3 Jan 2017

Scotland, the home of bagpipes, haggis, and increasingly, multi-billion-dollar tech businesses

Nick Bird – Account Director at Spreckley

When you think of ‘unicorns’, nine times out of ten it conjures up images of mythical beasts found in fairytales. What you might not know though is that it’s also the name given to high flying start-ups desperately sought after by investors. Why? Well to use another mythical animal analogy, these are the technology golden gooses whose valuation exceed $1 billion. There are only 180 in the world. Scotland, however, is home to two of them.

Located in Edinburgh’s Quartermile, travel search engine site, Skyscanner, which was recently sold to Chinese firm Ctrip for £1.4bn and fantasy sports firm FanDuel valued at $1bn (£690m) have gained international recognition. Additionally, what they have also been able to do is showcase Scotland’s tech industry – a sector which isn’t just buoyant, but one that is booming. Research by ScotlandIS, the country’s trade body for ICT, has shown that Scotland is only second to London in tech growth, with increasing start-up activity creating a wide range of new entrants to the market.

Gareth Williams, the CEO of travel search engine site Skyscanner, was once interviewed about what he saw as the advantages of being head-quartered in Scotland. In his response he spoke at length about the importance of having easy access to world-class universities excelling in computing and digital skills, the availability to a rich source of people with the right qualities to drive innovation, and also having the support of a strong startup community that is willing to support one another.

These factors have been critical in establishing Scotland’s technology industry on solid grounds. In Edinburgh, CodeBase, the largest technology incubator in the UK and one of the fastest growing in Europe, is home to over 80 of the brightest, upcoming technology businesses in existence. Innovative start-ups such as Fanduel, Skyscanner and Rockstar North have taken advantage of this boom by choosing Edinburgh as their home. Alongside this, there is also an increase in global technology names, including Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, all setting up operations in the city. But this activity is not only consigned to Scotland’s capital.

Glasgow’s transformation from industrial powerhouse to leading digital technology cluster is highlighted by the development of the Fairfield Offices in Govan – now home to Rookie Oven, and one of several locations in the city providing a home to a new breed of digital tech start-ups. In Aberdeen, the opening of a new £180m oil and gas technology centre aims to become one of the top three sites globally for innovation and technology development, with a particular focus on subsea production, drilling and wells, mature basin asset management, ensuring decommissioning excellence, and oil and gas data science.

Dundee, the birth place of the world’s biggest-selling video game Grand Theft Auto, is now a globally recognised hub for video game design and home to a third of all of Scotland’s video game developers. In central Scotland, companies like enterprise mobility specialists, DOGFI.SH Mobile, have made the Stirling University Innovation Park their home, capitalising on the city’s excellent transport links and access to a talented pool of graduates coming from the University.

The Scottish government has been central to this success, making significant investments to keep the country at the forefront of digital technology. These factors have been essential in establishing solid foundations and as we look ahead the future looks very bright for Scotland’s digital technology sector.