New group to promote capital
Interview: Kendra Byers, Start Edinburgh
Fresh start for city’s tech sector
If you think technology is for the geeks, think again. Yes, it’s about time that old chestnut was buried along with this being a male-dominated sector.
Women may still account for a minority in the techie world and, apart from ScotlandIS chief Polly Purvis, it’s not easy to think of many with a similarly high profile.
One young woman who is hoping to change all that is Kendra Byers who is leading a revamped group with a mission to put Edinburgh on the global technology map.
There has been a lot said about the capital’s burgeoning tech sector, driven by a healthy number of start-ups and incubators such as Codebase and Informatics Ventures. Billion dollar companies such as FanDuel and Skyscanner have become the Scottish tech sectors’s pin-ups, while a host of others such as Administrate, Appointedd, Craneware and FreeAgent, not to mention the biotech firms, are giving the city critical mass.
Yet some still believe there is a lack of co-ordination. The authorities, trade bodies and companies talk to each other, but no one seems to be pulling it all together, says Byers.
She is taking up the challenge by heading up the relaunched Start Edinburgh. At just 23, and not long out of college, she has been handed the job of bringing all parties together under one umbrella.
As part of her entrepreneurship degree at Napier University she had worked on a project with Russell Dalgleish, recently ranked among the UK’s top technology entrepreneurs.
They stayed in touch and they did some work with Start Edinburgh which had been formed by a group of tech tycoons, including David Hunter at Skyscanner, Huw Martin at Head Resourcing and James Varga at MiiCard.
Also involved is Invest Edinburgh, the city council and ScotlandIS, the digital sector trade body.
They agreed to put her in charge as managing director of the company and she is eager to get on and make her mark. One plan is to form links with other tech cities around the world and the first, with St Louis in the US, is already under way.
Byers is pleased to have the first one under her belt. “We’re looking for cities of a similar size. We want to build relationships so that companies have someone to contact when they’re looking to grow,” she says.
So far about 30 tech firms have signed up as members of Start Edinburgh and the inaugural meeting attracted some experienced sector leaders: Suhail Ahmad, partner at Dalgleish’s Exolta Capital Partners, and Elizabeth Fairley, entrepreneur and founder of life sciences consultancy EFB Services.
Byers admits it is all running very fast for one so young, but she believes she has packed a lot into the last few years, including spells in marketing and project management.
“People may think I am too young to have the capability to do this, but others welcome the fact that I speak for a young generation with our own ideas,” she says.
She admits that she was a ‘bit of tom boy’ growing up. “I played car games on the Playstation,” she says, and at school she created websites and studied coding. Even at her age she is astounded by the way children adapt to technology.
“My three-year-old niece can use an iPad. It’s quite amazing. She even tried to swipe a photograph on a table, thinking the image would change. But that is the world they are growing up in.”
Education: Edinburgh Napier University (entrepreneurship)
Career: Placement with Exolta Capital Partners; marketing manager at Exsel Group; event operations manager at Connections Networking Group.
What did you do on your placement?
There were four of us from my course and Russell asked us if we could book a Scottish float at the Rio Carnival. It didn’t happen, but it was a great project to work on.
What sort of membership number are you targeting for Start Edinburgh?
I haven’t really set a target. Just to get everyone.