CodeBase campus, home of Scottish pixie dust - Nick Freer

On a family break in Sutherland this week, we managed to escape the good weather elsewhere in Scotland in exchange for a wind-ravaged landscape and brooding skies. Assynt and the surrounding region is one of my all-time favourite places come rain or shine, so it was all good.
CodeBase's tech campus in EdinburghCodeBase's tech campus in Edinburgh
CodeBase's tech campus in Edinburgh

My ‘getting away from it all’ moment came when riding white horse waves into a deserted beach, surrounded by a cathedral of heather-covered mountains that stooped down into the sea. I was thankful for every millimetre of thickness in my wetsuit, as a cauldron of freezing cold water erupted and threw me out of the breakers onto the sand. Mother Nature, Scottish style, at its most majestic, and a short-lived moment of serenity in an otherwise hectic life.

One event back in the lowlands that I was sorry to miss, was the ‘Tech Scaler’ reveal announcement by the Scottish Government at Barclays’ Glasgow HQ. Tech campus CodeBase, which originally opened its doors in the heart of Edinburgh back in 2014 and now operates UK-wide, will now lead the development of a network of tech scaler hubs around Scotland - in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Inverness, and Dumfries.

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In spite of our remote location and associated reception issues, I was able to have a few chats with CodeBase CEO Stephen Coleman as he and the team prepared for the media announcement. Without pomp and ceremony, as I said to Stephen, CodeBase has quietly gone about its business over the years, becoming the motherlode of Scotland’s startup scene.

Skyscanner founder Gareth Williams put me in touch with Stephen’s elder brother, Jamie Coleman, almost a decade ago, as Jamie was looking for PR support ahead of CodeBase launching at Argyle House, and in light of the incumbent PR agency, as Jamie put it, “going around our tenant companies, knocking on doors to offer their services.” To put it mildly, he wasn’t pleased, and the PR firm was shown a door of its own.

Over the years, as an agency, we have advised multiple startups headquartered at CodeBase. But I always remembered Jamie’s words, only engaging with startup founders when I was recommended. I think, in part, that was because I recalled Jamie’s former glory as a successful amateur boxer.

On my first meeting with Jamie, as he sat amongst crates of Dewar’s whisky bottles (another story in its own right) at the precursor to CodeBase, he explained his vision to create a “factory in the cloud". “In Scotland, we are used to doing the hard lifting, think of our engineering heritage”, he said, “only now we are building world-class software.”

That vision has been carried forward by Stephen Coleman and his team - CodeBase is all about the education piece, shared learning and insight, mentoring, having a critical mass of startups that grow stronger in no small part because of their proximity and connectivity to each other.

If you’ve ever been in a CodeBase campus, you may even have noticed the pixie dust in the air, an intangible characteristic that is perhaps closer to spirit or soul. It is great news for Scotland that so many of our startups will now get the chance to be coated in this special dusting.

Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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