Philanthropic accelerator for startups launches in Edinburgh

Calum Forsyth and Robin Knox

Scotland’s first dedicated pre-seed tech accelerator is to open in Edinburgh with a mission to trigger Scotland’s next billion dollar startup. Seed Haus is creating an angel-backed fund designed to provide the environment needed to produce scaleable startups, in emerging markets such as fintech and internet of things (IoT).

The accelerator has been founded by Robin Knox, as chairman, and Calum Forsyth, chief executive. Knox is the former CEO and co-founder of intelligentpos (IPOS), one of Scotland’s leading fintech startups. He built IPOS in eight months from his kitchen table and grew it to a team of over 40 employees and seven figure revenues in just four years. IPOS was sold last year for an undisclosed sum to iZettle. A PhD scientist and former financial risk consultant with KPMG, Calum Forsyth, previously led the accelerator programme at the University of Strathclyde where he advised over 200 early stage founders including Pick Protection, Storii, and Estendio.

Knox and Forsyth say they want to enable the next wave of founders to build their startups with the type of support Knox needed when he was bootstrapping IPOS – and the absence of which, Forsyth has seen stifle the growth of other startups.

“I believe we need to take a fresh approach to funding the ideas that could become scaleable startups,” said Knox. “Edinburgh is erupting with innovation and the ecosystem is ripe for Seed Haus to make a real difference. We chose to headquarter Seed Haus in Edinburgh because the city has global ambition and has already shown the world what it can do. But, if Scotland is to see another unicorn we need to keep innovating around how we incubate ideas so they are ready for seed investment.”

Edinburgh is recognised as a leading UK tech cluster, with billion dollar companies like Skyscanner and Fanduel and rapidly growing startups like FreeAgent, TV Squared and Administrate. International tech companies, Amazon, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, have now also created bases in Edinburgh. More than 84,000 people currently work in digital technologies roles across Scotland, generating more than £5bn in GVA. According to KPMG’s Tech Monitor, the number of tech sector enterprises in Scotland grew 43.4% between 2010 and 2015, second only to London (54.6%).

Seed Haus is focused on building startups in emerging markets and it says leveraging insight from data sources such as CB Insights, CrunchBase, and Mattermark is key to this.  Critical to identifying the right ideas will be the input of thought leaders and corporate innovation specialists like Alisdair Gunn, director of Framewire, a leading light of the international tech sector and Seed Haus’ strategic advisor.  This insight driven approach to founder intake allows Seed Haus to evolve and iterate to meet real market needs and sets it apart from other accelerator programmes.

Forsyth said: “Our goals may seem audacious but we believe passionately in the pre-seed accelerator programme we have created, taking best practice from around the world and marrying this with our own insight of the unique environment in Scotland.  I have often wondered about how many great startups, quite simply, never get the chance to start.  The reality of people’s personal circumstances don’t always lend themselves to the traditional startup path. If I were looking to leave full-time employment to realise my entrepreneurial ambitions, I would apply to Seed Haus.”

Knox added: “I’m convinced IPOS could have grown even faster in the early days if we’d had access to a better working environment.  When your business is just starting out, you have the least access to support, it seems like the system is only set up to help businesses that make it into high growth, almost when you don’t need the help any more. Doesn’t that seem odd?”

Seed Haus says it will fill a gap in the market identified by the founders; specifically, the lack of resources available at this crucial pre-seed stage. Seed Haus aims to offer founders what they need to get their startups off the ground; funding to cover living costs making it possible to leave permanent employment, a place to work, space to flourish and infrastructure. The accelerator will operate as a social enterprise, and is applying for accreditation as a B Corp, committed to achieving high levels of social and environmental accountability.