Nick Freer: Success built on product, people and place

Could Facebook consider setting up a base in Edinburgh? Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Could Facebook consider setting up a base in Edinburgh? Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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A friend and business contact who is a lot wiser than I am talks about the success of tech ecosystems coming down to what he describes as the “three Ps” – if you want to build a great tech hub, the three key elements are product, people and place.

In the last week, I’ve met a few people, the second of the three Ps, who suggest that Edinburgh and Scotland will go on to great things when it comes to tech – a Bavarian businessman who wants to bring an international tech accelerator to Scotland, an Edinburgh native and former speechwriter to European Commissioners in Brussels who has returned to the city and is working with two of Scotland’s most compelling tech players and a London-based Facebook employee who has tried to make a case for the US tech giant setting up an office in our nation’s capital.

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Michel Gschwendtner is someone we are likely to hear a lot more about over the next few months. Having worked across the globe in the spheres of technology, entrepreneurship and venture capital, Michel decided to relocate to Edinburgh with his family a year ago and sees the city as being on an upward trajectory with a massive amount of potential to become one of the great cities of the future. He could have lived anywhere on the planet but chose here.

I was drawn, along with many other themes he espouses, to his idea that Edinburgh should consider putting more pieces into place – mobility trends, changes in working behaviours, smart city initiatives, joined-up thinking included – that will allow it to be viewed as a bona fide world capital with our without formalised independence.

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In the week that Barack Obama graced the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), I had the good fortune of meeting Laura Westring – a truly inspiring young woman who was chosen to introduce President Obama when he made a 2014 speech at the EU in which he said, when turning to Laura, that “our future will be defined by young people like you”.

Laura is splitting her time in Edinburgh between two “values-driven companies” and chose to return to Scotland because of the vibrant startup community that is growing here. Those two companies are Amiqus, the civil justice startup founded by Callum Murray and chaired by Sir Sandy Crombie that won the EIE17 pitch of the day at the EICC last month, and FutureX, the entrepreneurial organisation who have just partnered with Entrepreneurial Scotland to deliver a CEO mission to Berlin in July.

A publishing executive at Facebook wants to leave London and relocate to Edinburgh whether or not Facebook ever decides to put a stake in the ground north of the Border. In what is most certainly an exclusive, he has gone to the lengths of putting forward a question on the subject for Facebook’s well-publicised weekly staff Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg. Unfortunately, the question – “Has Facebook considered opening an office in Edinburgh?” – got bumped at the 11th hour.

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The executive believes Edinburgh and Scotland would be a perfect fit for Facebook, not least because many of its young workers crave lifestyle choices that are not available in a sprawling metropolis like London. We have been helping him make connections in Edinburgh and it looks like he may relocate here sooner than expected.

As I’ve been talking about the role people play in the success of our tech ecosystem, it’s only fair I name the guy who drew my attention to the three Ps. Russell Henderson has a number of guises, founder of product consultancy Co Creator and tech meet up Product Tank, a quietly spoken but alluring character who can usually be found in one of three places: at the city’s tech incubator, CodeBase by day; riding early morning waves down at Belhaven or running up mountains on the weekend. No surprise I guess that the guy who preaches the three Ps also lives by his mantra.

• Nick Freer is founding director of media advisory firm the Freer Consultancy

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