Innovation takes centre stage at Edinburgh Festival

Hilary Roberts of Skyscanner speaks at the Turing Festival
Hilary Roberts of Skyscanner speaks at the Turing Festival
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This week the frenetic thrum of activity emanating from the world’s biggest arts event ceased for another year as Edinburgh’s festivals came to a close.

Nestled amid the plethora of theatre and comedy shows was Scotland’s largest tech industry conference: The Turing Festival.

Key figures: John Peebles and Brian Corcoran

Key figures: John Peebles and Brian Corcoran

The event ran over two days (18 - 19 August ), celebrating digital culture and shining a spotlight on the country’s innovative digital scene.

Launched in 2011 and named in honour of Alan Turing – the father of modern computing – the event is able to attract some of the biggest players in the digital economy from the UK and beyond. Speakers have included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, renowned marketing guru Rand Fishkin and Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.

The idea behind the Turing Festival was to create an opportunity for the tech community in Scotland to come together and rub shoulders with people at the top of their game. “The core mission hasn’t changed: it is still about education and connection” explained Turing 2016 director Brian Corcoran.

“Whilst the central mission remains close to its origins, what has evolved is the focus and the scale.

“We have already become the largest business tech conference in the country, but we can do much more. We had 800 people at this year’s event – almost double 2015’s numbers. I believe that we should aim to double that again for 2017.”

It’s no wonder that Mr Corcoran, an accomplished digital marketer, is optimistic for the future.

The Scottish technology sector now boasts two billion-dollar valued companies in Skyscanner and FanDuel, an energised start-up scene, 84,000 employees and there is still much more growing to be done – 81 per cent of tech businesses are expecting sales to increase over the next year.

As the booming technology industry begins to mature there is real confidence from within that the nation is well on it’s way to competing globally. Mr Corcoran added: “The density of decent quality startups has increased, in Edinburgh in particular, international and institutional investors are starting to take notice.

Capital flows from London, Dublin and Berlin are beginning to happen, and the biggest of our digital stars have already shown they can attract the biggest venture capitalists in the world.”

One such star is John Peebles, who heads one of Scotland’s fastest growing businesses Administrate – a sponsor of Turing 2016. Mr Peebles believes events like Turing play an invaluable role promoting innovation within the country and garnering global attention for its digital economy.

“There are a lot of international people bouncing around in the tech industry here,” said American-born Mr Peebles.

“You can come to Scotland, have a fantastic quality of life and get access to people, markets and capital.

“I think the Government is really doing a good job pulling the right levers to make sure that there is support out there for innovators and start-ups. You’ve got initiatives like Scotland CAN DO which hold week long intensive training for entrepreneurs and bring in top speakers from MIT and Harvard. I just don’t know anywhere else in the world that has so many initiatives that are designed to help create jobs and get Scotland moving in a direction that gives us a competitive advantage over other places.”

Planning for next year’s festival is already under way with speakers who missed out this time keen to sign on for 2017. For Scotland’s tech sector the final pieces of the puzzle are almost in place believes Corcoran. “Scottish tech companies can compete with anyone, but only if we have the ambition to do it and the belief that we can do it.

l This article was produced in partnership with the 
Scottish Government’s Innovation, Investment & Industries Division.