Could Glasgow and Edinburgh share tech crown? - Nick Freer

Last weekend, I wrote about the smoke signals from the west suggesting Glasgow is set to outpace Edinburgh’s growth as a tech hub. I should have known that by going on the record to pit Scotland’s largest cities against each other, there would be a good deal of feedback. I’m pleased to report that there weren’t too many profanities involved.

In Robert Crawford’s book ‘On Glasgow and Edinburgh’, the author writes: “Edinburgh and Glasgow enjoy a famously scratchy relationship. Resembling other intercity rivalries throughout the world, from Madrid to Barcelona, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and Beijing and Shanghai, Scotland’s sparring metropolises just happen to be much smaller and closer together - like two twin stars orbiting a common axis.”

“Yet their size belies their world-historical importance as cultural capitals of the British Empire, and the mere forty miles between their city centres does not diminish their stubbornly individual nature.”

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Cally Russell, founder and CEO of eco startup This is Unfolded says, “It might be wishful thinking, but I would love to see us starting to view the two cities as one ecosystem.” While you can’t really argue with this kind of sentiment, can we really bring our “twin stars” together?

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

In Scotland’s tech ecosystem, there are undoubtedly initiatives taking place that are bringing the geographical spread of talent into one town hall, with organisations like CodeBase, via Techscaler, digital skills academy CodeClan, and Startup Grind Scotland among those leading the pack.

Rochelle Oliver, founder at wealth adviser Welfified, adds Fintech Scotland to the list of collectives that are helping to unify Scotland as a joined-up tech hub, although Oliver would like to see more “meet-ups organised for startups”.

The University of Glasgow’s Executive Director of Innovation, Enterprise and Economic Development, Declan Weldon, says, “What is exciting is Scotland’s high potential to build a world-changing innovation ecosystem given the combined research excellence, supported by Government policy for innovation and entrepreneurship. Collaboration and alignment are key.”

Between 2016 and 2019, University of Edinburgh Business School senior lecturer Dr Ben Spigel, an expert on entrepreneurial ecosystems, interviewed dozens of high-growth entrepreneurs in both cities. Spigel’s research found that Edinburgh’s strength lies in the strong connections between founders at all stages of development, learning from other entrepreneurs on subjects ranging from managing investors, growing pains, and hiring.

“The continued engagement of successful entrepreneurs as investors and mentors is very important”, says Spigel, “and has helped to build a culture of trust and reciprocity.”

On Glasgow, Dr Spigel’s research showed that the city didn’t have the reciprocity evident in Edinburgh, founders weren’t connecting like they do in Scotland’s capital, although he found the strength of Glasgow’s creative talent in the city to be a huge asset. As he puts it, “The ability to integrate design with tech is crucial and will be a source of a lot of innovation and growth”.

So, what does the academic think about Edinburgh and Glasgow being more joined-up as one tech hub? “My research shows that there is a real barrier between the two communities” says Spigel. “That can change”, he continues, “but it’s going to be a slog. Maybe we can all just agree to hang out in Whitburn!”

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

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