As Scotland’s biggest tech incubator celebrates it’s second birthday, chief executive, Jamie Coleman talks Brexit, growing more billion dollar companies in Scotland and bouncer duties.
Jamie Coleman has much to celebrate.
The chief executive and co-founder of Codebase in Edinburgh, and the staff of the 80 start-ups that now call the tech hub home are gearing up to raise a glass (or two) to mark the incubator’s second anniversary.
And there is a great deal for the technology guru to toast.
Since that auspicious day in March 2014 when Alex Salmond opened the doors, Codebase have enjoyed exponential growth becoming one of the fastest growing technology incubators in Europe.
In the last year alone, 160 new jobs have been created as many of the cutting-edge firms dwelling within the Capitals cavernous Argyle House - where Codebase is based - have continued to expand. Now 500 of some of Scotland’s best and brightest work within its walls.
Overseeing it all from up-high in his Edinburgh Castle-facing office is the amiable, Tweed-loving, James Bond villain lookalike (his own description): Coleman.
The Scot has driven much of the incubator’s success by constantly thriving to create “entrepreneur density”. More than just another business buzzword, the phrase refers to the importance of keeping Scotland’s technology entrepreneurs in close proximity to one another, allowing for a critical mass of ideas and innovation to gestate within the hub.
This policy of constant collaboration and securing the best people from across the globe is at the core of Coleman’s ethos.
Q: After two years of operations you now have around 500 people working at Codebase now, where are all these entrepreneurs coming from and what is pulling them to Edinburgh?
Jamie Coleman: “We have approaching 50 nationalities now in the building and that’s incredibly important.
“Start ups happen in cities that can attract young developers.
“In the world stakes Edinburgh is a pretty small city with less than half a million people in it, why would anyone want to come here?
[He then looks out of his office window and points to Edinburgh Castle]
“Because the reality is we have an incredible city with amazing culture. Edinburgh is a city that people want to visit in and I will use that if it means we can attract top talent from all over the world to come here.”
Q: In this last year what are some of the major developments that you’ve seen?
JC: “So many.
“The sign of maturity in the Scottish eco-system when Fanduel were able to buy Kotikan is one. To have internal acquisitions happening within Edinburgh’s own tech scene is a really important milestone.
“Outplay games doing the latest angry birds game alongside Rovio was huge jump.
“To watch companies like TV Squared and Administrate turning into real growth companies has been incredible.
“The number of new companies that are coming out now, that are smart and switched on, is amazing. Part of that reason is these new founding teams have already worked with some of the successful, established companies that we have. They’ve learnt their trade and earned their stripes and are much more investable because of it.”
Q: You’ve already mentioned the importance of attracting international talent to Edinburgh, if the UK were to leave the EU in a ‘Brexit’ would this affect you?
JC: “It’s [Brexit] ludicrous.
“It would be so foolish.
“The reality is that Europe is such an important market for us and the business advantage we have of being part of it is huge.
“Do I want to have to move all of my companies here to Dublin? No! I don’t want to do that.
“It would be ludicrously short sighted to think Brexit would be sensible. No question it would be economically horrendous. I think the tech industry could rebound faster than other industries because we deal in global markets but overall it would be the wrong thing to do.”
Q. What role do you think Codebase has played in developing Edinburgh’s reputation as a centre for technology?
JC: “This is the heart of Edinburgh’s tech community.
“I’ve striven to build this place as the community where stuff happens.
“We have to try and keep the bar high in terms of the talent in here because at the end of the day I am looking to attract international investment for these people.
Q: So does that mean that it is tough to get accepted into Codebase?
JC: “Absolutely. Like a bouncer in a nightclub it is easier for me to stop them at the door then chuck them out.
“We have a low attrition rate here because of these stringent door checks.
“We’re only interested in the companies that have the potential for exponential growth and if they don’t have that they will be leaving here.”
Q: Codebase continues to grow, how are you managing to stimulate growth in the companies that are under your roof?
JC: “Peer learning is by far the most important thing.
“Learning from people that actually know what they talk about is key. When people like Gareth Williams (Skyscanner co-founder) or Nigel Eccles (FanDuel co-founder) are on hand to give advice it helps massively.
“There are lots of great businesspeople but it is a different skillset required to build companies on the internet when you can leap from one to a million users in such a short time frame.
“We regularly hold a ‘Chiefs and Founders’ meeting where we get together and talk through problems.
“It’s like group therapy sometimes because this can a tough gig, but the rewards are amazing so having support is important.
“It comes back to entrepreneur density, getting many people who understand this stuff in the same location and creating a network effect,
Q: How can Scotland ensure that it continues to grow its technology industry and compete with other cities like London.
JC: “Skill level and money.
“There is a real skills shortage here which is why quite often we hire people from around the world.
“We need more talent here. We want Scotland to be an open door to amazing people from anywhere on planet earth, it’s massively important. This becomes a political issue but we do anything we can to make Edinburgh attractive.
“We need schools to realise digital is where the world is headed because that is where all the high quality jobs are. The main wage in here is over 50k and many are in their mid 20s.
“So much money is wasted on low quality business support but simple stuff like peer learning is overlooked. Learning from people who have done what your trying to do, rather than some consultant or advisor. We need to foster that support structure.
“There is also chronic lack of venture capital in this country. Tremendous ‘business angel’ network but the reality is there is a lack of that next level of capital.The majority of international venture capitalists are based in London and they believe they see the good stuff within the M25.
“But a recent Tech Nation report showed that 75 per cent of UK digital workers are outside of London.
Q: So what’s in the pipeline for the next year and beyond?
JC: I’m looking to aggressively expand across the whole of the UK.
“I’m looking to drive new venture capital funding into Scottish business and across the rest of the UK.
“Within the next year I want to create the building blocks where over the next five years we can have a minimum of five more billion dollar companies coming out of Edinburgh like Skyscanner and FanDuel.
“It’s utterly achievable.”