Nick Freer comment: Scottish talent draws tech heavyweights like Deliveroo

I was chatting to a tech start-up founder the other day who, after we compared notes on whose golf game was in a more woeful state, reminded me that “you can’t get the product wrong”. “You can get everything else wrong,” he said, “but not the product”.

UserTesting sees Edinburgh, and Scotland, as one of Europes next great tech hubs, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood

I had the good fortune last month to support the chief executive and public relations team of San Francisco-headquartered UserTesting, a Silicon Valley tech company that has developed an on-demand customer insights platform so successful that around half of the world’s leading brands use it, as the company announced that it was opening its first international office, here in Edinburgh.

CEO Andy MacMillan remarked that he and his team see Edinburgh, and Scotland, as one of Europe’s next great tech hubs. In meetings with the press, MacMillan expounded the case for choosing the city ahead of other candidates in the UK and Europe – with the computer sciences talent coming out of multiple Scottish universities and the standard of public-private partnerships among the factors that counted in the Scottish capital’s favour.

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At a small private dinner at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we were joined by senior figures from Scotland’s enterprise agencies, venture capital and university scenes to discuss the opportunities and challenges for Scotland’s tech ecosystem. Over some fine food and a drop or two of the national nectar, we heard spellbinding stories straight from Silicon Valley and by the end of the night the bridge between our ecosystems didn’t seem as big as many of us may have previously thought.

Fast forward a week and my agency handled another announcement that is evidence of how far Edinburgh and Scotland has come in the international tech stakes when a longstanding client, software development studio Cultivate, was acquired by Amazon-backed food delivery scale-up Deliveroo. One of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies, Deliveroo plans to invest in an Edinburgh tech office at CodeBase, with Cultivate’s Andy Robinson heading up the team.

When you consider that cities like London, Amsterdam and Dublin have received a lot more metaphorical love through inward investment by US and European tech giants, it’s great to see Edinburgh getting a slice of the action and I feel privileged to have helped tell the story around these recent developments. Perhaps, we are on the verge of a tipping point. That could be the really exciting bit: if the commitment and ambition shown by UserTesting and Deliveroo to our tech ecosystem leads to a critical mass of international technology companies landing in Scotland.

In turn, large, scaling technology companies would keep more students and graduates in Scotland, while attracting more talent from outside, including Scots who have brain-drained to London because of a lack of quality tech jobs at real volume here. As young people increasingly look for lifestyle and wellbeing over material gain and Edinburgh shoots up the global charts as a desirable place to live and work, I get a strong feeling that things will continue to trend to our advantage.

Industry commentators regularly relay statistics around how rapid technological advances mean that most kids in school today will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist. Having what UserTesting’s Andy MacMillan describes as “one of the next great tech hubs” here in Scotland will mean our future economy will be positioned to support the next generation with highly-skilled jobs. Win-win.

This week I will be handling announcements for Heriot-Watt University around its graduate apprenticeship programme - the largest of its kind in Scotland – and Robotical, a tech start-up who are teaming up with one of Scotland’s top football clubs to teach kids digital skills. Both initiatives represent building blocks that will help to create a world-class entrepreneurial society in Scotland.

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