As I See It

As self-belief rises, is nooq the next Skyscanner?

Terry smiling headWhen microchip company Arm Holdings was sold to Japanese rival SoftBank in the summer there were worries that it would spark another brain drain, and a loss of global influence by UK companies.

Similar concerns followed Skyscanner’s acquisition by the Chinese last week. Speculation that the flight comparison website would seek a sale or IPO had been around for some time, but it was still a surprise when the deal with Shanghai-based Ctrip was announced to the New York Stock Exchange.

There were inevitable, and not entirely unjustified, concerns that this was yet another example of British companies forfeiting an opportunity to build a dominant market position.

In a world of instantly mobile capital and international trade this need not be so. Arm should benefit from the backing of its new owner, and so should Skyscanner. Operationally, nothing much will change.

Selling up no longer means selling out. The £1.4 billion paid for a company whose shareholders are still mainly in Scotland is as good as any inward investment.

Skyscanner co-founder Gareth Williams, who gains a £200m share of the proceeds, will almost certainly re-invest a large proportion of that in other businesses. So will Scottish Equity Partners which received more than twice as much.

What is really satisfying is that this puts Scottish technology in the global shop window for all the right reasons. Buyers looking for the next big thing are looking to a country that has rediscovered its knack for inventing things.

As such, the Skyscanner deal raises the exciting prospect that others will attract similar attention. Among those likely to be given what we still rather quaintly describe as the ‘slide rule’ assessment are the software training company Administrate and the bookings company Appointedd. One other rising star is the software firm nooq.

As we report elsewhere, Glasgow-based nooq has completed a partnership with a US university which takes it deeper into a multi-billion dollar market.

Founder Graeme Bodys is unequivocal in his ambition to “take on the big boys”, by which he means Google, IBM and Microsoft. He describes the deal with Purdue University as “one big step in the right direction.”

How good is it that a Scottish technology company no longer limits its ambitions to selling its products into England and instead matches them to the biggest companies in the world?

At one time such talk would have been ridiculed, or at the very least caused some eyebrow-raising at the mere suggestion that a Scottish company could take on the best.

Skyscanner and the fantasy sports company FanDuel have done just that. They have led a revolution, of sorts. They set the risk bar high and topped it. They became billion dollar companies in less than 20 years.

It is a coincidence that both had a change of ownership in the same week and they will remain umbilically linked as their progress continues to be monitored.

Crucially, they have injected more than capital and jobs into Scotland. They have provided a huge boost to confidence and created self-belief in a nation of other entrepreneurs.

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