it all:

SIR Richard Branson described Scotland as one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world yesterday and said he that was open to exploring new opportunities with Brian Souter after making an unexpected appearance at the Entrepreneurial Exchange annual conference.

The Virgin founder delighted 300 delegates at the event in Gleneagles by joining Mr Souter, with whom he owns Virgin Rail, for a question-and-answer session.

Sir Richard said that he had broken a holiday to attend the event on the invitation of fellow entrepreneur Chris Gorman, who has invited Sir Richard and a host of other wealthy guests to a huge party celebrating his 10th wedding anniversary on 11 July.

'I have never been to an entrepreneurial conference like this in the UK or anywhere else in the world,' he said.

'It's fantastic the amount of success that has come out of Scotland and I am sure more will come from events like this.'

Sir Richard told entrepreneurs, including Richard Emanuel, Tom Hunter and Chris van der Kuyl, that attention to detail and keeping in touch with staff were the keys to a strong business.

He said that he and Mr Souter were opportunists and would be delighted to work together if more opportunities came along. Mr Souter said that the high speed tilting trains that Virgin Rail was launching this year would provide 'a huge business for 20-30 years to come' because every urban centre needed a sophisticated rail service.

'We are a very strong partnership and I believe there may be other opportunities for us,' he added. Mr Souter said that he saw potential for Stagecoach in North America, the Pacific Rim and New Zealand.

Answering a question from the floor, Mr Souter bemoaned the 'chronic' shortage in Scotland of politicians with business skills.

'That's because our parliament just happened overnight, so a lot of people went from university graduates to cabinet posts,' he said, adding that he was now seeing more maturity coming through the parliament.

Barbara Cassani, the chief executive of the budget airline Go, also addressed the event, which was based on the never-say-die spirit of the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and was entitled 'Determination: the triumph of the human spirit'.

Ms Cassani said that Go could easily run flights to half a dozen European destinations from Scotland if the airport passenger charges north of the border were not so expensive. Go's only flights from Scotland go to destinations in England and Ireland.

victoria.masterson@businessam.co.uk