An intensive nationwide course for tech startups and founders launched today in Glasgow as part of a £42m government-backed programme to stimulate the digital economy.

‘Techscaler’ – the education and mentorship scheme for tech entrepreneurs – unveiled ‘Startups First Steps’, a 10-week hybrid online and in-person course for founders.

The countrywide programme is a government intervention designed to address Scotland’s low productivity, economic growth and innovation levels, relative to other advanced economies.

It was created following Mark Logan’s influential Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review report in 2020, and is being led by CodeBase, the Edinburgh headquartered tech incubator.

Company founders gathered on Wednesday morning at the Barclays Eagle Lab tech hub in Glasgow as part of the first cohort to go through the course.

They met with new small business, trade and innovation minister Richard Lochhead and took part in a group ‘pre-workshop mixer’. Mr Lochhead heard them ‘tell their stories’ as to why they were inspired to launch a business startup.

Among them were founders of a recruitment platform, a business software development platform, a gamification fitness app, a social care platform and a digital learning platform.

Mr Lochhead, who has taken on the digital economy brief from Kate Forbes but has previously been a science and innovation minister, said: “The Techscaler programme has been ensuring that Scotland’s ambitions for technology plays a huge role in the economic future of this country.

“That’s part of our overall ambition in Scotland to be much more productive, much more competitive, and that we have many more Scottish-owned companies based here in the technology sector and other sectors.

“That will take some time. But all the evidence at the moment is that there’s a technological revolution taking place in Scotland. And I’ve met so many people from sectors where great things are happening. They’re all growing, they’re all looking to recruit more staff.”

Mr Lochhead acknowledged that he has “big shoes to fill” from his predecessor Ms Forbes, who was responsible for commissioning the STER report which led to the creation of the Techscaler programme. He said however that the tech sector has grown by 88 per cent over the last 10 years compared to 12 per cent for the economy in general, and the forecast is for continued growth.

As for what demands he will put on the Techscaler programme to demonstrate its success, he said: “Well, we’ve got big expectations. And I think that’s illustrated by the fact that against a very tough financial backdrop, we found over £40m for this Techscaler initiative alone.

“But clearly, there was a gap identified by Mark Logan. And we want to plug that gap in terms of support for scaling up and the Techscaler hubs across Scotland hopefully will make sure that that gap no longer exists.

“And as we heard, speaking to the young people there, who’ve got big ambitions to take forward their own innovations, they have finally found a service that can help them take their idea of innovation into the next stage of actually being developed and finding a technological solution to make it into an actual reality. And hopefully that’ll bring business benefits and these entrepreneurs will go on and create great things in the future.”

He added: “I guess it is a bit of a gamble because we have to accept that not every project will succeed. But there will be lots of winners that will come out of this, which is the most important thing.”

Techscaler offers a suite of support to startup founders in Scotland including mentorship, community, workspace, and education. Techscaler courses are tailored to each stage of the startup journey, from ideation through to scaling, and beyond.  The range of programmes include Startup Basics, Startup First Steps, and Startup Next Steps, delivered in a hybrid model, online and in person across seven regional Techscaler hubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen, Dumfries, and Inverness.  

‘Startup First Steps’ is a practical course, designed for current or prospective startup founders in Scotland who are in the early stages of their startup journey with the goal of taking a first version of a product into the market. Sessions will be highly collaborative, with lectures from industry experts and practical activities and group discussions to apply session teachings.

In March, Techscaler launched its first advanced scaleup skills development programme in partnership with Silicon Valley-based Reforge, with 47 individuals from 17 organisations participating in a four-week intensive course. The hosting of Techscaler Hubs in several locations across Scotland, along with delivering accessible educational courses, mentorship, and community online, enables people across the country to participate and moves the sole focus of engagement beyond the central belt. 

And last month, the Scottish Government announced a link-up initiative between Techscaler and the NHS, a partnership to provide world-class expertise and support to young businesses with high growth potential. The partnership gives NHS test bed participants access to Techscaler membership, and Techscaler members will gain access to NHS regional test beds, which will let entrepreneurs work alongside clinicians and have access to anonymised patient data for product and concept testing.

Jim Newbery, VP of Education at CodeBase, said: “Startup First Steps is a course for founders who are looking to develop an idea into a minimum viable product, through learning early stage best practice and applying tried and tested playbooks.

“Like all of CodeBase’s programmes, the impact of Techscaler’s Startup First Steps course extends far beyond the workshops; it’s about fostering community and providing space to grow. This is what enables companies to scale, driving overall economic development.” 

A founder’s journey:

Richie Wan, founder of RefermyJobs, has been in the recruitment sector for 13 years and says the process hasn’t changed much in 20 years. He has joined the Startup First Steps programme, motivated to change an industry he views as resistant to change. “Hiring is slow, expensive and complicated, causing a high rate of failure,” he says.

“RefermyJobs is a revolutionary new way for anyone hiring new staff to find candidates quickly while saving thousands of pounds in recruitment fees.

“By harnessing the power of social referrals, RefermyJobs helps recruiters fill roles with better-quality candidates at no risk – referral fees are only charged when a candidate is successfully placed.”