Scotland’s tech scene helping tackle coronavirus - Nick Freer comment

I was honoured when Heriot-Watt asked me to be interviewed for the university’s inaugural edition of its Entrepreneurial Speaker webinar at the end of April.

Freer has been working with CodeClan boss Melinda Matthews-Clarkson and her team. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
Freer has been working with CodeClan boss Melinda Matthews-Clarkson and her team. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

While I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur, I give myself some credit for being entrepreneurial, and thankfully the main focus of the webinar interview was around best practice PR for spin-outs and start-ups.

Advising technology companies has been a big part of my activity in the decade since I founded my agency. Skyscanner, Blackcircles, PureLiFi and CodeBase were among the clients I advised in the early days and, more recently, in addition to continuing to work with start-ups I’ve also had the privilege to work with global tech players like Deliveroo and San Francisco-headquartered UserTesting.

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Empathy, before tech, will lead our economies out of this - comment
Many people will look back on 2020 as the year they did their most important work, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

Covid-19 has cast a menacing shadow over the business scene and the tech sector has responded better than most. UserTesting’s chief executive Andy MacMillan wrote for The Scotsman recently about how the company’s Human Insight Platform is helping many of the world’s leading brands navigate customer engagement during the health crisis, and earlier this month the press covered Paul Reid-founded Trickle’s announcement of a raft of NHS boards and services now supported by its employee and wellbeing and engagement platform.

Over the last week, we’ve been busy working with Scottish digital agency xDesign and NHS 24’s press team around the announcement of its Covid-19 app launch.

Hats off to xDesign, who volunteered its services to NHS 24, then built the app for iOS and Android in five days. Like many of us, some of the team have partners or family working for the NHS and wanted to do something to make a difference. While it’s hard to truly empathise with what it must be like to be an NHS worker the last couple of months, the stories we hear give us a glimpse of the coal face.

In my own family, my youngest brother, a consultant anaesthetist at NHS Forth Valley in Stirling, is someone close to the fight against coronavirus while my father, a retired doctor, is a medical adviser to one of the UK’s biggest banks and is engaged in daily conference calls with the bank’s crisis-management team.

Undoubtedly, so many people will look back on 2020 as the year when they did their most important work. At least, when the trauma begins to fade.

Collaboration

In an interview last week, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith talked about how digitisation and data have come together more than ever before since the onset of the pandemic.

In addition to data’s “fundamental and indispensable” role in relation to public health, Smith concurred that we wouldn’t have been able to sustain the economy without the latest technologies at hand.

Scotland’s digital skills academy CodeClan has been in the press over the last few days talking about its switch to a virtual classroom model, something I’ve been working on with chief executive Melinda Matthews-Clarkson and her team.

With close to 1,000 CodeClan graduates now working with more than 250 companies – from start-ups to large international corporates – and 100-plus candidates currently engaged in its software and data courses, CodeClan will play an important role in helping Scotland’s economy get through these difficult times.

As a Turing Fest survey recently revealed, Scotland’s start-ups are hurting in the midst of Covid-19, not least around how they continue to fund themselves. It was good news, therefore, to see wearable tech PlayerData get its latest investment round over the line – a start-up we have supported from its early days.

And if you want to read about a bona fide entrepreneur, look into chief executive and co-founder Roy Hotrabhvanon, a former international archer who narrowly missed out on selection for the Rio Olympics in 2016 and began developing prototypes during his time studying informatics in Edinburgh.

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

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