MIT board summit

MIT board summit

Article Published 29/09/2022

GlobalScot is a network that encourages, develops and nurtures Scotland's business community globally. Through meetings, events, mentorships and conversation, it aims to accelerate Scotland's growth in international markets and to support future business leaders as they enter overseas markets.

In May 2022, with the help of the GlobalScot network, the Mittelstands- und Wirtschaftsunion (MIT) division of the Christian Democractic Union of Germany brought a delegation of 25 board members to Inverness for its annual board summit.

We spoke with Stefan Simmnacher, state manager at the MIT of North Rhine-Westphalia, to discuss how he became part of the GlobalScot network and why MIT chose Inverness for its board summit.

How did you become a GlobalScot?

My involvement with Scotland began during my time at London Guildhall University, where I did a masters degrees. For my degree, I focused on Scottish Nationalism in the mid-1990s, where at the time devolution was one of the main issues. That was almost 30  years ago now, but I have felt a strong link to Scotland since then.

I began working with Scottish Development International (SDI) in Düsseldorf around 25 years ago. When they asked me to become a GlobalScot I was reluctant at first as most of the other GlobalScots are business people. I think I am the only political-affairs person around, but that makes me stand out from the crowd and I like that.

In my role as a GlobalScot I work to enhance relationships between businesses, politicians and lobbyists. We have a lot of politically-engaged entrepreneurs in Germany and I help to connect them with the right people in Scotland.

In May 2022, You were part of a German delegation who travelled to Inverness for the MIT board summit. The members of your board wanted to discuss topics including, renewable energy and innovation, how did you integrate this into your event?

I am the Director General for MIT, which is a group of about 6,500 politically engaged entrepreneurs and self-employed business people in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). At our last meeting, which was in Italy in 2019, the head of the MIT board, Hendrik Wüst, suggested taking our next event to Scotland. We discussed the topics we needed to cover and I was asked to prepare an overview of the work the country is doing in terms of innovation, digitisation and renewables.

As part of the trip we visited  Space Hub Sutherland, met with experts from the University of the Highlands and Islands including Jen Vanderhoven and Giles Huby and explored the Port of Cromarty Firth. My group was especially keen to learn about green hydrogen, which replaces fossil fuels during the heating process for distilleries.

During our visit, we also spoke about sustainable tourism with Visit Inverness Loch Ness. The organisation's Chair, Jo De Sylva, made it very clear that is a very high priority for her and the organisation. As a regular visitor to Inverness, especially Fort Augustus, I understand that; over the past 20 years, the number of tourists visiting the Highlands in the summer, particularly post-pandemic, has grown significantly and it's important to ensure that the area doesn't suffer from overtourism so that it remains as special and beautiful as it is now.

Following the trip we focused our efforts on the Scot2Ger project, which explores the idea of exporting green hydrogen from Scotland to Germany. Industries in our state, including manufacturing, robotics and steel are very strong but also require a lot of energy and we are seeing huge demand for this. I do believe that green hydrogen is an important solution to address these demands but also to make these industries far more sustainable.

Why did you choose Scotland for the event?

Back in 2019  the entrepreneurs wanted to address the topics of energy supply and the rate of innovation which are crucial for Germany and its economy. We had no idea just how relevant those topics would be by 2022; it just shows that we were ahead of time.

Scotland is a great European example, and demonstrates that stategic thinking in technology goes hand-in-hand with innovation. The universities are of excellent calibre. It is very different to London, industry in Scotland is not only focused on banking and the service sector but also on energy and production. This aligns perfectly with our highly industrialised region in the west of Germany, the Ruhr area, and the German universities including Aachen, Bochum, Düsseldorf and Cologne.

I also knew that the VisitScotland Business Events team would be a great help in connecting us with the right people at the universities and key organisations, which really helped enhance our trip in terms of learning outcomes.

Over the past few years, we have seen an increased demand for events to become more sustainable. Can you provide some examples of how you incorporated sustainability into your event?

The focus of this particular event was certainly on renewable energy, including offshore-wind energy, hydrogen and hydro-electric energy. In Germany innovation is always linked to sustainability and the conservation of nature and natural resources. We believe that innovation is possible without plundering the planet and that is something we want to continue to represent.

We visited Glenmorangie to learn more about green hydrogen and how they use it. It was also a chance to learn more about about their project to re-introduce the European oyster, which is integral in purifying the water in the Dornoch Firth. It is a very interesting example of how a company can play their part in reducing their impact on the environment and give back to nature. Of course a company has to produce economic benefits, but not to the detriment of the area around them. It was very important for our group to address this.

What was the highlight your trip and why?

Everyone who attended the trip really enjoyed visiting the Sutherland Space Hub where Roy Kirk, from the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, presented to us with great enthusiasm about the hub's impressive plans, including a floating access road.

We also enjoyed learning about how they work with local businesses including farms, and crofters. It was a fantastic example of how involving locals into projects from day one and how by really listening to them and taking on board their feedback you can greatly benefit both parties. This is a strategy I would like to see implemented in Germany for future projects.