“Knowledge is only potential power” said Napoleon Hill.

Hill was a smart man.

Scotland boasts massive potential in life sciences, informatics, computer sciences, we’re number one in the world in the field of space science, for God’s sakes, but potential without the knowledge and experience and ambition to commercialise it is nothing. It’s empty posturing. Worthless.

There are dozens, scores of excited, ambitious tech start-ups being born in academic incubators across the country, but our lack of collective ability to nurture and grow these fledgling businesses into healthy, hungry for success, global entities is failing each and every one of them.

Events like Engage Invest Exploit and TechCrunch are crucial in the bid to bring academia, business and young tech entrepreneurs together. But it’s not enough.

Until academia and their students engage with businesses in the lecture halls and laboratories and learn the nuts and bolts of Business 101, then there will always be a virtually insurmountable challenge when spinouts and start-ups approach the business community for money and support.

Tech entrepreneur Gavin Littlejohn of Money Dashboard summed it up perfectly when he said what’s missing is an understanding amongst wannabe entrepreneurs of what it actually takes to trigger investment.

CEO of Money Dashboard – which has raised £1.6 million in equity and grants since 2006 – Littlejohn knows from experience that it’s not just about nurturing and training great technologists, but involving people who are natural marketers, who can engage with an investor and explain passionately why they need to be on board.

Experienced investors will bring smart money, but you need to be able to convince them first. That gap is why so few start-ups emerge from the formative stages into the post launch phase.

I watched and listened to six tech start-ups pitch to an investor panel at EIE’10 last week and was hugely disappointed. Not in the quality of the ideas (although some of them were clearly head-and-shoulders above the others), but in the quality of the presentations.

The presentations were limited to six slides. Now that’s where my first issue arises. PowerPoint kills a presentation stone dead. Prezi, (used by only one company, which is surprising in such a technologically advanced arena), is infinitely better. But all six presenters lacked charisma, passion, ambition, enthusiasm, clarity of thought and an inherent understanding of how to present an investor-ready business proposition and attract genuine “I want to part with my hard-earned cash” interest.

Their ability to engage with businessmen and women – potential investors – was seriously flawed. Not one squared up to the audience, announced who he was (and they were all ‘he’), said clearly this is the solution we provide, this is why it’s going to be successful, this is what we need, and this is what you will get in return.

No, instead we got intricate details of the technical acuities of the product, or micro statistics about the market demographics. They used all six minutes allowed to say an awful lot without saying anything compelling at all. Nice guys, all of them, but on the basis of their performances I wouldn’t give them a penny.

There’s a genuine willingness to improve on all sides, but can academia and business (and the public sector) truly work together? Well there’s a lot still to be done if the comments at Wednesday’s EIE’10 event were to be believed. A radical suggestion from one academic to pool Intellectual Property from all Scotland’s universities didn’t go down well, yet the idea – which would significantly benefit businesses and start-ups across the country – has real merit.

There is plenty of angel investor support in Scotland, and there is a surprising amount of public sector support too. But there seems to be nothing linking them together – and that’s where I see the business sector offering the most value.

Business men and women need to engage with start-ups in the lecture theatre, the ICT suite, the laboratories, sharing their knowledge and wisdom, and guiding these future business superstars from the very moment they have that Eureka moment.

Who’s responsible for making this happen? I don’t know. But I’d happily be involved in the process. Let the debate begin …

You can read my Scotland on Sunday column about this topic here: http://bit.ly/tartancatcolumn

And, topically, king of the bloggers Seth Godin posted a comment this morning about the fine line between arrogance and confidence (http://sethgodin.typepad.com). It might be just one of the reasons there are more successful entrepreneurs in America than Scotland.