IoT is a big cog in the wheel of Scotland’s future economy - Nick Freer

I first met Professor Harald Haas in 2013, when he was chair of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh and co-founder and chief science officer at one of the university’s spin-out companies, PureVLC, which was soon after rebranded as PureLiFi.
Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer ConsultancyNick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer Consultancy
Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer Consultancy

Haas has been credited with being the so-called “father of LiFi”, an emerging technology at the time which essentially turns standard light fittings into wireless data transmitters as an alternative to traditional WiFi.

I was brought in to advise the company by its lead investor as it went through a senior management reshuffle, while laying the ground for a transition from a R&D-focused venture to a commercially-minded business.

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I had heard of the term the ‘Internet of Things’ at the time, but it was Haas that explained it to me in a way where I could really understand the translation of the technology to industrial and domestic applications.

We were preparing for an interview with a global business publication, and by chance, in our preparation for the interview, I teased out an interesting story from Harald. While Alexander Graham Bell is famed for inventing the telephone, at one point the Scottish scientist believed his ‘photophone’, with a signal sent by a beam of sunlight as opposed to a wire, was going to be his greatest achievement. Alas, it turned out that Scotland’s meteorology was always going to be a hindrance for a technology relying on sunshine.

While our Internet of Things (IoT) scene was very much in its nascent phase in 2013, fast forward a decade and, while PureLiFi is now venture capital-backed and winning commercial contracts worldwide, there have been interesting developments in the space which point to IoT being an important cog in the wheel of Scotland’s future economy.

In June last year, an old school friend who is a director at accountancy firm Anderson Anderson Brown (AAB) put me in touch with Paul Wilson, who was set to launch Scotland’s first IoT accelerator programme. The Smart Things Accelerator Centre, STAC for short, opened its doors at Skypark in Glasgow last August and in under a year has made incredible strides. More than that, it’s the ambition of Wilson and the programme that deserves most attention.

While local firms like AAB and law firm Burness Paull, who both boast strong tech credentials, in place as sponsors and supporters of STAC, the global perspective engendered by Paul Wilson and his team is best illustrated with international corporate giants like Intel and Twilio also backing the IoT accelerator.

This week, Scottish Enterprise committed to the long-term support of STAC, with a focus on funding and resourcing the growing number of early stage companies being supported by STAC - now up above 20.

Why is this initiative so important? The answer probably comes best from STAC CEO Paul Wilson’s own words on the occasion of the Scottish Enterprise strategic partnership announcement we handled this week:

“Through STAC supported companies we will retain Scottish product development talent, who today almost exclusively study here, but then leave Scotland to take jobs elsewhere either in the UK or internationally.”

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

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