Journey to Change: Interview with founders of inaugural conference A3 Scotland

Thursday 25th March 2021, 10:00am

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A3 Scotland 2022 logo - credit Roslin Innovation Centre

Dr Lawrence Brown, Vet, Consultant and Innovation Manager for Health at Edinburgh Innovations and John Mackenzie, CEO of the Roslin Innovation Centre, combined forces to create Scotland's first event dedicated to the Animal Health, Agritech, and Aquaculture (AAA) sectors after they were inspired by Canada's Vet Health Global Conference.

A3 Scotland, was due to take place in September 2020 but sadly due to the pandemic was postponed and will now take place 26 - 27th April 2022.



VisitScotland Business Events interviewed Lawrence and John to discuss what encouraged them to create the A3 Conference and what their hopes are for the event in future years.

Lawrence explained he often promotes the UK to companies operating in animal health, agritech and aquaculture. Scotland is frequently mentioned in those discussion as the ideal location for these businesses, due to its world class science, innovative business ecosystem and wealth of natural resources. Over the years, both John and Lawence have attended and spoken at numerous industry events including the Vet Health Global and the Animal Health Investment Series. They saw first-hand the value of business events for stimulating ideas, forging new partnerships and strengthening working relationships.

In 2019, Lawrence attended the Vet Health Global Conference on the small island of Prince Edward Island of the east coast of Canada. The island itself wasn't particularly accessible but he was really impressed with the number of delegates in attendance including key industry CEOs, academics, start-ups and investors. Seeing the success of the conference, along with the tight knit community, got Lawrence thinking if this small remote island is capable of hosting an event like this, why can't Scotland do something similar?

When he arrived back, he called John who had previously attended the same event, to discuss how they could make this a reality for Scotland. John originally wanted to set up a similar event a few years earlier, but the appetite and energy just wasn't there at that time. Fast forward to 2019, and they had the right resources and market for the event, but needed someone to help organise it. That same year John became chair of the Animal Health, Aquaculture and Agritech Industry Leadership Group giving him access to a pan-Scotland audience of stakeholders. Lawrence also had several strong international connections through his years of working with the Department for International Trade.

Between them, John and Lawrence reached out to their network and gained the support and encouragement needed to make this event a reality. They originally arranged the inaugural event for September 2020, but sadly had to postpone it to 26-27th April 2022 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When asked whether they anticipated growing the event in the future, Lawrence agreed, adding he really saw it as the start of something new and exciting for Scotland. The appetite, motivation and enthusiasm they've had from their Scottish stakeholders and sponsors to date has been overwhelmingly positive, and the inaugural event next April will help them to build the foundation they need to plan future events on either an annual or bi-annual basis.

"We are operating in a not-for-profit endeavour with Roslin Innovation Centre and The University of Edinburgh, which have underwritten the conference, giving us a platform to build on for the future."

Dr Lawrence Brown, Vet, Consultant and Innovation Manager for Health at Edinburgh Innovations

"The initial event will combine three sectors; animal health, agritech and aquaculture and run as one programme stream. In the future we may split the conference and run breakout rooms so we can develop the content further and grow delegate numbers. Our aim isn't to become the largest event for our sector, but to be the conference that connects the right people and organisations and to achieve the aims of the AAA community. Scotland is very good at collaboration; it distinguishes the country from the rest of the world. We are great innovators, but our greatest strength is in collaborations and our desire to help others."

John Mackenzie, CEO, Roslin Innovation Centre

One of Lawrence and John's key objectives is to utilise the A3 Conference to build and nurture relationships, with the aim of attracting inward investment, starting new companies, job creation and attracting future talent to Scotland. The first event will take place in Edinburgh at the John McIntyre Centre on the University of Edinburgh campus. The University was chosen because of its flexible event spaces that could continue to be used as the event is expanded and developed. The staff at the university have been incredibly supportive and helpful especially with the huge tasks that come with postponing an event.

John added that they will conduct an exit poll at the end of the conference to gauge the appetite for future events, explaining they were are all committed and highly motivated to make this a successful and meaningful conference with the hope that this is a platform to build on for future years.

From the outset A3 Scotland's ambitions have been around investment, collaboration and innovation. They want to capitalise on the opportunities for the AAA community, which are very important contributors to sustainable food production. The theme for the inaugural event is 'transition to net zero' and 'One Health'. John explained how we have all recently experienced the devastating effects of what happens when a virus transfers from animals to humans. One Health is a cross-sector approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research to achieve better public, planet and animal health outcomes.

The conference will also host two trips, which will run alongside the event, including a field visit and tour of the Highland Islands and the University of Edinburgh's Easter Bush Campus, one of the largest animal bioscience clusters in Europe. The tour of the Highlands, which has been organised by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, will focus on the agriculture and aquaculture sectors which are important to rural communities in Scotland. There are some incredible facilities in the Highlands including the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban and the Inverness campus of Scotland's Rural College. Adding this into the conference programme makes it a pan-Scotland event and will involve all their stakeholders and locations. John and Lawrence are also working with Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and James Hutton Institute (JHI) to arrange delegate trips to relevant organisations in Stirling and Dundee, respectively.

To ensure that they are not contradicting the topic of the event, the duo were also very mindful of their food and beverage choices and suppliers. Consequently, they are working with Edinburgh First to ensure the menus will include produce from the local area.

John discussed the desicion to postpone the conference, rather than taking it online. Once they knew the true scale of the pandemic, they had a few options; cancel, go virtual or postpone the event. It was quickly decided that virtual was not the right approach for them, as they wanted their delegates to come and visit Scotland and meet in person to build longer lasting relationships and partnerships. John believes that for this event to be successful, delegates need to come to Scotland and meet with the organisations, to create opportunities through networking and of course to experience true Scottish hospitality.

"Through the planning of the event, we have managed to unite all the key stakeholders in Scotland, which is a fantastic achievement for the sector. John's role as Chair of the AAA Industry Leadership Group for Lifesciences Scotland has also been a great vehicle in getting the industry working together with one voice. It has also strengthened the voice of AAA within the wider Lifesciences sector in Scotland."

Dr Lawrence Brown, Vet, Consultant and Innovation Manager for Health at Edinburgh Innovations

In terms of sponsorship, the team have just secured Zoetis, the world's largest animal health company, as their platinum sponsor for the A3 Conference. The organisation is heavily involved across all three sectors and recently acquired the Fish Vet group in Inverness. Both John and Lawrence are delighted with the number of organisations that have supported their inaugural event as sponsors and are now running out of sponsorship space, which is great and shows the demand and potential for this event.





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