Edinburgh at heart of digital start-up boom

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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THE Capital is gearing up for a “nuclear explosion of innovation” as digital start-ups set up shop in the city.

Following world-famous technology clusters such as America’s Silicon Valley and London’s Silicon Roundabout, Edinburgh is at the heart of a technology cluster set to grow and grow.

Big-hitters such as Amazon, Skyscanner and gaming firm Rockstar North have chosen to base themselves in the city, while Edinburgh Napier, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh universities all have computer science departments where they run incubation centres to support digital start-ups.

“The development over the last three years has been phenomenal,” said Dr Colin Adams, the director of commercialisation for Edinburgh’s School of Informatics.

“It is hitting that critical mass point now where things really start to happen.

“It’s like a nuclear explosion of innovation – as it hits a certain point, everything begins to build and you get a lot of heat coming off.”

The city has the largest technology cluster outside London in terms of productivity, according to Dr Adams, with the informatics school producing more than 60 start-ups in the last five years and housing 550 researchers, which makes it the largest in the UK.

Incubation centres play a significant role and there are 17 such centres dotted across the Capital, including Codebase, TechCube and Quartermile which provide office space for growing companies, as well as allowing companies to share resources and inspiration.

Dr Adams said: “The main issue all the companies in the technology field are having at the moment is finding access to talent.

“Maybe because we have these three universities then people are able to find it here.”

It is hoped that companies such as Skyscanner and FanDuel will become “unicorns” – a start-up worth more than $1 billion.

But high-level investors still tend to congregate in London, so the city must focus on drawing them in, he said.

HIGH FLYERS

FLIGHTS comparison website Skyscanner is one of the titans of the Edinburgh technology scene.

Founded in the Capital in 2003 by Gareth Williams, Bonamy Grimes and Barry Smith, the company has more than 25 million unique visitors to its website per month and it has grown to run offices in Glasgow, Beijing, Miami and Singapore, as well as in Edinburgh.

SPECIAL AGENTS

ONLINE accountancy firm FreeAgent was the eighth fastest growing technology businesses in the UK last year.

The jargon-free bookkeeping service launched in 2007, aiming to provide help for small businesses and freelancers.

The firm, which is based in Torphichen Street, reported a 2218 per cent rise in turnover between 2007 and 2012 to leading accountant Deloitte.

EARNING THEIR STRIPES

AWARD-WINNING educational games provider TigerFace Games builds collaborative creations for children to use together on tablet devices.

The firm was set up in 2012 by Edinburgh University PhD student Kate Ho, who moved to the city from Hong Kong.

It already has its eyes Stateside after signing a distribution deal in the US.

DUEL IN THE CROWN

FANTASY sports firm FanDuel became the UK’s highest funded tech start-up company, after raising £42 million.

The firm – founded by Edinburgh University graduates – allows fans to manage a sports team and battle with other virtual teams for prize money.

SYNC AND SWIM

MICHAEL Berger and Dr Gregor Hofer set up Speech Graphics to provide lip synchronisation for animations.

The growing business, housed at CodeBase in Lady Lawson Street, provided animation for rapper Kanye West’s video Black Skinhead last year.

FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS

RECORD-BREAKING sales of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has cemented the status of Rockstar North as the bad boys of gaming.

The multi-million pound enterprise started life as DMA Design in the 1980s before moving to the Capital and changing its name to Rockstar North in 2002.

Its violent Grand Theft Auto franchise, where players hijack cars and commit crimes, smashed the record for the fastest-selling game in 2013 when Grand Theft Auto V sold 2.25 million copies in the UK in its first five days.

Rockstar North has recently set up shop at Barclay House – the former home of the Evening News.

Google gets Juice flowing

Google will be bringing its Juice Bar to the Edinburgh Business Day, a series of free workshops to empower small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to make digital work for them.

Eileen Naughton, managing director of Google UK, said: “The internet is playing an important role in helping companies of all sizes across the Edinburgh area reach new customers, manage marketing expenses and use data-driven consumer insights to help their business grow.

“Our goal at Google is to show businesses how easy it is to get online and start reaping the rewards of the digital economy.

“We hope that businesses in and around Edinburgh will take advantage of these free digital training sessions.”

GET INVOLVED

To sign up for the Edinburgh Business Day, please visit www.edinburghbusinessday.co.uk or call 0131-339 0339.