Diary of a start-up tech mission to Silicon Valley

Russell Dalgleish, a founding director of the Scottish Business Network and managing partner of Exolta Capital Partners, is just back from a trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley where a group of Scottish start-up founders met some of California's most celebrated tech companies, investors, advisers and universities.

Russell Dalgleish, left, and Bruce Walker of FutureX take time to enjoy the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Picture: Contributed

The Silicon Valley trip was facilitated by WeAreTheFuture, where Dalgleish is the former chairman. During the visit, Scottish Business Network launched its US operation in San Francisco.

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Day 1: Monday 24 April, 6.15am. This is the fourth year in which we have rounded up some of Scotland’s most talented companies and founders, jetted out and driven a van on a tour of some of San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s most exciting players. First up today, it’s an early start and a team-building exercise in Golden Gate Park, led by Zoi Kantounatou of FutureX, followed by a meeting with 500 Startups, one of the most successful tech accelerators on the planet, and whose mission is simple: “Everyday at 500 Startups is a masterclass in how to build a kick ass start-up.”

The Scottish contingent at tech accelerator 500 Startups. Picture: Contributed

Next up, we head to revered tech campus RocketSpace, founded by Fife native Duncan Logan who is the keynote speaker at next week’s EIE17 at the EICC in Edinburgh. It’s an exciting time for the RocketSpace team as they close in the opening a new campus in London. Some of the team then split up for meetings at tech titans Google and LinkedIn before we reassemble at our Airbnb in the Portrero Hill neighbourhood of the city.

Day 2: Tuesday 25 April, 8am. We jump into a small Uber fleet for the first meeting of the day at software development specialist Pivotal Labs before a short walk across town to see the guys at WSGR, the Valley’s leading law firm. Back in the van, we head down to Redwood City to meet an old friend and supporter of the Scottish entrepreneurial community, Mike Masnick of TechDirt. Mike is quite simply the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to Silicon Valley and it’s a privilege to spend an hour in his company talking over some of the issues of the day – fake news, security and what’s next for the Valley.

It’s back into the city to see Nasdaq, the second-largest stock exchange in the world and home to many of the listed tech success stories of modern times, at its entrepreneurial centre. It’s eye-opening to see the work its accelerator is doing with tech founders and, with evening fast approaching, we take the opportunity to head out across the Golden Gate Bridge to enjoy the incredible views.

Day 3: Wednesday 26 April, 7.30am. It’s off to Stanford University for another team session, a truly inspirational place when you consider the long list of tech superstars that came through these doors, taught and studied in its venerated surroundings and all the world-changing technology that was planned and executed from here. In a relaxed frame of mind, we drive to Sand Hill Road for a venture capital masterclass from the very classy Heidi Roizen of DFJ. It is always a great pleasure to spend time with Heidi, another great supporter of the Scottish tech scene, and we look forward to welcoming her fellow partner, Steve Jurvetson, to EIE in Edinburgh on 11 May.

Gordon Coulter of Exmos, left, and Russell Dalgleish at the LinkedIn HQ. Picture: Contributed

I step away from my van driver role in the evening to host and officially launch the Scottish Business Network in the US. Excellent pitches come from Gordon Coulter of Exmos, Bruce Walker of FutureX (and formerly founder of WeAreTheFuture) and Rebecca Pick of Pick Protection. Our own hosts for the evening are RBS Silicon Valley Solutions and we are pleased to be joined by friends from Scottish Development International, Investing Women and more than 50 of the great and the good from the Scottish diaspora now based in this part of California.

It was electrifying to see so much energy in the room and a touch emotional too. Importantly, our pitching entrepreneurs received commitments for local support, introductions and encouragement from a group brought together through their common bond with Scotland.

Day 4: Thursday 27 April, 8am. Having spent the week navigating Google maps, it seemed appropriate that Thursday started with a visit to Google itself and it was fascinating to hear about the tech giant’s Waze product, a community-based, crowd-sourced navigation system.

We left Google and headed into the centre of Silicon Valley to Cupertino to meet with GlobalScot, Eric McAfee, a huge supporter of our programme. It’s always a highlight of the trip to meet with Eric and, today, he was particularly focused on the need for entrepreneurs to control their own destinies at all times.

The Scottish contingent at tech accelerator 500 Startups. Picture: Contributed

Eric believes Scottish business leaders need to reach out much more internationally to take advantage of markets, that we must “park” our fear of failure and embrace the opportunity of success and, overall, must build a vision that attracts resources, talent and supporters.

Following the last part of official business for the day – an illuminating session at eBay discussing how different nations approach legislation around data and internet usage – we drive down to Santa Cruz for dinner and a walk on the beach. What a day! What a week!

Day 5: Friday 28 April, 6.30am. An early start as we prepare for a final pitching session with Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). Bruce Walker and the team had selected the beautiful forests of Redwood Park as a location for all to prepare. These moments of quiet have proved essential in keeping each member of the party focused.

Once prepared, we headed back to Sand Hill Road to meet with the SVB innovation team (with a photo stop on the way, of course, at 1 Infinite Loop, the new Apple headquarters). I am proud to report that each presentation was delivered with focus and passion and received positive feedback and clear next steps – the final pitching session could not have gone better.

Gordon Coulter of Exmos, left, and Russell Dalgleish at the LinkedIn HQ. Picture: Contributed

So our trip concludes, and I think about what have we learned. For me, it’s that Scottish tech can be as good as anything in the Valley; that if you need to raise money, you have to buy a plane ticket and if you are in tech you must find a way to spend some time here. Scottish Business Network hopes to return in July, so why not join us then?