Nick Freer comment: EIE, entrepreneurs, and exceptional start-ups

This week, EIE19 takes place in Edinburgh for the 11th time.

We know we need to get more of our start-ups in Scotland to scale-up status, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
We know we need to get more of our start-ups in Scotland to scale-up status, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

Every year for more than a decade, Informatics Ventures has selected 60 of Scotland’s most promising early-stage technology companies to pitch to investors for seed to series A funding. Down the years, investors from Scotland, London and the rest of the world have had the opportunity to meet Scottish tech success stories like FanDuel, PureLiFi and Two Big Ears in their relative infancy.

As Skyscanner’s former chief financial officer and current senior vice president of growth, Shane Corstorphine wrote in a recent blog, “If you’re thinking of founding a start-up, fundraising is likely to be very near the top of your to-do list.” Having been fortunate enough to advise Skyscanner’s leadership team through its scale-up and funding phases, today’s aspiring Scottish start-ups would be well advised to study his guidelines around how crucial it is “to understand the funding landscape in order to identify the types of investors that match the maturity of your business”.

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Skyscanner is one of the few Scottish technology start-ups not to have gone through Informatics Ventures’ EIE programme, speaking volumes to how integral the support programme for Scotland’s technology entrepreneurs has been during its time. In 2019, we have a string of other prominent players supporting our tech scene and there are now other well-established industry events like Turing Fest and FutureX’s Startup Summit, but back in the day EIE really was the only show in town.

Perhaps most refreshing, the long-serving team of Colin Adams, Gordon Stuart (both recently retired), Steve Ewing, Danny Helson and Ronnie Johnston has always left its ego at the door and has been 100 per cent about the cohort of companies and their founders. As an adviser, it’s always nice to work with good people who show humility at every turn, and Informatics Ventures encapsulates these characteristics in spades.

Interviewed last year, FanDuel co-founder Lesley Eccles identified EIE as “an important part of our early journey, to be able to grow our investor base outside of Scotland.” Of course, getting our tech start-ups onto the radar of investors in London and further afield continues to be a significant hurdle. Earlier this month, in a similar vein, I wrote about ADV, an early-stage venture capitalist that focuses on areas outside London, that has actively encouraged heavyweight funds like Legal & General to invest in Scottish tech.

Getting the media outside Scotland to cover the Scottish tech ecosystem can pose a not-too-dissimilar challenge. The media and investment community have something of a symbiotic relationship in that investors will pick up and act on press coverage. Advising the likes of Skyscanner, Blackcircles, CodeBase, PureLiFi, Administrate, Care Sourcer, Informatics Ventures and others has allowed me to open strong lines of communication with London-based journalists who, on an occasional basis, decide (often after some mild persuasion) to report on what is going on in what is still considered to be a satellite tech hub. We know we need to get more of our start-ups in Scotland to what can accurately be described as scale-up status. As former Skyscanner director Richard Lennox wrote in this column a couple of weeks back, “We have proven experience of growing globally successful tech businesses, but the biggest challenge is whether we have the depth of talent pool to accelerate more such organisations in the near term.”

While I wouldn’t want to publicly name them at this point in time, I am currently advising at least three start-ups who genuinely look like they could achieve significant scale-up success. If you want a clue to their identities, keep an eye out for some of the high-quality executives with track records of scaling tech companies who are set to be hired by this clutch of Scottish start-ups over the next few weeks.

Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners