Comment: Celebrating ten years of Scotland’s top tech event

Dr Steve Ewing, director of operations, Informatics Ventures. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Dr Steve Ewing, director of operations, Informatics Ventures. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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It’s now ten years and counting for Engage Invest Exploit, Scotland’s largest tech investor event, and the Informatics Ventures team and I are filled with enormous excitement (alongside a few of the usual nerves) ahead of EIE18 at the University of Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall this Thursday.

The EIE investor readiness programme runs throughout the year and this week’s gathering is undoubtedly the culmination of our year’s work. EIE has been a springboard to over £550 million of follow-on funding and we’ve had some amazing companies come through the doors – FanDuel, Celtic Renewables, Mallzee, Two Big Ears, mLed, ZoneFox and pureLiFi to name just a few.

The very first EIE took place in the Informatics Ventures office on the 8th floor of Appleton Tower in the University of Edinburgh, an office notable for its outstanding views of the city and a floor we shared with FanDuel’s founders in the early days of a venture that went on to crack the US market and become Scotland’s very first billion-dollar valued tech start-up, or so-called unicorn.

So it’s fitting that we have Nigel and Lesley Eccles, together with fellow FanDuel co-founder Rob Jones, addressing EIE18 as keynote speakers this week. When it comes to building a team, a product, securing investment and scaling a business from Scotland, they don’t come much better than Nigel, Lesley and Rob. FanDuel, the product, was showcased at EIE back in 2010, a year after the company was founded, and those in attendance will get to hear about the company’s incredible journey.

Perhaps this year’s cohort of early stage technology businesses will provide Scotland’s next big tech success story, who knows maybe even one of those rarified unicorns. Companies operating in digital health, AI and data science are more prevalent in this year’s group than ever before, something borne out in the Scottish Startup Survey findings we release this week. The survey also reveals the emergence of more data-driven start-ups.

Scotland’s enterprise agencies and corporate scene help make EIE possible. Scottish Enterprise, the University of Edinburgh itself and its School of Informatics, The Data Lab, Scottish Equity Partners, Royal Bank of Scotland, Cazenove Capital, Johnston Carmichael, MBM Commercial, LINC Scotland, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, TalentSpark and Marks & Clerk deserve special mention here.

A word too about our team. It’s a small team, most of us have been here since the start and have stuck around for a decade. It’s a team that strives to make a difference and play a part in Scotland’s evolving tech ecosystem. We get to support so many of Scotland’s tech founders, often when their ventures are in a fledging state and before they become household names like FanDuel or Skyscanner.

It is a great privilege and a great responsibility. If ten years of Informatics Ventures and EIE has taught us anything, it is how difficult it can be to turn a tech start-up into a success story. The statistics show that there will be more failures than successes and, for that very reason, our most promising early stage technology companies need all the support they can get from across the ecosystem.

Once you’ve got the team, a product that you can market and a plan to get it away, you then need investors to help you realise your ambitions. Scotland is blessed with a system of government funding seen nowhere else on the planet, an angel network as sophisticated as it gets and a handful of venture capitalists who are rated highly in European terms.

In 2018 more than ever before, our brightest young tech stars must also look outside Scotland for investors who can help to fuel their growth. EIE brings investors from Scotland, London and almost every corner of the world together with our best start-up talent and we wish all our companies the very best of as they prepare to make the big pitch this week.

- Dr Steve Ewing, director of operations, Informatics Ventures