Calum Forsyth is a man on a mission. One that some cynics might place in the impossible category. That endeavour is to create Scotland’s next billion-dollar business – or “unicorn”. However, the co-founder of Scotland’s first dedicated pre-seed tech accelerator has no time for the doubters.
Edinburgh-based Seed Haus – the brainchild of Forsyth and business partner Robin Knox, the co-founder of point-of-sale specialist Intelligentpos – has just selected its first cohort of start-ups in a bid to unearth the next Skyscanner or FanDuel.
The accelerator aims to fill a gap by providing “the very best founders” with pre-seed investment, mentorship and office space within its incubator, based at Maritime Street in Leith.
Since launching an inaugural recruitment drive in April, the number of applications to join the six-month programme peaked at 165. Around half of these were from overseas founders. Just five applicants have been selected to make up that initial cohort.
Seed Haus is not alone in its mission to mentor, nurture and ultimately scale-up the next generation of tech businesses, with programmes such as Entrepreneurial Spark well established.
Forsyth, though, argues that Seed Haus can carve out a niche in the marketplace and insists the venture is “not an ego trip”.
“Many of the others do not invest directly in the opportunities,” he says. “I think that’s a big piece of the puzzle that is missing in Scotland. There isn’t much capital being deployed efficiently with appropriate advice behind it and that’s a gap that we are addressing.
“We see ourselves building a real community of people that can add real value. We are very niche in what we do and are not saying that we can solve everybody’s problems, but we have people round the table well versed in building tech opportunities.”
Seed Haus has been backed by a line-up of high-profile investment “partners” including Sir Tom Hunter, BrewDog co-founder James Watt and technology entrepreneurs Paddy Burns and Chris van der Kuyl, co-founders of Minecraft games developer 4J Studios. Then there is the skill-set brought to the table by the accelerator’s other co-founder and chairman Knox, who grew Intelligentpos from a spare-room start-up to a major business that was acquired by Swedish tech outfit iZettle last year.
Forsyth, whose own skills straddle the worlds of technology and investment owing to his background as both a PhD scientist and time in London as a risk consultant with KPMG, does not want to become fixated on the unicorn goal.
“It’s the things around it that we are more interested in,” he stresses. “If you have achieved unicorn status you can perhaps say you have executed on your mission – you are adding real value to the ecosystem and you are creating real jobs. We are interested in the stuff that means you can get to that position.
“We are keen to explore what can be done to support start-ups and build real businesses, not lurch from funding event to funding event. What we celebrate are big sales. It’s the customers that build a successful business, after all.”
The five applicants selected to join the accelerator’s first cohort are: SecurityCTRL, offering cyber-security for cloud infrastructure; Sansible Wearables, which provides body monitoring technology; Drinkly, an on-demand drinks service; Kindaba, described as a “collaborative communication platform for families”; and Taka, a Parkinson’s therapeutic symptom management system. The initiative is already recruiting for its second cohort, who will also receive a pre-seed investment of £18,000, office space and mentoring from three “entrepreneurs in residence”.
Forsyth, who takes the role of chief executive at Seed Haus while retaining some involvement with the University of Strathclyde’s business school, says the selection process for the first cohort proved pretty daunting.
“We reviewed the initial applications and liked the look of about 30 of them then asked them to produce a one-page overview. From there we took about 20 to interview and did them all in one day, which was a bit of an administrative nightmare. We then decided on the five and feel privileged that these opportunities have allowed us to invest in them.”