Nick Freer: Scotland’s tech sector is in good hands

Dr Colin Adams is seen as the doyen of Scotland's tech scene. Picture: Jane Barlow

Dr Colin Adams is seen as the doyen of Scotland's tech scene. Picture: Jane Barlow

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In a dimly lit room at the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum last week, the great and the good of Scotland’s technology community gathered over canapés and fizz to give a warm-hearted send-off to a man many consider to be the doyen of the tech scene in this country.

In academic parlance, Dr Colin Adams, retiring director of commercialisation at the School of Informatics, has overseen numerous initiatives in the study of natural and engineered computational systems that have seen Edinburgh take one of the top spots in the global university order – right up there with names like Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard – to the extent that we now have the largest single computer science and informatics research group in Europe.

Dr Colin Adams has helped create over 70 start-up companies, attracted considerable funding from Scottish Enterprise and developed stronger links between academia and industry that have led to game-changing collaborations for Scottish tech

Nick Freer

In more common business language, Dr Adams has helped create over 70 start-up companies, attracted considerable funding from Scottish Enterprise to create bodies like Informatics Ventures, build and extend the hugely impressive Informatics Forum itself and, perhaps most importantly, developed stronger links between academia and industry that have led to game-changing collaborations for Scottish tech.

What a journey it has been for Adams, who was one of only four students in the very first computer sciences class at the University of Edinburgh before going on to a stellar career in industry where, among other highlights, he helped develop operating systems for mini-computers in the US – including a calendar product that was used to schedule former President Ronald Reagan’s diary – before returning to his alma mater a decade ago. While Adams’ boots are going to be tough to fill, rising stars in the School of Informatics like David Richardson, Keith Edwards and Steve Ewing suggest succession policy will play out to the university’s advantage.

In an illustration of how dynamic our tech ecosystem is in Scotland in 2016, an early-stage technology company that was only founded earlier this year has become the first Scottish start-up to be invited onto the world’s number one tech accelerator in the States. MindMate, which develops apps for dementia sufferers, is out in New York for three months of intensive mentoring from some of the world’s top entrepreneurs and investors. The four founders – none of whom, incidentally, is a UK national – plan to return to their Glasgow headquarters in September to continue their journey as an early-stage technology company.

As the MindMate team return to Scotland, another Scottish tech success story jets out of the country with the destination of Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California. The guys from virtual reality 3D start-up Two Big Ears – including Indian co-founders Varun Nair and Abesh Thakur – are soon to be rubbing shoulders with the Oculus VR team at Facebook. It’s another great tech journey that shows there is life in the Scottish tech scene beyond establishment players like Rockstar North, Skyscanner and FanDuel.

While full details have still to be announced, word on the street says that a major Scottish tech mission to Germany is in its final planning stage and set for this October. The trip’s importance for Scotland is rising if you believe the views expressed by the UK’s SME sector in a recent Brexit report by PwC, with almost 70 per cent of respondents saying the UK should prioritise its trading relationship with Germany before all other EU member states.

• Nick Freer is the managing director and founder of the Freer Consultancy

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