Capital named best city in Europe to start a tech business

A break at Skyscanner in Edinburgh. 


 Picture: Neil Hanna
A break at Skyscanner in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
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IT’S one of the Capital’s fastest-growing industries – a cutting-edge money-spinner with the potential to make its investors overnight millionaires.

Edinburgh’s technology sector has been going from strength to strength in recent years, buoyed by the phenomenal success of companies such as Skyscanner and FanDuel.

Both are so-called “unicorns” – that is, start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. And with only 152 such unicorns in the world, that puts them – and Edinburgh – in an elite group.

The Capital has also been named the best city in Europe to locate a tech business by readers of European Business Magazine, an honour dubbed “not surprising” by city 
chiefs.

But what’s behind this boom, and how can it be nourished and developed in the future? It’s questions like this that Edinburgh will seek to grapple with as it launches its City Vision 2050, a blueprint for how to advance in the coming decades.

Tech guru Nick Freer, who runs the Freer Consultancy and advises many of the leading lights in Scotland’s tech scene, said the key was attracting more investment and top international talent.

He said Edinburgh University’s “amazing” School of Informatics was crucial in keeping the city at the head of the game, adding: “I think what we have to do is adapt to changing technology and be really responsive to this – whether that’s artificial intelligence, robotics or big data.

“And what’s really in our favour is that we have this School of Informatics that’s world leading.

“We’ve got a really good thing, and it’s going in the right direction, but we shouldn’t get too complacent about it. We can’t get too celebratory yet, as we have got a long way to go.

“We can’t rest on our laurels. We need more collaboration, better collaboration, and we need to bring people in. We need the people with experience.”

He argued the success of companies such as Skyscanner, a travel search engine offering comparisons for flights, hotels and car rentals, could act as a welcome boost to the sector as a whole.

If Skyscanner decides to float on the stock market – a move rumoured to be in the pipeline – Mr Freer insists “hundreds” of millionaires could be created in Edinburgh overnight.

That money could then be pumped into new ventures, providing a much-needed cash boost to the city’s wider tech sector.

Mr Freer said it was vital successful tech bosses such as Skyscanner’s Gareth Williams invested cash back into the industry while also offering their “know-how, experience and advice” to the next generation.

And he also identified another key factor in Edinburgh’s success as a tech hub – its relatively high quality of life.

Put simply, he argues the Capital’s stunning scenery, top facilities and strong international connections all help set it apart from the competition.

“The lifestyle factor in Edinburgh is really important,” Mr Freer added.

“It’s this beautiful city that’s small and also a capital. There’s lots going on here – it’s got amazing cultural events like the festival.”

Mr Freer isn’t the only one to highlight the opportunities offered by Edinburgh in the coming decades. Many working in the city’s tech sector have voiced similar views.

John Peebles, who heads up online learning firm Administrate, praised the “community spirit” fostered in the Capital among the start-up crowd.

He said: “I’ve had opportunities to get advice from the guys at Skyscanner and many of us pledge 30 minutes to help out new start-ups.

“We can have a laugh – or cry! – together and help one another out. It’s something I’ve found is unique to Edinburgh.”

And Gordon Stuart, director of operations at Informatics Ventures – a public and privately funded organisation that connects Scotland’s enterprising talent with investors – has spoken of the Capital’s “friendly environment”, with “a flow of talent from the universities”.

Councillor Gavin Barrie, the city’s economy leader, insisted Edinburgh’s technology sector is “booming”. He added: “The sector has grown rapidly in the city over the last ten years and we are home to major tech companies such as Amazon and Microsoft as well as successful home grown companies like our two ‘unicorns’ Skyscanner and FanDuel.