Steve Ewing: Scots start-ups focus on global growth

Last week at a major awards ceremony in London, Edinburgh beat off competition from London, Cambridge and Manchester to scoop the top prize and the title of UK's Entrepreneurial City of the Year.

Informatics Ventures recently took part in the first EIE mission to Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Picture: Contributed

It’s an accolade that shows how far the city has come as a tech startup hub over the last decade or so.

To be a great entrepreneurial city, you need lots of different cogs to be well-oiled and working towards the same goal: to support and nurture young founders and ventures through the early stages of company life and all the opportunities and challenges along the way. And it’s probably fair to say there are more of the latter than the former.

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The sum of the parts is usually termed as the start-up or tech ecosystem and comprises the start-up companies, support groups including the government and its enterprise agencies, investors and a host of advisers to help lead growing enterprises through the thicket that is trying to grow your company and make an impression in the marketplace.

At Informatics Ventures, we are fortunate to draw on funding and know-how from many of these different parts of the ecosystem – funding that allows us to support our most exciting young companies comes from not only Scottish Enterprise, but also commercial partners like Scottish Equity Partners, Royal Bank of Scotland, Johnston Carmichael, MBM Commercial and Marks & Clerk.

When RocketSpace founder Duncan Logan visited Scotland earlier this month, he highlighted how important advisers like lawyers and accountants – who often get forgotten when people talk about successful tech hubs – are to the success of entrepreneurial centres like Silicon Valley, London or, indeed, Edinburgh.

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It was interesting to hear from Logan, whose tech campus in San Francisco has produced 17 “unicorns” – billion-dollar valued start-ups – how highly he rates the progress China is making when it comes to tech. At a Scottish Enterprise-organised event on scale-ups, Logan said that while Chinese founders used to come to Silicon Valley to learn the ropes around how to start up a tech company and scale it up, the reverse is now the case as US tech founders are going in the opposite direction to see the phenomenal startup activity that is happening on mainland China. RocketSpace itself is opening a number of new operations there in 2017.

In October, our programme manager Danny Helson travelled with Scottish Enterprise and other partner organisations from Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to China for our first EIE mission to Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The trip saw ten of Scotland’s most highly-rated early stage companies meet with Chinese investors and potential partners including Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, China’s largest search engine. The trip builds on this year’s EIE16 in Edinburgh, which saw the largest ever delegation of Chinese investors, including John Zai-led Cocoon Networks, fly into Edinburgh for our annual investor showcase.

Scotland is increasingly looking to promote itself as an attractive location for international investors just as China and Chinese investment has its eye increasingly trained on Scottish tech – that was confirmed in a big way when China’s largest online travel agent bought Skyscanner last week in £1.4 billion deal. As fledgling and scaling companies located here are ever more focused on thinking globally from the get-go, we expect to see this trend translate to further funding rounds, partnerships and deals in the coming months and years.

We are close to selecting our 50-plus Scottish companies who will pitch to UK and international investors next May at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and have lined up Scottish Enterprise chairman Bob Keiller and Sequoia Capital chief Sir Michael Moritz as our keynote speeches for the day. As the head of the world’s most successful venture capital firm, one of Skyscanner’s largest investors and someone who has regularly expounded the rise of China on the global tech scene, we’re very pleased that he will be in a city and country whose own place in the world order of tech is making a steady climb.

• Dr Steve Ewing is director of operations at Informatics Ventures