How can we build a Scottish technology legacy?

By Garry Tetley

When exploring the meaning of the word ‘legacy’, a few descriptions appear which could go some way to define the appetite and potential for technology companies in Scotland.

The phrase ‘to leave a footprint’ and the word ‘heritage’ emerge, and many tech companies in this country are already on their way to making this kind of impact.

Last month, Deloitte launched its UK Technology Fast 50 list, and amongst the dynamic businesses included, Scottish technology firms continue to be recognised as the ones to watch.

This year, IT solutions company Exsel Group ranked as the third fastest growing technology company in the UK, and Scottish tech unicorns Skyscanner and FanDuel continue to place – both recently announcing their merger and acquisition plans, the former worth some £1.4bn to its shareholders.

But beyond Edinburgh’s Quartermile, home to both Skyscanner and FanDuel, there has been a long-standing network of technology companies spanning the length and breadth of the central belt. Formerly nicknamed the ‘Silicon Glen’, these areas consist of established tech companies and businesses that are brewing huge potential in the sector.

The question is this: how do we harness this potential and further grow Scotland’s offering? The answer may lie in making it part of our culture, the very same attitude that has seen Scotland place itself as a world leader in the export of our famous drink: whisky.

To achieve this, it’s important that we encourage, support and educate, and look to those who have succeeded, as inspiration. While both of Scotland’s unicorns are something to which others can aspire, especially due to the pace of their growth, technology may already be embedded in our history.

If we look at the former computer software company, ICL, acquired by Fujitsu in 2002, it was, at that time, one of the founding businesses of the tech community in Scotland.

Choosing to base one of its research functions in Dalkeith, it spawned many of the technology companies and experts we see today, including Ian Ritchie, who is said to have played an integral role in helping Tim Berners-Lee create the World Wide Web and who is now the founding chairman of several Scottish IT companies.

Others that once worked at ICL have also gone on to create their own tech businesses, further adding to the talent pool and legacy in the sector and providing investment, mentoring and support for the new technology companies of today.

To keep up this momentum, and encourage development and growth, it’s important we promote the support available in Scotland to nurture start-ups. The recent Deloitte Fast 50 lunch brought together a range of businesses and people, from participants and successful candidates in this year’s list, to past participants and those who are heavily involved in the tech scene in Scotland.

One common theme throughout the lunch and a notion that was felt by everyone was that there’s no lack of support in Scotland for tech start-ups, whether in the form of funding, advice, office space or education.

In Edinburgh, we’ve seen technology incubator CodeBase emerge. This now houses over 60 technology start-ups, and is one of the largest tech incubators in Scotland.

In Glasgow, buildings such as the Inovo have already attracted a cluster of technology companies who are collaborating and, in Dundee, the Seabraes Zone is a hub for businesses in the computer games, animation and design-oriented industries. Dotted all over Scotland, the investment in and enthusiasm towards the growth of the technology sector is clear.

Another important aspect in growing our technology industry is to continually replenish the talent pool, starting with a school curriculum that emphasises the value of STEM subjects.

The world class universities we have here in Scotland attract international talent, and if we continue to create and support more technology-focused degrees, we can open the industry up to a broad range of skills and specialisms. Some 20 years ago, colleges and universities in Dundee took a bold step and began offering courses in computer games. This has since seen Dundee create and export world famous games to countries all over the globe.

It is clear that Scotland has a thriving technology industry, but we must continue to invest and support the sector. Deloitte is committed to recognising those companies driving innovation and collaboration and, by looking to other countries demonstrating strength in technology, we can unearth potential opportunities for collaboration, broader insight and vibrant partnerships.

Nordic countries perhaps show the way forward. In Finland, after the collapse of Nokia, skills and businesses emerged which have gone on to grow the sector, and there is significant investment to support start-ups. Recently, a large tech event, Slush, attracted over 17,500 people involved in technology to Helsinki. It was also watched by one million live stream viewers and welcomed 2,300 start-ups through its doors.

Scotland too must be seen as a country at the forefront of the technology industry by nurturing start-ups, providing them with the support they need and by educating our young people to produce the skills required.

If we do this and encourage investment in the sector, we could well be on our way to seeing Scotland established on the world stage as a leading producer of fast-growing technology businesses.

Garry Tetley is a tax partner at Deloitte.