Heart of Midlothian Innovation Centre leads way - Nick Freer

In a ten-year stint with one of Europe’s top corporate communications firms in London - Maitland, which is now part of the international network AMO - our client roster numbered pre-IPO and stock market-listed companies, global brands and latterly around the time of the much chronicled dot-com period in the late 1990s, technology startups.

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

While Macdonald Hotels and Morrison Construction were among my own Scotland-headquartered clients, I was also a member of small teams of consultants who advised organisations like Deloitte, NatWest, Sainsbury’s, the BBC, Westfield, private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice, the National Exhibition Centre, and a financial technology venture that was acquired by media giant Reuters before the dot-com bubble burst.

Now a decade on from founding my own PR agency based in Edinburgh, the similarity in the business sectors we advise is quite striking. Somewhat crudely, you could describe the client base as ‘old economy’ and ‘new economy’ - so a legal firm or bank being in the former category, and a software company in the latter.

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In 2011, revered American venture capitalist Marc Andreessen penned his now famous “Why Software is Eating the World” op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Fast forward ten years, and the lines are blurred between what is an old or new economy business - we now have online banks, technology platforms allow goods to be delivered to our front door, and smart devices enable manual tasks can be controlled by a mobile app on our phones.

Smart devices are front and centre for one of our newer clients, the Filament STAC, or Smart Things Accelerator Centre, that recently launched from a base in Glasgow. The pioneering industry-government partnership is aimed at producing Scottish Internet of Things (IoT) companies capable of scaling and competing on a global level, with a 3-year target to create more than 25 IoT companies supporting around 750 jobs, reporting revenue in the region of £750 million, and cohort companies raising investment in excess of £100 million.

While Filament STAC is positioned to help create tech entrepreneurs of the future, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Scotland’s most revered tech entrepreneurs a couple of weekends ago when we did a client photo shoot at Heart of Midlothian FC. Heart’s Innovation Centre, the brainchild of Ann Budge, is running one of the digital skills for young people initiatives supported by Digital Xtra Fund.

Dragging our daughter along for the photo shoot, Ann showed us around the ground and kindly offered us tickets to the game later that day. Given our daughter had plans that afternoon, I did a quick offspring swap back at the house so our football-mad 7-year old son could watch his first ever live game. In the taxi back to Tynecastle, I explained to the boy that you don’t always get goals at football matches so not to expect too much.

When Hearts scored in the first five minutes, then added a second after twenty, my son simply looked up at me and shook his head. Fair play.

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

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