Nurturing Scotland's tech start-ups is a virtuous circle for us all - Turing Fest's Brian Corcoran

Its increasingly clear that tech will be at the heart of the future of the Scottish economy, says Corcoran. Picture: Contributed
Its increasingly clear that tech will be at the heart of the future of the Scottish economy, says Corcoran. Picture: Contributed
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Next week, on 28 November, the Turing Fest team will stage the second annual Scottish Tech Startups Awards in Edinburgh. After recently unveiling the finalists for the awards, it is clear that in 2019 we’re seeing a continuation of an encouraging trend in Scotland’s technology economy: Scottish founders and their teams are building ever stronger and more ambitious businesses that can generate huge economic impact.

There are many awards ceremonies on the business calendar, but this is the only one by and for the start-up community; for those who dream of building the next Skyscanner or FreeAgent. Like Turing Fest, the Startup Awards are an investment in developing a community that will benefit all of us, and we’re expecting more than 600 people to join us at The Jam House.

Tech ecosystems are collective organisms that are in effect start-ups themselves, where the strength of the community is a key determinant of success. It takes time and effort to cultivate, but a strong start-up community can better attract and retain skilled people and new capital, develop a self-perpetuating skills funnel, and nurture entrepreneurial “folk wisdom”. Everyone in Scottish tech will benefit from investing in and nurturing the national start-up community.

Since coming to Scotland to build my first software start-up in 2010, I’ve watched its tech economy grow in leaps and bounds. There is still much to do if we are to truly become a global tech hub, but we’re seeing more Scottish businesses reach the milestones that create a virtuous circle: talent and capital returning to the ecosystem to launch new ventures, ambition skyrocketing and learning cycles shortening.

Scotland's maturing tech ecosystem

It’s increasingly clear that technology will be at the heart of the future of the Scottish economy. There is much work to be done — attracting and retaining technical and leadership talent in Scotland, ensuring access to the right types of investors, better connecting with other ecosystems, and building our collective understanding of how to scale. This will enable the tech sector to drive growth in Scotland’s economy.

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Since last year’s awards, we have seen Scotland’s tech ecosystem continue to mature. Tech leaders with hard-won experience scaling have left later-stage tech companies like Skyscanner, FanDuel and FreeAgent to join earlier-stage firms like Care Sourcer, Current Health, Airts and TravelNest. The currency of our fintech sector has risen, healthtech is in great shape and mobile technology is moving fast.

Leaders and feeders

US entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brad Feld developed the Boulder Thesis — named for the tech community he helped forge in Boulder, Colorado, that in spite of a small population has become a leading US start-up hubs. The thesis shows how tech success can be built far from Silicon Valley.

Feld emphasises the roles of “leaders” and “feeders”. Crucially, leaders must be entrepreneurs — who demonstrate long-term commitment, remain actively involved and put the ecosystem ahead of short-term interest. Our own leaders in Scotland are people like Gareth Williams, Mark Logan and Carolyn Jameson — all from Skyscanner alone.

Feeders are the other actors in the ecosystem that, though not company builders, play a significant role: government, universities, investors, mentors, incubators, accelerators, service providers and corporates. Again, we have some of these building blocks — the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, CodeBase, CodeClan and Silicon Valley Bank. The core philosophy of the Boulder Thesis centres on giving before you receive and thinking about network above hierarchy.

Chris McCann, founder of one of last year’s winners Current Health spells it out like this: “Everyone in the tech community who can should be at the awards; it is really the only night of the year when we can all come together to celebrate the whole ecosystem.” The more the merrier!

- Brian Corcoran, CEO and co-founder of Turing Fest and the Scottish Tech Startup Awards