Iconic Tontine building reborn as Glasgow start-up hub

Councillor Frank McAveety, Leader of Glasgow City Council, and Councillor Mark Macmillan, Leader of Renfrewshire Council, open The Tontine. Picture: TSPL/ John Devlin
Councillor Frank McAveety, Leader of Glasgow City Council, and Councillor Mark Macmillan, Leader of Renfrewshire Council, open The Tontine. Picture: TSPL/ John Devlin
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One of the most historic buildings in Glasgow has been reinvented as a centre for technological innovation as part of a £1.1 billion city deal.

The Tontine, which opened on Wednesday, will offer accommodation and support to help tech enterprises make the transition from promising start-ups to flourishing businesses.

The Tontine innovation hub. Pciture: TSPL/John Devlin

The Tontine innovation hub. Pciture: TSPL/John Devlin

It will focus on companies with links to the city’s four universities and encourage cross-fertilisation between growing firms, major multinationals and research programmes based in and around the Clyde Valley.

Council bosses and Scottish Enterprise hope the centre will increase the number of start-up businesses in the region that survive beyond their crucial third and fourth years of trading.

Currently, Glasgow has the highest ‘kill-off rate’ among start-ups in the top ten core UK cities.

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“We don’t just want businesses to sit in here, we want to help them accelerate,” said Mike McNally, an economic development manager at Glasgow City Council.

“It’s not meant to feel like an office.”

The move towards a tech-based economy is a significant departure from Glasgow’s traditional reliance upon heavy industry.

The Tontine is the first completed project paid for by the Glasgow Region City Deal, a £1.13bn infrastructure funding agreement between the Westminster and Holyrood Governments and eight local authorities.

Glasgow and Renfrewshire council leaders Frank McAveety and Mark Macmillan officially opened the building following a tour of the refurbished premises, which will have space for 50-60 enterprises at any one time.

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“The opening of the Tontine is a landmark for our economy,” said McAveety. “What’s been created here is a business environment that will bring the type of jobs to deliver a long-term economic boost to the Glasgow city region.”

The Victorian building in the Trongate stands on the site of a workshop used by James Watt while he was employed as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow in the 1750s.

It was there he first made tentative improvements to a basic steam engine, which would lead to his invention of the steam condenser and usher in the Industrial Revolution.

The fledgling firms using the centre are encouraged to take inspiration from Watt’s feat of taking an existing product and dramatically improving it.

“What I like about this space here is its collaborative,” added McAveety. “We’re asking people to bounce ideas off each other.

“What we can do here is demonstrate that the resources from the City Deal will allow us to help businesses in the west of Scotland expand.”

Over the next five years, it is hoped around 130 businesses will use the Tontine, with each expected to add at least four new staff members during their stay in the building.

The result will be the creation of more than 530 new jobs and a £50m injection into the city economy.

Renovating the previously empty building cost £1.67m.

“This is a great example of innovation supporting enterprise,” said Renfrewshire Council leader Mark Macmillan.

“This great building with its tremendous architectural legacy has been creatively restored as an entering business environment.

“The project illustrates the City Deal’s ambitious aims for our economy by combining a commitment to excellence with entrepreneurial drive and absolute determination to generate jobs.”

In addition to the Tontine, the City Deal will fund two further innovation projects - the University of Glasgow’s Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE), which is expected to open in early 2017 at the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital; and MediCity Scotland, a dedicated medical technology incubation facility based in North Lanarkshire.

Edinburgh could soon follow Glasgow by becoming the second Scottish region to secure a City Deal with the Westminster Government.

Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in March detailed negotiations were set to begin between six local authorities in the east of Scotland, including Edinburgh, Midlothian and Fife councils.

Glasgow’s deal allowed it to access £500m of funds from Westminster and Holyrood, as well local authorities borrowing a further £130m.