How Edinburgh is staking its claim to be the UK's first choice city for start-ups

The Scottish capital has morphed into the second strongest tech hub in the UK

Start-ups are flocking to Edinburgh, inspired by success stories and strong local support
Start-ups are flocking to Edinburgh, inspired by success stories and strong local support

Edinburgh has long been associated with history and tradition, but a steady stream of investment pouring into the city’s digital technology services has positioned it firmly at the forefront of the digital future.

International giants and local start-ups alike have realised there’s more to Auld Reekie than Georgian architecture, and are choosing the city as their base. The city secured £159 million of investment in 2016, more than any other tech cluster outside London, according to Tech City UK’s 2017 Tech Nation Report.

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That translates to 25,000 people working in the digital sector within Edinburgh, with some 360 start-up digital companies launched there every year.

Those start-ups will be working to emulate the success of flight comparison website Skyscanner, one of the city’s most famous success stories. Launching in Edinburgh, Skyscanner has achieved the elusive “unicorn” status: that is, a tech business valued at more than $US 1 billion. The web giant was sold last year to Chinese rival Ctrip for £1.4 billion.

And while Skyscanner’s success stands out among the tech industry, it’s just one of many thriving start-ups that helped earn Edinburgh the title of “Entrepreneurial City of the Year” at last year’s Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

The city stands out thanks to the continued growth of businesses like FreeAgent, which provides online accounting packages for small business and small traders and raised £11 million last year by joining the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market. It joins the ranks of fellow Edinburgh-based technology companies IndigoVision and Craneware, both of which have floated.

That home-grown talent has been joined by major international players who have based themselves in the city over the years. Online retailer Amazon opened its first development centre outside North America in Edinburgh, Dell located network security services there, and Toshiba Medical Visualisation Systems set up shop at Voxar from Barco.

But why? What is it that’s attracting business behemoths and digitech start-ups alike to Edinburgh? For a start, the city is has an unusually high number of facilities designed to grow and sustain businesses, particularly within a digital market. These include:

· The UK’s largest tech incubator, Codebase.

· Entrepreneurial Spark, the world’s largest free business accelerator programme, which has a “hatchery” at Royal Bank of Scotland’s global head office in Gogarburn.

· Multiple workspaces, including Creative Exchange, Melting Pot and Techcube.

· A digitech ecosystem, including investors such as Par Equity, Pentech Ventures, Scottish Equity Partners, and technology accelerator progamme Informatics Ventures

· Events such as Engage Invest Exploit (EIE), which brings together companies and investors in both Edinburgh and London

Those facilities pair well with the wealth of talented graduates emerging from the city’s universities. According the 2014 Research Evaluation Framework, the University of Edinburgh has produced more world-leading research than any other UK university computing department. Edinburgh Napier University is feted for its expertise in cyber security, while Heriot-Watt University has a strong focus on research, particularly into interactive systems.

Which isn’t to say the tech world is a young person’s game: plenty of people who have established careers in other industries have recognised that entering the digital sector is a savvy business move. To assist with this, Edinburgh hosts the first CodeClan digital skills and coding academy, which enables people to learn computer coding and retrain for a career in the digital sector.

Underpinning all of this, and arguably at the heart of Edinburgh’s burgeoning tech hub ecosystem, is the international arm of Scotland’s enterprise agencies,Scottish Development International (SDI). They offer support to potential investors, by way of advice, introduction and, when appropriate, grant funding.

Get in touch with SDI to learn how they can help you set up a project in Scotland.