As I See It

Scotland’s growing tech base + Innis & Gunn delay

Seeds of technology have at last grown into global players

Terry MurdenWhat has been particularly pleasing about this weekend’s technology festival in Edinburgh is that, at long last, Scotland is speaking from a position of strength.

For years every conference and seminar has been rooted in hand-wringing agendas based on “what if?” and “how to”. In other words, Scotland trying to catch up with, and emulate, the achievers elsewhere in the world.

This has applied over generations, beginning with the government-inspired location of the Rootes (Hillman Imp) factory in Linwood, to the eighties hey-day of Silicon Glen when attempts were made to create a home-grown electronics giant to match the likes of Japanese companies such as Sony, Sanyo and NEC, or their US equivalents Motorola and IBM.

If Finland could create Nokia and Korea turn Samsung into a rival for Apple, then why, with its history of invention and ideas, couldn’t Scotland develop its own manufacturing and design champion with global status?

In the main Scotland has been forced to accept its role as a landlord for a host of technology and engineering companies to build their giant factories for assembly of everything from car parts to circuit boards, ready for shipment to the rest of Europe and to the Middle East.

That is changing. Edinburgh, a city now enjoying its international acclaim as a city of culture, is also earning a reputation as a technology hub. It is home to Codebase, the biggest incubator for ideas and new companies in the UK and soon to be the biggest in Europe.

The change was evident at the TuringFest event in Edinburgh held over this weekend which has drawn hundreds of delegates. The speakers represented multi-national companies, but the two biggest attractions are based in Scotland: FanDuel and Skyscanner.

This pair, which also share a building at Quartermile, have taken their respective industries – fantasy sports games and internet flight information – to new heights. Not only that, but they have been pioneers in both sectors, helping to create and nurture new industries.

Critics will argue that they make nothing tangible, that the creativity they employ is spread around the world. This is undeserved criticism. Wealth creation in the modern world exists around the virtual –  eBay, Facebook, Google – and its development and execution is equally global.

The IP and the main cauldron for those ideas resides in Scotland and that enables these companies to replenish and grow on home soil. They also attract a multi-national payroll of skilled people who have chosen to work for these expanding firms or build their own businesses in Scotland. In many cases they have learned their craft in Scottish universities.

This is, to some extent, a manifestation of the knowledge economy that former Scottish Enterprise chief executive Robert Crawford and his ally at the time, the Enterprise Minister Wendy Alexander, promoted a decade ago.

Perhaps it tells us that if you plant the right seeds then good things will grow.

A long wait for that Edinburgh pint

Craft brewer Innis & Gunn told us recently that it would reveal the outcome of its £3 million mini-bond fundraising exercise. A decision is also expected on the site of its new brewery that the money will be spent on.

Well, the fundraising ended in mid-July, after being extended for a month, and news on both the money and the brewery have been promised twice. An announcement was again expected by the end of last week.

It is still more than likely that chief executive Dougal Sharp has raised all the money he requested and that he will confirm the new brewery site quite soon. It is looking at two locations, both of which should be near Edinburgh and allow the firm to bring brewing back “home” after its exile at Tennent’s Wellpark in Glasgow.

Let’s hope the delay is because of the need to tie-up last minute legal and planning matters rather than anything more serious.


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