Most working weeks bring a few surprises and one last week was an email from global accounting firm PwC to confirm my nomination for the journalist of the year category at their annual tech awards. I’ll admit to spitting out a few cornflakes reading the email over breakfast as I’m no bona fide journalist and only write a regular column in The Scotsman which tends to flit around Scotland’s startup scene.
In addition to not being a journalist, neither am I an expert on tech so a firm of PwC’s standing could have done a better job on the due diligence front. At the same time, I’ve never had a sniff at too many awards so, unless it was the early morning double espresso kicking in, I did feel a small surge of pride as I read about the grand awards ceremony at a top London hotel later this year.
When I started to write about the tech scene a few years’ back, there weren’t any dedicated tech reporters in Scotland. At that time, we received occasional visits from London-based tech press and as an external PR adviser to Skyscanner, CodeBase and the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics - who I usually dubbed as Scotland’s “Holy Trinity of Tech” - I had a good degree of success in bringing some of the heavyweights of the tech reporting world north of the border.
Trips by the Financial Times and The Next Web were two significant “wins” after a fair amount of agitation on my part and the resulting coverage helped to bring some of the exciting stuff happening on Scotland’s digital landscape to an international readership.
As well as the so-called “Holy Trinity”, highly innovative ventures like pureLiFi, at that stage like many early stage spin-outs or startups still in something of a fledgling state, piqued the interest of the London press corps and the tech press also took to founders like Mike Welch at Blackcircles.com, an e-commerce pioneer who made good print with his straight-from-the-hip commentary on scaling a startup from a Scottish base.
Today, we now have critical mass in terms of Scotland-based journalists covering tech stories - the Future Scotland section of The Scotsman’s site and Leith-based digital news outlet DIGIT are just two examples - and reporting the ecosystem’s narrative to growing readerships in Scotland and beyond.
Scotland’s tech world continues to produce compelling storylines, not least Ctrip’s acquisition of Skyscanner and FanDuel’s rollercoaster unicorn ride. But there are also less well known and reported stories and, for me, these would include VR audio startup Two Big Ears and wearable tech scale-up mLED both being acquired by Silicon Valley juggernaut Facebook in 2016.
To help fuel our wannabe startup rockets, we have a sophisticated angel investor community, supportive enterprise agencies and world class universities to help provide human capital. In Scottish Equity Partners (SEP) and Pentech, we have indigenous venture capitalists who can write the kind of checks that equate to rocket fuel for the companies with real scale-up potential. All that said, the general consensus in VC circles is that Manchester is producing far more of these near-unicorn potential scale-ups than Scotland so that is something of a concern.
At the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA) annual Scotland dinner at The Balmoral Hotel a fortnight ago, SEP managing partner Calum Paterson delivered one of his first keynote addresses since becoming BVCA chair. On the eve of the World Cup kicking off in Russia, Paterson peppered his speech with a bit of gentle ribbing of the English contingent and the performance of their national team at recent tournaments.
Joking aside, as Skyscanner’s first institutional investor few get the workings of Scotland’s tech ecosystem better than Paterson. In a press interview earlier this year, Paterson acknowledged that some of SEP’s most successful investments have been based in Scotland. On the flip side, he went on to say that increasing the pool of people talent remains a challenge and that we must ensure our young people have fair and proper access to education and learning.
* I am of course very grateful to have been nominated for PwC's annual UK tech awards.