Global tech’s ‘best kept secret’ is right here in Scotland – Nick Freer

EIE21, one of Scotland’s top tech conferences which has been connecting startups with investors since 2008, took place last week with 35 companies pitching for investment to investors who were beamed in virtually from across the globe.

Kate Forbes got the conference off to a stirring start
Kate Forbes got the conference off to a stirring start

Kate Forbes MSP, recently appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, and a former digital economy minister, opened proceedings with an address to conference in which she said that “tech is my most exciting portfolio” and that Scotland is “global tech’s best kept secret”.

After a stirring start from Forbes, Scottish Enterprise’s interim CEO Linda Hanna covered growth potential, accessing markets, scaling, and picked out EIE alumnus company Cyan Forensics and ClinSpec Diagnostics as two portfolio companies who are delivering “innovative solutions to global problems” from a base in Scotland.

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Sir Ronald Cohen, chairman of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment, quoted a Harvard Business School report citing 1,800 companies being responsible for around $3 trillion worth of environmental damage. “Something is fundamentally wrong with our system”, said Cohen, adding that, “Adam Smith’s concept of the invisible hand of markets can become the invisible heart of markets” and that “the 2020s will be the decade of the ‘Impact Revolution’”. “Transparency by companies has become a new human right”, said Sir Ronald, “both the good and the harm they create.”

Alex Joss, a key member of the UK team at this year’s COP26, said all businesses now realise the risks of not having their “house in order” when it comes to environmental impact. One of the fancied startups on the day, OnGen, which develops online tools for SMEs to measure their carbon footprint and save energy costs, made a timely pitch not long after Joss’s address, although ultimately the pitch of the day honours went to data protection startup ionbrurst.

Good humoured science commentator Quentin Cooper compered the fireside chat with storied entrepreneur Mike Welch, who got up at the crack of dawn in his sun-soaked office in downtown Miami. Focusing on the arc of Welch’s career, Cooper reminded the online crowd of how Mike went from being an unemployed tyre fitter as a teenager in Liverpool to running one of the world’s largest tyre retailers, US-based Tirebuyer.

Lesley Eccles, HelloRelish founder and previous co-founder of FanDuel, talked about her last appearance at EIE in 2016. “We had just raised $250 million, valuing FanDuel at $1 billion, but we were battling on so many fronts behind the scenes at the time.” Eccles continued: “The number of startup horror stories I know would scare you. How many of us have experienced a two-month runway before you run out of cash, losing employees, a stock market crash when you’re just about to sign a term sheet.” Eccles added: “Post-FanDuel, I spent a lot of time reflecting and processing. What defines success for me? I realised it’s not about making lots of money, not even about building a huge company, it’s about relationships in this short life.”

Wellbeing and mental health in 'startup world' is one of the themes that has been examined in this year’s EIE Scottish Startup Survey, the findings of which are released next week.

Nick Freer is the founding director of corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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