Comment: Covid may offer silver lining for Scots tech scene

Since February, conducting any conversation – virtually or otherwise – without mentioning the C-word has become remarkably difficult. While avoiding any mention is impossible, fear not – it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ian Colvin, growth consultant and former growth partnerships lead at Revolut Business.

Now easing back into the world of small-group socialising and socially-distanced office working, we are left with an economic crisis that’s already affected millions and the surface having only just been scratched. I recently took voluntary redundancy from Revolut and expected the worst; however I have been pleasantly surprised by the variety of opportunities available.

These opportunities are certainly industry and geographically specific, but my research clearly shows a disproportionate number of roles on offer at Scottish-based tech firms. The fields of Silicon Glen remain lush despite the economic crisis. Scotland has changed significantly in the last five years and it’s promising to see so many thriving within this relatively newly-formed tech ecosystem. Homegrown talent now have a very compelling reason to stay and those that fled south to build their career now have the opportunity to return.

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UK digital secretary Nicky Morgan accurately summarised these changes: “Scotland’s tech scene is leading the way in the development of cutting-edge cyber security, clean growth technologies. It has already produced three of the UK’s leading billion-dollar tech companies, helping to strengthen the UK’s reputation as Europe’s leading tech hub.”

Impressive work and initiatives from purpose built bodies like Fintech Scotland, higher education facilities and the Scottish Government have accelerated this new industry wave. Scotland now plays host to well known, exciting brands including Coretex, Modulr, Waracle, UserTesting. Digital Scotland’s 2019 summary report effectively conveys the scale of this success: the sector’s growth rate is one and a half times higher than the rest of the economy, resulting in 1,500 tech companies contributing £4.9 billion to the Scottish economy and supporting nearly 100,000 jobs.

My newly incorporated Scotland-based consultancy helps new and emerging SMEs to accelerate growth. Many of the successful start-ups mentioned above have reached a critical moment in development; I will help them to implement growth strategies to scale and take them to the next stage of their journey. Achieving scale involves tangible aspects such as forming new growth channels and optimising PR and marketing strategies but the key is adapting your mindset and adopting strong cultural values. FutureX’s founder, Zoi Kantounatou states: “Sometimes in Scotland we benchmark ourselves against what exists in Scotland. They [entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley] benchmark themselves with the best of the rest of the world.”

Describing this mindset is difficult but I certainly felt it whilst in the growth team of Europe’s fastest growing tech company. The catalyst for Revolut’s growth was its highly successful community but overarching this was the culture instilled in everyone: “this is a war and you have to grow or die”. Be first every time, fail fast, delivery is paramount, think deeper, take ownership and promote accountability. These cultural aspects all drive growth and the greater adoption of this mindset, the less reliance on lady luck.

Now, apologies but it’s back to the C-word… In the short term, Covid-19 has undoubtedly changed how organisations approach remote working. Digitalisation has been universally implemented, benefiting Scotland’s ambitions longer term as the London-centric talent pool can now flow freely north of the Border. The opportunities are not just remote however. With a number of Scottish cities already among the best in which to live across the UK, these new job opportunities could prompt a mass exodus of the ambitious and talented from the saturated London tech scene and I’m sure they will be welcomed with traditional Scottish warmth.

- Ian Colvin, growth consultant, founder of Haco Consulting, and former growth partnerships lead at Revolut Business

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