Gordon Stuart: Selling Scotland's tech scene to the world
EIE16 takes place at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh today and the Informatics Ventures team and I are very proud of how far we've come since the event's inception in 2008.
For some time now EIE has been the largest investor showcase of its kind, bringing Scotland’s top start-ups together with UK and international investors who have the means to help fund the growth of the companies into international successes.
To date, the EIE programme has been a springboard to over £350 million in investment for Scottish start-ups. In 2011, a Scottish co-founder – a female one at that – Lesley Eccles, stood at her company’s stand with a new product to introduce to the investment world. The product was named FanDuel and the company has gone on to be one of Scotland’s most successful tech companies of all time.
If we’ve recognised anything to promise future success in the companies we’ve worked with down the years, it almost always comes down to the people and the product – has the company got the right team developing the right product, a product with the potential to scale and penetrate global markets? There was a time when international investors were concerned about the ability of our start-up companies to scale globally from a base in Scotland, but tech champions like FanDuel and Skyscanner have shown that it most certainly can be done.
In terms of the investors coming to Scotland this week to meet our brightest young start-ups, it’s notable that we have a significant number of Chinese investors in attendance for the first time. Investment groups like London-based Cocoon Networks, which is raising a £500m fund to invest in early-stage European technology companies, is one of the big names we have in town. If we can get the mix of Scottish and UK investment along with international capital, we will see our technology scene take off beyond any of our expectations.
Scottish Equity Partners (SEP), one of our main sponsors, illustrates the importance of having a strong investment spine based in Scotland. SEP’s 2007 investment in Skyscanner helped catapult the travel search site into fast-growing international markets. At the same time, we cannot rely on our Scotland-based investors alone – including our impressive angel investment community and the enterprise agencies – to carry all the load when it comes to supporting our most ambitious tech companies.
It’s important that we work hard to sell our Scottish technology scene – the best of Scottish tech if you like – to external investors and this is something a leading London investment bank will address at the Assembly Rooms today. GP Bullhound has calculated that London-based tech companies gain almost half of overall investment funds against the rest of the UK. As tech hubs grow in cities like Manchester and Bristol, our own cities face increased competition for investment so must keep on top of our game. The signs are looking good for Edinburgh and Scotland but the last thing we can do is rest on our laurels.
Heidi Roizen, a Silicon Valley veteran who counselled tech luminaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, told last year’s conference that she sees Edinburgh starting to show signs of being one of the great tech hubs of the future. Another supporter of all things EIE and a fellow advisory board member at Informatics Ventures, Herman Hauser, says he sees a lot of similarity between the city and Cambridge a number of years ago when the so-called Silicon Fen’s tech cluster began to produce world-beating technology companies.
What is certain is that our fledgling tech entrepreneurs have greater support than they ever have before. Our founders pitching to investors this week have no blueprint for turning their start-ups into billion dollar valuation tech beasts. What they do have is a growing confidence that it can be done and that they now have the chance to meet investors from across the world who, with the right people, product and pitch, are willing to invest in them.
Without doubt there could not be a better time to be a Scottish tech start-up than right now.
• Gordon Stuart is director of operations at EIE organiser Informatics Ventures