Hugh Campbell: Scotland primed to produce next titans of tech

This week, the Northern Tech Awards take place in Edinburgh for the first time. Now in its fifth year, the awards identify the fastest growing and most promising tech companies in the north of England and Scotland. For one night only, their CEOs gather to celebrate success and discuss the challenges and opportunities for their teams in the months ahead.

Hugh Campbell, Managing Partner, GP Bullhound
Hugh Campbell, Managing Partner, GP Bullhound

GP Bullhound is a global technology advisory and investment firm – we have offices in Manchester and across Europe as well as San Francisco, New York and Hong Kong – but two decades in business has taught us that many of the greatest start-up success stories take place away from what might be considered the world’s largest capitals. In the UK context, London-based start-ups continue to receive the lion’s share of venture capital. However, you only need to look at the Scottish scene to see that two of the UK’s most successful start-ups – Skyscanner and FanDuel – launched and then grew their businesses into billion-dollar valued companies from a Scottish base. Craneware, a provider of healthcare software, provides yet more local evidence that it is possible.

Skyscanner co-founder Bonamy Grimes was our keynote address to the awards in Liverpool in 2016 and this year, FanDuel co-founder Rob Jones will be interviewed on stage by the founding editor of Wired. We greatly look forward to hearing Rob tell the fascinating tale of FanDuel’s rise from a small team struggling to gain investor backing in the UK in its early days to a company that went on to conquer the US fantasy sports market. Rob and fellow FanDuel co-founder Nigel Eccles have now founded a new esports venture, Flick, and it will be great to hear about this next chapter.

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The Northern Tech Awards is a not-for-profit event, financed by our firm and a small group of sponsors who share our determination to support entrepreneurship across the north of the country. Glasgow-headquartered VC, Scottish Equity Partners, is one of our main sponsors this year and, of course, SEP is itself a contributing factor to the health of Scotland’s tech scene and was Skyscanner’s first venture capital backer in 2007. The SEP team was also behind Wolfson Electronics, a precursor to a lot of the tech success we see in Scotland today.

This year’s judging panel includes SEP’s partner and co-founder, Stuart Paterson, Scottish entrepreneur Bill Dobbie, Code
Clan CEO Melinda Matthews Clarkson and the widely recognised doyenne of scale-ups, Sherry Coutu CBE. Scaling a technology business is the process which brings the most reward to startup founders, their teams, investors and, ultimately, the economy. I’m sure that many of our Northern Tech stars in Edinburgh on Thursday will make this breakthrough.

Scottish companies ranked in our Tech 100 league table – measured by revenue growth over the last three years – include TVSquared, Outplay Entertainment and Castlight Financial. Of course, there are many promising Scottish tech companies who may not have made this year’s grade but are positioned for success in the future. We know this because we are spending an increasing amount of time in Scotland and we’ve had the good fortune to engage with some of the country’s most talented tech teams. Last year, we advised on one of the largest tech exits of the year when data analytics specialist Aquila Insight was acquired by US marketing group Merkle.

With a strong angel investment network supported by enterprise agencies and a proven track record of building profitable technology companies, Scottish start-ups have the potential to become titans of tech in the global order. Furthermore, with a highly rated School of Informatics that is right up the pecking order when it comes to all things data, AI and machine learning, we believe Scotland has many of the moving parts required to produce tech stars of the future.

Hugh Campbell is managing partner at GP Bullhound