It’s boom time for Scottish tech start-ups - Nick Freer

The year 2021 saw a record level of investment into Scotland’s technology start-up and scale-up companies, with the total amount estimated to be in the region of £650 million. The upward curve is indicative of global trends, with investors stepping up their investments into innovative tech during pandemic times.

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

While the country’s earlier stage startups still rely heavily on the Scottish bedrock of angel syndicates, private investors, and Scottish Enterprise support to fuel their rocket ships, increasingly we are seeing investors outside Scotland invest in our most promising fast-growth companies.

As we develop a reputation for being a bona fide startup nation, arguably with Edinburgh at its epicentre, it is also important that we move past the narrative of the tech groups that earned us our spurs - Skyscanner and FanDuel.

While both remain integral to our technology ecosystem, years on from each company achieving an exit - Skyscanner was acquired by Ctrip in 2016, and FanDuel merged with Paddy Power Betfair in 2018 - some wonder when Scotland will start to produce more tech companies valued in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

Nick Freer Picture by Stewart Attwood

Encouragingly, there are signs that our ability to build tech businesses at this kind of scale will be more than a flash in the pan. Last October, digital health startup Current Health was acquired by US consumer electronics retailer Best Buy for $400 million. Edinburgh-based investment firm Par Equity led the original seed investment into Current Health, initially branded Snap40, a press announcement we handled for the Chris McCann-led healthcare startup in 2016.

With an eye on the potential for Scotland’s burgeoning healthtech sector, Par Equity plans to invest around 20 per cent of its overall funding of approximately £25 million this year into digital health technologies, evidence of the potential for Scotland’s life sciences and health tech sectors.

One investment announcement we handled this week was for Clare Wareing-founded Cumulus Oncology, Europe’s first oncology biotech accelerator, which secured a £5.6 million raise led by St Andrews-based investment firm Eos Advisory. Now chaired by GlobalScot and GlaxoSmithKline veteran Dr Russell Grieg, Cumulus definitely sits in the ‘one to watch’ category.

Research group Beauhurst recently ranked Edinburgh as the UK’s top innovation city, albeit some way behind number one ranked London. The University of Edinburgh’s informatics school was referenced as one of the central building blocks of of the city’s tech ecosystem, with world-leading expertise in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and data.

One of the locally based companies featuring at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week is Net AI, a University of Edinburgh spin-out developing artificial intelligence to improve efficiencies for 5G network providers.

Hopefully, Net AI’s CEO and founder Paul Patras and team can create a bit of buzz in Barcelona and get onto the radar of some of the right people in the right places.

Net AI was one the companies selected for last year’s EIE21 investor readiness programme, run out of the Bayes Centre at Edinburgh University, and with the new EIE22 cohort of startups soon to be announced, it will be interesting to see the next wave of bright young startup stars emerge from the Scottish firmament.

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

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