Scaling up, Scotland style

Sherry Coutu

Sherry Coutu

I was at a lunch with The Data Lab's chairman, Neil Logan, recently in Glasgow. Neil is an interesting character, not least because he became a chairman before he was ever a CEO.  

Neil co-founded Incremental Group last year, around three years after he was appointed chairman of The Data Lab, one of Scotland's Scottish Government-funded Innovation Centres.  Previous to that, he was in the senior team at technology services business Amor Group in the run up to its 2013 acquisition by NYSE-listed aerospace and defence group Lockheed Martin.  

The Amor Group is a somewhat under told story in the tapestry of Scotland's recent business history. Founded by Aberdonian John Innes, the Glasgow-headquartered business boasted a 500-plus headcount at the time of its sale to Lockheed and was, in some ways, the Skyscanner of its time on the nation's tech scene.  It grew rapidly, had started to scale and posted some impressive numbers before Lockheed snapped it up.   

A quick story about John Innes.  I bumped into John at an Informatics Ventures event staged at Team Scotland's nerve centre during the Commonwealth Games in 2014.  He made a memorable address to the collective of young tech founders and did his inspirational bit dressed in a jeans and a t-shirt combination much akin to the hip tech crowd on the day.  

As John's keynote address wound down, a call came in from the business desk at a national newspaper to say they were looking for an interviewee at short notice for Monday's edition.  John was up for it so I handed over the phone and the interview was done by telephone on the spot.  One thing was missing though, John didn't think he had a good photo to go alongside the interview piece.

We quickly arranged a snapper for first thing the next morning and I was sent through the photos the following afternoon which were in turn relayed over to the business desk.  John had obviously ditched the jeans and t-shirt look and was wearing an extremely stylish suit.  Knowing he had been staying at a Glasgow hotel overnight I was impressed that he had such a nice set of cloths tucked away.  

When the interview ran in the paper a few days later, there was a very visible tag on the sleeve of John's suit in the picture.  As it transpired, John only had casual clothes packed in the overnight suitcase but wanted to look a bit slicker so had run out to a snazzy high street store before the photo shoot to purchase some glad rags off the peg.  Unfortunately, he forgot to remove the tag and, I'm told, he still gets ripped - excuse the pun - about his picture in the paper.

What is not a laughing matter is the impressive nature of the business that Innes and his team built, quite distinct from a Skyscanner or Wolfson Microelectronics in that it was a services-first business rather than product-based.  Like Amor Group, Neil Logan's new venture addresses digital solutions, the company is advising the Energy and Public sectors in the main and is set to make a move into all things financial in its next phase of growth.

Scaling up, scale-ups and the whole narrative around fast-growing, global businesses built from Scotland remains oft mentioned on the lips of our enterprise agencies, industry associations and media commentators.  At the recent Turing Fest, one of the world's foremost scale-up experts, Sherry Coutu, spoke about how hard it is to find talent with the necessary scale-up experience to take startups to the next level.  

Coutu's words of wisdom are well informed and struck a chord with the collective at Turing because it's the ambition of every startup to scale.  On the fringes of Turing, there were a number of conversations around Scotland's score card when it comes to scale-ups.  Breakout chats with those in the know also kept coming back to our bedrock of startups and the need to ensure we are fostering the best possible environment to produce the kind of quality required to feed the future scale-up pipeline.