Scotland fostering UK’s next wave of tech talent, but investors must take notice - Stephen Kelly comment

Scotland has proven itself to be a vibrant tech scale-up scene.

It benefits from excellent collaboration between scale-ups with academia, a world-class research base, coding boot camps, an incredible peer-supported community, vibrant tech festivals like Glasgow Tech Fest, a multitude of collaborative co-working spaces, and a committed public sector and investor community. This mix of factors led to, in 2021, Scotland seeing a record level of investment into its booming scale-up tech companies.

As a CEO of public tech companies during approximately 50 quarterly earnings updates, I regularly visited Edinburgh with Sage, Micro Focus and Chordiant, and enjoyed meeting tech investors in the city who were some of the smartest and best in the UK – from Baillie Gifford to Standard Life, among others.

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And as a chair of a high-growth decarbonisation tech company, The Algorithm People, I can see first-hand that Edinburgh is a fantastic place to expand with a rich pool of talent in a beautiful city and a great place to live. The Scottish capital has the highest concentration of tech investment excellence and is a magnet for tech innovation.

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In my recent visit to Edinburgh as chair of Tech Nation, I had the pleasure of visiting the co-working space CodeBase and speaking with leaders from coding and digital skills academy CodeClan, which are both helping to support the rapid growth of Scotland’s emerging tech scale-ups.

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The booming city of Glasgow has stamped its presence on the tech scene largely due to the COP26 conference that made it – and Scotland – a global magnet, particularly in the area of climate tech.

Three stand-out examples of Scottish climate tech start-ups working to reduce and eliminate the UK’s carbon emissions include ZUoS, which enables homeowners to reduce their overall energy consumption; ACT Blade, developing the next generation of wind turbine blade; and Earth Blox, a software-as-a-service company that uses satellite imaging to help companies detect illegal activities like deforestation and mining.

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Major events like COP26 (pictured) 'have no doubt helped to put Scottish tech on the map,' the chair of Tech Nation believes. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.

Scotland has much more to offer than its Central Belt, from Dundee’s dominance in gaming, historically led by world-class games firm Rockstar North, to Aberdeen’s strength in climate tech, tech entrepreneurs are creating new and innovative solutions that play a critical role in paving the way for UK tech as a whole to stand out on the global stage.

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Prosperity

This growth means more job opportunities and prosperity right across Scotland. In 2021, across the whole of the country, Scotland’s tech sector created 111 per cent more jobs compared to the previous year. In particular, tech roles in Glasgow and Edinburgh have increased by more than a quarter in the past two years, demonstrating some of the highest growth in the whole of the UK.

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As such, tech is creating a real opportunity to redraw the economic map of the UK and drive the “Levelling Up” agenda to ensure that anyone with an idea or a skill – whether they’re living in a city centre, seaside town or rural village – is able to access the same opportunity and take part in Scotland’s high-growth digital economy.

Mr Kelly says he has met tech investors in Edinburgh who are 'some of the smartest and best in the UK'. Picture: contributed.
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And this growth trajectory looks set to continue, with a variety of promising companies ready to follow in the footsteps of the greats like Edinburgh-founded tech “unicorns” Skyscanner and FanDuel.

Such companies are improving lives and our society; a great example of this is WelcoME, which is enabling everyday life to be more accessible and inclusive. Or Libereat, one of the winners of Tech Nation’s third annual Rising Stars competition for the UK’s brightest and best start-ups, who make life easier for people with dietary restrictions and help restaurants and supermarkets become more accessible to all.

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Universities such as Strathclyde are leading in nurturing Scotland’s pipeline of homegrown talent. Through its Strathclyde Inspire programme, it’s helping students, staff, and alumni to create, launch and grow their business ideas.

Success

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A recent success story from this is Lupovis, a cyber security technology spin-out, which closed a £615,000 pre-seed funding round in December 2021.

This included funding from the University itself via its Strathclyde Inspire Entrepreneurs Fund. Scotland’s academic research power is also renowned globally for making breakthroughs to help solve some of the biggest social, environmental and economic challenges of our time – including tackling Covid-19.

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But what I’m hearing from these founders and entrepreneurs is that the challenge for funding isn’t over. Investors must now sit up and take notice of the level of talent and innovation coming out of the Scottish tech scene, broadening their horizons outside London, outside Edinburgh, and seeing the pockets of excellence that are found right across Scotland – from Dundee to Dumfries and beyond.

With no shortage of ideas and hard-working founders with a dream, many great companies are simply starved by a lack of funding. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in net-zero tech.

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Major events like COP26 have no doubt helped to put Scottish tech on the map, and I hope to see this start a wave of funding and support for scaling such firms. I'm committed to visiting Scotland and bringing others to the region, to speak with more tech scale-ups and ensure that founders are supported not only by Scotland’s own vibrant ecosystem, but by investors and policymakers across the whole of the UK and overseas.

Stephen Kelly, chair of Tech Nation

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