Glasgow tech start-ups cook up a storm at RookieOven

Overlooking a still working shipyard, the Fairfield offices were abandoned by operators in 2001 and sat derelict for years.

RookieOven, based at the former Fairfields shipyard offices, is home to some of Glasgow's newest tech businesses. Picture: John Devlin

The Grade-A listed structure fell into such serious disrepair that it was placed on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register.

But ten years later, the location has been given new lease of life and is once again at the heart of Scottish enterprise as the home of RookieOven, a community for tech business start-ups.

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After his initial business start-up failed, RookieOven founder Michael Hayes reached out online and was met by various others who were in need of support to get their tech business off the ground. After numerous meetings, the group found the perfect home which enables them to host meet-ups, streams and hackathons for the Scotland’s future tech businesses.

RookieOven founder Michael Hayes. Picture: John Devlin

“There’s lots of reasons why the business didn’t work out but I felt a big hindrance was a lack of community – having like minded people you trust for advice and support, casual interaction with experienced founders that could give an opinion or two,” Hayes explains.

“There was no clear way to grow a professional network in tech so I sent out a few tweets asking if anyone would fancy meeting for a beer and pizza to talk tech and we had 30 people show up on the first night.”

From there, the Rookie community developed so much that it became clear it needed a physical space. The venture had no financial backing and was achieved purely through grassroots support, passion and “a tonne of hard work”.

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Rookie Oven is a start-up tech hub. Picture: John Devlin

RookieOven’s first co-working space was opened in February last year in the same location as Fairfield shipyard offices were in 1890. Its emergence is symbolic of the transformation Glasgow has undergone from industrial powerhouse to leading digital technology hub.

“It was really the Silicon Valley of its day – producing the biggest and fastest ships in the world at the cutting edge of technology,” Hayes says.

“It was world renowned as a centre of engineering excellence.

“The building was in a state of disrepair when Govan Workspace took it over in 2009 but over the course of six years they restored it to be high end office space.

RookieOven founder Michael Hayes. Picture: John Devlin

“Working alongside RookieOven, Govan Workspace have a vision of returning the reputation of engineering excellence to Fairfield, Govan and Glasgow.”

Now approaching its fifth birthday, RookieOven is home to 11 digital companies.

Glasgow currently features at number eight on Tech Nation list, five places behind Edinburgh, with an estimated 26,350 tech economy jobs at an average digital salary of more than £46,850.

The city’s GVA (gross value added) was estimated at £480m – a rise of 45 per cent between 2010 and 2014. Despite lagging behind Edinburgh, there’s a feeling amongst those at the forefront of the industry that Glasgow will emerge from the city’s industrial past into a flourishing digital future.

Rookie Oven is a start-up tech hub. Picture: John Devlin

“Edinburgh has a more mature community with hubs like CodeBase and TechCube well established and the success stories of Fanduel and Skyscanner,” Hayes says.

“But Glasgow has a thriving tech scene too. STV, BBC and Arnold Clark all house large development teams in Glasgow and are producing products used by millions of people. We have companies showing impressive growth such as Streamba, Adimo and School Cloud Systems.

“Glasgow is well placed, we have a low cost of living, low cost of rent and a great talent pool thanks to Glasgow University, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian and the world renowned Art School. Going forward, we need to retain talent produced here.

“To establish a modern day start-ups, all that’s required is a laptop, an idea and a space. In life it’s not what you know, but who you know.

“Having an open, collaborative culture like the one in RookieOven means businesses provide a support network to each other and improve our chances of success.”

Companies based at RookieOven include Find a Player which gives people the opportunity to engage in sports by finding teams and leagues in their area, Skipper which provides a means of transport for island communities such as the Bahamas, and Insurance by Jack which sells personalised business insurance to freelancers.

Find a Player

John Hamelink, CTO

Find a Player gives people the opportuinity to engage in team sports by finding teams and leagues in their area.

John says: “It helps you organise games by giving you a system to find out quickly who can make a game and who can’t, and it helps you fill in gaps by searching for people who want to play.”

Since securing a desk at RookieOven, the team have been able to benefit from a quiet space to work and have even received a visit from Sir Alex Ferguson. However, established a tech business in the city has brought with it many obstacles.

“We’re adapting to the new world”, John explains. “That’s not to say Glasgow doesn’t have its challenges. The brain drain is a real problem for allowing fledgling businesses to grow.

“There’s a gap in investment between the Seed and Series A stages that is causing some businesses a lot of pain. There are lots of “entrepreneurial” spaces, but not much focussed on tech businesses which have unique needs. But I believe Glasgow has the tenacity and grit to push past these issues.”


Aaron Bassett, Founder

Skipper provides a means of transport for island communities such as the Bahamas.

“There are 700 islands and cays in the Bahamas, only a handful of which have regular transport links” Aaron explains. “If you want to get to any of the outer islands you have to know someone who owns a boat or hire a very expensive charter. But everyday smaller vessels sail between these islands.

“On many of these short journeys the boats are not at full occupancy. We provide a platform for the ship Captains to rent this spare space on the routes they’re already sailing to people wishing to travel between the islands.”

During its startup process, Skipper hasn’t received any outside funding and is kept afloat with contracting work.

Being part of RookieOven has helped Aaron find new contracts and clients. He says: “Although we all may work in similar fields we’re not in competition. There’s plenty of work for the right developers in Glasgow so we will end up referring projects we think are a good fit to other developers within RookieOven quite often.”

The development of the likes of Skyscanner and Fanduel have opened many people’s eyes to the potential talent in Glasgow’s tech community.

“One of the major hurdles we still need to overcome in Glasgow to really establish it as a global technology leader is access to investment. UK investors as a whole are seen as being more risk averse than their American counterparts, and access to investment outside of London is nigh impossible.

“Because of this we’re seeing many talented developers moving to America to launch their startups. We need to halt this brain drain and the only way to do so is to ensure Glasgow provides the same opportunities to pre-revenue start ups as we see in silicon valley.”

Insurance by Jack

Ashley Baxter, Founder

Insurance by Jack sells personalised business insurance to freelancers.

“I wanted to create an insurer with design at its core”, Ashley says. “One that isn’t afraid of current technology and has more of a personable feel. Less jargon, more user friendly.”

RookieOven has a strong presence online and connects with the tech community online, through blogs and in social gatherings. Ashley got involved after reading a blog published by Michael Hayes.

“It excited me, because this idea had also been circling in my head. I immediately reached out to Michael and asked how I could help. I’ve been a part of the RookieOven space since its opening.

“Now I have like-minded individuals to keep me company, it makes the process of building a business as a solo founder a lot less lonely. I feel more motivated getting out of the house and working from a dedicated space, and hearing of everyone’s successes and challenges they’re experiencing.”

“We’re seeing a lot of varied meet-ups and events happening at RookieOven, but as is the case with anything, these things take time to develop. It won’t happen overnight, but I think RookieOven and other tech-focused hubs will really help the Glasgow tech community feel more unified.”