Female founders and Scottish tech

Last week, some of Scotland’s main movers in all things tech released findings from a survey into gender balance in Scotland’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries, which found that most women would prefer to work for a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) rather than a large corporate. 

The survey says SMEs are more desirable than large corporates because of flatter organisational structures and a greater inherent ability to be innovative. Respondents also said career progression and culture were more important than pay, but that SMEs could be doing a lot more to make themselves attractive to female applicants.  

Of course, a third option open to aspirational women is to found their own digital ventures - although industry research shows us this is a much less travelled route. However, as I recently wrote in this column, the size and shape of Scotland’s tech ecosystem and the level of support available therein including from enterprise agencies, should mean we see proportionately more female founders in the years ahead.  

I was discussing this with Alba Sort, a female founder from Catalonia, earlier this month as the healthtech startup she co-founded with her sister Anna plots a possible move from its Barcelona headquarters to Edinburgh. For me, this is the kind of good news story for Scotland’s tech community that should be celebrated as we continue to face choppy Brexit waters and we are facing a net outflow of non-UK nationals, many of whom help to power our nation’s technology startups.

Alba, a former head of marketing at Bigmouthmedia, one of Scotland’s most successful digital companies of recent times (Bigmouth was ultimately acquired by France advertising giant Publicis for £330 million in 2012), founded her first startup as the dot-com bubble was exploding and while it was ultimately unsuccessful, industry research tells us most first time startups will fail but that second time founders like Alba achieve much greater success the next time around the block.   

Last year, Indiehealth’s Sort sisters went to Boston as part of a Catalan government programme for high potential startups, where they got to meet key players from the US’s eHealth ecosystem. The trip led to a pivot for Indiehealth, with the company switching from a wellbeing gamification app to a personalised gut health specialist targeting individuals with gut health issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Indiehealth’s new offering is called B.ENERGY PLUS, a premium gut health subscription service with an accompanying B.ENERGY APP - positioned as a tool to control IBS symptoms and help accelerate the diagnosis process - launched at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. 

Should Indieheatlh decide to relocate to Scotland, the company will join a sector of Scotland’s technology scene that is very much in the ascendancy - startups and scale-ups like care matching platform Care Sourcer, AI-enabled wearable device developer Current Health and microbiome therapeutics specialist EnteroBiotix. Later this month in Edinburgh, investors will get the chance to meet the next wave of Scottish healthtech startups, when Adelie HealthCogniHealth and MyWay Digital Health pitch for seed funding at Informatics Ventures-run EIE19.   

Another prominent Scottish healthtech startup is CitrusLabs (formerlyMindMate), a free cognitive health and lifestyle app that is used by over 1 million people worldwide. Headquartered in Glasgow, with an international office in Los Angeles and supported by a number of US venture capital firms, CitrusLabs is also noteworthy because all of the company’s co-founders are non-UK nationals, including CEO Susanne Mitschke who hails from Germany. 

Mitschke has previously described Scotland as a “paradise” for starting up a tech company, although Susanne has also expressed nervousness around Brexit, funding and talent acquisition. What is certain, is that having female, non-UK national founders like Susanne Mitschke and Alba Sort in the Scottish startup ecosystem adds considerably to its strength and diversity.