Start-ups work to clean up at EIE and elsewhere - comment
Fifty start-ups pitched for seed to series A funding of up to £5 million – and it’s always a highlight of Scotland’s tech calendar to see so many exciting early-stage technology companies in one place.
Ethical data was a common theme, as marked out by Shannon Vallor, senior Baillie Gifford executive and director of the Centre for Technomoral Futures at the Edinburgh Futures Institute. While there wasn’t an official “pitch of the day” award this year, my pick went to Andrew Duncan of Soar, a Scottish fintech that works closely with credit unions and other not-for-profit banks to help deliver digital products. For me, next on the podium was hotel app start-up Criton’s CEO and founder Julie Grieve, followed by sensor technology start-up Beringar’s co-founder Mark Sorsa-Leslie.
Start-up founders pitched technology solutions ranging from robots improving the cultivation of strawberry crops to a platform enabling last mile access to life-saving vaccines for children in developing countries. The fintech sector was well represented including Melbourne-headquartered Gobbill, which develops cybersecurity products and is looking to relocate some of its operations to Scotland, and mobile authentication start-up PolyDigi Tech, which recently relocated its global headquarters from Hong Kong to Edinburgh.
Internationalisation was another main theme at EIE20, with online “pavilions” dedicated to Germany, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. Keynote speaker Lord Bilimoria, Cobra Beer founder and president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), was a highlight on the day and his talk created a lot of buzz on EIE’s conference chat channel.
Lord Bilimoria recounted how he had arrived in the UK from India as a 19-year-old before going on to found Cobra Beer during recessionary times. “Entrepreneurship was looked down upon at that time”, said the CBI president. “Now entrepreneurs are celebrated. Our country is at a crossroads and we must innovate our way out of this,” he added, as he described how Covid-19 “came out of nowhere” and “reverberated through supply chains”. The Cobra founder revealed that his own beer business lost more than two-thirds of its sales following lockdown with only supermarket sales keeping the wheels turning.
Bilimoria, who is also the Chancellor at the University of Birmingham, praised the UK’s university sector – “I am passionate about our universities, they are the best in the world next to the United States” – and picked out the University of Edinburgh for its record in research and development and spin-out companies, “81 per cent of which still exist”, and the city’s reputation as a leading European data hub.
I really enjoyed EIE this time around. Unlike previous years, I spent most of it in loungewear, made hot beverages for myself, answered the front door for deliveries on a couple of occasions and made sure the kids didn’t trip over my laptop lead when they got back from school. A brave new world I guess, or something like that.
One of my less impressive lockdown stories (there are quite a few to pick from) involves a resident pair of wood pigeons who spent weeks nesting, with associated droppings, directly above our parked and very stationary car. I should have moved the family wagon and my excuse as to the state it ended up in (just think of Bass Rock off North Berwick if you can’t imagine the scene) centres on a lack of free parking spaces because no-one was out on the roads combined with a more general streak of personal laziness.
Anyway, I had the pleasure of meeting a young founder last week who has just secured one of the top Scottish Edge awards for his car valet start-up and it turned out that one of his franchisee operators had been the guy we got to sort out the embarrassing wood pigeon problem post-lockdown in July. Talk about customer service, Vidmantis spent five hours completing what can’t have been a pleasant job.
Founder Sam Brennan has a whiff of Blackcircles.com founder Mike Welch about him, having developed a so-called “car care-as-a-service” technology platform to create a new digital marketplace, and his Fresh Car Valet start-up is definitely one to watch.
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