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EIE16 investment conference

Brexit ‘would be disaster for tech sector’ says adviser

Hugh CampbellA technology adviser today warned that leaving the European Union would be a “disaster” for the sector.

Hugh Campbell, a founder of GP Bullhound, one of Europe’s biggest technology investment banks, said there was a need for a unified continent that encourages the flow of skilled labour.

Cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow are building solid technology businesses, but they depend on immigrant labour to keep them in Scotland, he said.

Speaking before addressing the EIE investor showcase in Edinburgh, Mr Campbell (pictured above) said many of the “unicorns” – companies valued above $1 billion – were built by talented but footloose people.

“Spotify was created by Swedes in London, for instance. Soundcloud was also Swedes working in Berlin,” he said. “Berlin is the fastest growing tech city in Europe and it is a melting pot of different nationalities.

“Glasgow and Edinburgh have some great companies but the availability of talent is an issue and there is no wonder so many companies in British cities move to London.”

There was a shortage of indigenous venture capital in the provinces, but also a shortage of skills which meant companies often had to relocate.

Scotland is blessed with the best angel network in Europe

“Brexit would be a disaster for the technology sector as you need free movement of talent. A lot of the unicorns are built by entrepreneurs from one country working in another.”

In his speech to more than 1,000 delegates at EIE16 he said that understanding the DNA of unicorns was helpful in building more.

“They are usually started by young people and the founders stick together. They are also able to raise large amounts of capital,” he said, noting that the two Scottish unicorns – Skyscanner and FanDuel – reached the $1bn valuation with the least amount of fund-raising.

“There has been a huge growth in unicorns in recent years, in many cases fuelled by capital from investors who have moved from the public markets.”

Mr Campbell’s London-based bank mainly advises companies, but also invests upwards of £10m.

Gordon Stuart EIEHe said Scotland was an attractive source of technology companies at the moment and was blessed with probably the best angel network in Europe.

“They are collaborative, they are open and they share deals, and most of them have been entrepreneurs themselves.”

He dismissed suggestions by outgoing chief executive of Entrepreneurial Spark Jim Duffy that there should be less emphasis on building unicorns. Mr Duffy recently expressed concern that the bar was being raised too high and would make some entrepreneurs feel they had failed if they did not reach it.

Mr Campbell disagreed. “We have to be more ambitious. Our challenge should be to create $10bn companies.”

Gordon Stuart (above), director of operations at EIE organiser Informatics Ventures, said this had been the biggest so far and was likely to take place over two days next year when it will be held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

It may include start-up companies and incorporate a food and drink fair.

  • Gareth Williams, chief executive of  travel search engine Skyscanner, has backed a £595,000 fundraising by Edinburgh-based bookings app Appointedd.

The funding deal was led by angel syndicate Equity Gap and is aimed at helping Appointedd increase its headcount and target new markets overseas.

Other investors include include Marie Macklin, founder of Macklin Enterprise Partnerships, and the Scottish Investment Bank, the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise.

Photos by Terry Murden (copyright)

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