When the wor-ld’s most renowned venture capital firm in the tech start-up space invested in Skyscanner in 2013, many observers agreed this watershed moment had put Scotland on the global tech map.
With a portfolio of web luminaries on its books including Airbnb, Apple, eBay and Google, the deal had US analysts and commentators scrambling to find out more about the decade-old travel search site headquartered in Edinburgh. In some ways, it was an unusual move for Sequoia Capital, which had previously invested in only two European start-ups.
It’s exciting to think about the next wave
Sequoia’s Sir Michael Moritz cleared up this particular conundrum when he said: “Skyscanner is one of the best technology companies ever to come out of Europe.”
For all of us in the Scottish tech sector – the academics, founders, designers and coders, investors and the enterprise agencies – it was a time of great excitement. But it was not such a great surprise; chief executive and co-founder Gareth Williams had spent years evangelising on Scotland’s digital scene and how we could produce world-beating start-ups without having to be based in Silicon Valley.
What many people didn’t realise back in 2013 (apart from those of us in the know) was that there was another Scottish start-up, only half the age of Skyscanner and on an even faster growth trajectory – FanDuel. The course plotted by chief executive and co-founder Nigel Eccles and his team has seen FanDuel dominate the daily US fantasy sports market and it has paid out more than $600 million (£388m) in prize money.
The FanDuel product was launched at the Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) investor showcase event in Edinburgh in 2010, and what became the core team at the company met at a speaker series event we ran at the University of Edinburgh Business School back in 2007.
Now in its eighth year, EIE15 takes place at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh on Thursday. From modest beginnings in a university meeting room, we now bring more than 600 members of the venture capital and international investment and support communities to meet 60 of our most promising start-ups, with support from Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Investment Bank and a range of other organisations and individuals.
Research we carried out last year indicates that international investors consider Scotland’s start-up scene the most vibrant in the UK outside London, but one of the main challenges is getting them to travel to Scotland. While we have an improving investor backdrop in Scotland, we know that we also need investors from London, Europe, Asia and the US to buy into our start-ups if they’re to reach the next level and that’s where EIE15 comes in. The connections made at EIE have helped take many of our early stage companies to the next level and have been a springboard to more than £100m in investment.
It’s exciting to think about the next wave of Scottish start-ups set to impact global markets. In university spin-out PureLiFi, Harald Haas and his team are at the forefront of an emerging technology that powers the internet through LEDs. At Celtic Renewables, the team is developing sustainable bio-fuel from the byproducts of Scotland’s whisky industry.
Firms like PureLiFi, Celtic Renewables and FanDuel have all been through the EIE system. They and many more on show on Thursday represent the foundation of Scotland’s rising modern economy. For that reason, they are very important to us all.
l Gordon Stuart is a director at Informatics Ventures www.eie15.com