Tech hub aims to create industry to rival North Sea

TECHNOLOGY incubator CodeBase is set on a massive expansion across Scotland, but what is it and could it really be a future industry to rival the North Sea?

JAMIE Coleman is plotting. The managing director of tech incubator CodeBase has a lot up his sleeve – and a busy few months ahead of him.

He is on the cusp of announcing something “spectacular” in terms of development at the company’s Edinburgh headquarters, a former brutalist edifice in Lady Lawson Street that once housed government agencies, which Coleman has been renovating bit by bit.

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He is also networking internationally in a bid to bring major international tech players to Scotland to mentor the 60-plus companies he nurtures at CodeBase, which range from gaming firms to medical companies to security providers.

Most significantly, he is actively pursuing potential sites in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee in a major Scotland-wide expansion of CodeBase, which could take place before the end of the year.

“Our next expansion is going to produce quite spectacular results,” he says. “We are going to be able to do a lot more with a new space to work with companies and also have more companies to come in and work with us.”

Coleman, who worked in life sciences and drug discovery before launching TechCube – his predecessor to CodeBase, which is still based at the city’s Summerhall complex – claims he has an eye for spotting potential in a company, “weeding out” ones which he knows are not going to work.

As well as providing office accommodation, mentoring, networking and events to teach the nuts and bolts of running a successful business, he has, most importantly, managed to create a buzz around Edinburgh’s – and Scotland’s – tech sector.

CodeBase - Edinburgh
CodeBase - Edinburgh
CodeBase - Edinburgh

The renovated space will mainly, he says, be used to host events that will help tech companies grow, nine months after CodeBase announced a partnership with FTSE 100 firm Capita, which was set to provide an undisclosed investment to help it expand. There will also be additional office space in the next phase.

“It is like playing office Tetris,” he says.

“We want the ability to have more events, but what we also want is to allow companies to expand.”

Some of CodeBase’s tenants have grown spectacularly in recent months, such as training provider software firm Administrate, which employed just 15 people in January and has more than doubled that to 32 today.

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Coleman remains tight-lipped about specifics, but is confident the company will have satellite offices up and running in other Scottish cities within months.

“That would be a nice round-off to the year if we could announce this by then,” he says.

“I want to do it as quickly as I possibly can. Edinburgh is the mothership, but we would like to have a presence elsewhere to tap into the exciting companies that are coming out of other Scottish cities.

“This isn’t about the property. The point is that it is talent-spotting. It is the ability to bring this many companies together to work and learn with us.”

Coleman, who looks to Edinburgh-based travel search company Skyscanner as a prime example of a successful tech firm, insists that he wants to create “billion-dollar” companies. He is excited about a “hackathon” taking place in Skyscanner’s offices, which his tenant Make It Social is partnering.

“They take 48 hours to get a whole bunch of developers in a room and give them access to data and see what they can do,” he says.

He believes the potential of start-up firms is enormous.

“I am not interested in SME levels of growth,” he says. “I am interested in building billion-dollar tech companies.

“If oil is running out, we need something else in Scotland, and what we have is brain power. We have got talent and I want to vacuum all that talent. I want to bring in investors and also talent from all around the world to help people make the most of what we have got.”

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CodeBase, which has tripled in size since its launch 18 months ago and is in line to have quadrupled in the near future, now houses 62 companies, employing 400 staff. CodeBase itself, which is the largest tech incubator in the UK, employs a total of six staff, including Coleman himself.

However, many of CodeBase’s most successful companies are virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic, with the vast majority of their business coming from North America.

TV Squared, which Coleman describes as “an absolute rocket ship”, delivers TV analytics to advertisers. It is, he says, huge in the US but is just beginning to scratch the surface of the British market.

Administrate is similarly taking off across the Atlantic, while RelayMed, which provides a cloud for electronic healthcare records, is used by hospitals and medics in the US, but very little here.

Coleman believes that at base, all business are – or should be – tech companies.

“There are companies who might think they are in a 
certain sector, but to me, it is digital that matters, it is digital going through everything,” he says.

“I was at a building site the other day and the builders were holding iPads looking at what bricks were going to come in next. It is everywhere.”

However, he wants to harness Scotland’s creative and artistic potential to make Scotland’s tech aesthetically pleasing – and easy to use.

“We have amazing artistic talent,” he says.

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“And if we do it right, with tech, it could have huge potential. Scotland could be the future of this.”