A very good year for Scottish tech

2017? As the Frank Sinatra song goes, ‘it was a very good year’, in this case for Scotland’s entrepreneurial world. Sure, we didn’t have barnstorming exits a la Skyscanner in 2016 but enough good things took place to suggest our fast-growing corporate scene moved up a gear. 

On the subject of Skyscanner, it was noteworthy to see the travel search site’s former CTO, Alistair Hann, pop up at a new travel tech startup. TravelNest, founded by 23-year old Doug Stephenson and positioned to maximise holiday rental income, grabbed some headlines around the largest ever seed round raise by a Scottish startup. More impressive still was the quality of the venture capitalists who came in on the round - Luxembourg headquartered Mangrove, London-based Frontline and Pentech

Former advertising supremo John Denholm, a co-founder at The Leith Agency and currently chairman of eponymously named headhunter Denholm Associates, called me up around this time last year to say he wanted to put me in touch with a startup who could be, as John put it, “Scotland’s next Skyscanner.” 

After I coughed up a few cornflakes in response to a fairly bold prediction, John explained that he was going to his niece’s wedding that weekend and that Andrew McGinley was the founder, and groom to be, in question. A week or so later I met Andrew, Care Sourcer’sCEO and co-founder, and came away from the meeting thinking that maybe John was not too wide of the mark. 

John’s hunch was confirmed earlier this year when two high calibre UK venture capitalists - BGF Ventures and ADV - each made Care Sourcer their first ever investment in a Scottish startup. When former ‘FanDuel-er’ Dr Graham Jones joined the team as COO - Jones is the guy who, during his time at Kotikan, built the team that helped build both Skyscanner and FanDuel’s wildly successful apps - and when the team won a major contract with a NHS Trust, more of the right type of writing appeared on the wall.  

The fact that more VCs, including from outside the UK, are investing in our startup talent is a big move in the right direction for our tech scene. More exciting still, we are very likely to see our most promising tech startups benefit from even larger funding rounds in 2018. 

The shining light of our own venture capital community in Scotland, Scottish Equity Partners, announced the first investments from its recently launched SEP V fund in 2017, a £260 million fund that invests in technology companies across the UK and SEP is now a powerhouse not only on our own tech patch in Scotland but also in European terms.   

Fresh from a partnership with global accountancy giant PwC, Edinburgh-headquartered CodeBase announced an alliance with Barclays last month that puts the UK’s largest incubator in an even stronger position heading into 2018 and beyond. Still to reach its 3rd birthday, take a look at CodeBase’s website if you need a refresher on the incredible amount of software stars in the building. 

One of these companies, Cultivate HQ, is helping to power the web development of one of Europe’s fastest growing technology companies, Deliveroo. Another, Aquilia Insight, was acquired by US marketing agency Merkle in the summer. GP Bullhound advised on the deal and next March the global investment advisory firm brings the Northern Tech Awards to Scotland for the first time along with the CEOs of one hundred of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies. I’m pretty sure they will be impressed with what they see.   

The University of Edinburgh’s Bayes Centre opens its doors in 2018 and its very creation will, in itself, cement Edinburgh’s position as a global leader in the field of data science and analytics. Some of the industry and international partnerships in the pipeline for Bayes will take the reputation of the university’s School of Informatics even further up the world order. 

Along with Informatics Ventures and the University of Edinburgh Business School, we launched the inaugural Scottish Startup Survey this year. Confidence is important in every sector of industry and the hope is that our startups, in the most fledgling of sectors, remain cautiously optimistic about what 2018 holds.