The redevelopment of the iconic Met Tower is a key moment for Glasgow. Is the tech sector in the city about to get its North Star?
The £60m redevelopment of Glasgow’s iconic Met Tower is one of the most anticipated moments for the city’s business community in recent years. Although not a silver bullet, the plans submitted last month will do much to arrest an aura of neglect shrouding a once proud, mercantile city centre.
It’s also a much needed boost for a tech sector that has arguably lacked its North Star, a magnetising force around which ambitious startups can cluster. There have been various attempts over the years to create that centrifugal pull factor, but nothing on the scale of the Met Tower, the Grade B listed building that dominates Glasgow’s skyline.
The recent opening of Techscaler, at the plush Barclays Eagle Labs building adjacent to the Clyde, only adds to the sense of a city on the up. As Mark Logan, Scotland’s chief entrepreneur, observed in an ‘ecosystem’ report for the city this week: “The Glasgow Tech Ecosystem has entered a virtuous cycle. Catalysts such as the innovation districts, Techscaler, and an increased focus from our universities on entrepreneurship are combining to create more, and stronger startups. These, in turn, create more belief, and strengthen the ecosystemʼs experience base, leading to further start-up creation. Itʼs the most exciting entrepreneurial environment weʼve seen in Glasgow in living memory.”
Jamie Clyde believes there are similarities between Glasgow and Manchester, which has undergone a huge transformation in recent years. Both cities were harbingers of the industrial revolution, have seen periods of decline and soul-searching, and are now looking towards a brighter future. They are supported by strong universities, have a business focus, and vibrant cultural scenes. In Manchester, the organisation that Clyde works for, Bruntwood SciTech, is at the forefront of a startup revolution, providing the office and incubator space for many of the city’s most promising companies. Over the course of the last decade, the property company-cum-innovation consultancy has created four campuses across the city, focused on supporting innovative, tech-focused companies. It’s that ethos he wants to bring to Glasgow when the Met Tower – all being well – opens in 2025, followed by a new building next to it the following year.
“I think getting off the train from Manchester, and hitting the ground in Glasgow, I felt very much at home. It feels like a kindred spirit,” says Clyde, director of innovation services at Bruntwood SciTech. “People often talk about a north-south divide, but I also think we have an east-west divide, in terms of innovation. If we take Cambridge and Leeds, for example, and perhaps Edinburgh to be included in that, where a lot of the innovation and cluster development has been driven by the private sector working with universities. And on the west coast, it’s been the public sector really driving that regeneration and growth, and that applies to Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow. It’s being fuelled by public sector investment and drive.”
As to what made Bruntwood select the Met Tower and Glasgow specifically, Clyde says it was a combination of the property itself as a significant investment opportunity, in a prime location, and the local tech sector itself experiencing growth. The Glasgow City Region Ecosystem report, released this week, underscored that, when it showed how the venture capital investment flowing into the city’s tech firms is bucking an overall downward trend across Europe.
“The other key thing was that we saw a very strong alignment between what the city’s doing and promoting the tech sector, and the universities – Strathclyde University and the University of Glasgow. We see that as a key indicator of success when there is that strong alignment between the public sector, the academic sector, and the private sector. That’s a key recipe for success,” says Clyde.
The model for Bruntwood SciTech is to provide high quality office space and amenities, matched with “wraparound” support for budding tech entrepreneurs. It has an extensive UK network of 11 innovation districts, including in Manchester, but also Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Cambridge, among others. In Manchester, it houses a range of tech businesses from startups through to large corporates, like Roku, Octopus, Accenture and Siemens. Much of its success has been driven by the fact that the larger corporates are now seeking to locate themselves closer to startup communities – with the blending of talent, skills and innovation benefiting both sides of the coin.
It can also lead to interesting acquisitions, with Cubic Motion bought over by Epic Games at Manchester Science Park. Clyde says this is the kind of activity you start to see when you reach “critical mass” within a cluster.
As to what that would look like for the Met Tower, Clyde is reluctant to give a fixed number, for it largely depends on the size of each company taking space within the 14-storey former College of Building and Printing, one of Glasgow’s first tower blocks, which will offer more than 200,000 square feet of serviced and leased office space. What he does say though is that the space will be “highly flexible”, designed for the smallest startups right through to the larger businesses that might take a floor, or even multiple floors.
Most importantly, the offer is much more than just ‘space’. The innovation districts that Bruntwood SciTech run are based on bringing communities together, giving them lots of support to help them develop as businesses, whether through mentorship, or access to finance and talent. “We have what’s called Innovation Services, which is a whole division that I head up, which focuses around really providing that support, whether you’re a startup or indeed if you’re a larger organisation and want to get close to innovation and startups,” he says.
“The range of services includes a business support function, which is a bit like your GP. So you go to your GP because you’re needing some medical support, and you’d come to us if you want business support. And in the same way that the GP will then point you to the specialist, whether it’s to get a scan or see a consultant, the startup will be directed to a whole range of different support with access to talent, finance, getting a product to market, finding a lawyer, academic support or IP development. There’s a very long list of potential things that people need help with.”
Post-pandemic, the way people work has changed. Clyde recognises that there is still an ongoing debate about home versus office working, but says there has been a shift back to the office environment, especially among the larger companies. SMEs have tended to be slower to come back, he says, but they are slowly realising the importance of teamwork and bringing people together. But even pre-pandemic a lot of the tech firms were working very flexibly, he adds, and it will be interesting to see how Glasgow reacts to the Met Tower. One thing is for sure, though: his company wouldn’t be undertaking such a significant investment if it didn’t think it could secure high occupancy levels.
“Another part of this is the amenities,” he adds. “We recognise that what people expect in the modern office environment is going to be driven by wellness and wellbeing factors, so we’ll have a yoga room, a faith room, a quality food and beverages offer.” At the top of the building’s “funny upturned boat” – an architectural quirk that will be retained – will be an events space, for around 60 delegates, which can be used for meetings; the views across to Ben Lomond will no doubt inspire the odd brainstorming session.
The Met Tower will also see Glasgow’s companies plugged into Bruntwood’s wider network of 500 companies across the UK, with opportunities to collaborate, innovate and secure further funding. The company has worked with the UK Government on its ‘levelling up’ agenda, and supports the initiative to move 50 per cent of research and development (R&D) funding away from London and the South East. It’s keen to work with the Scottish Government, the innovation centres and local stakeholders to map out the ecosystem as best it can before the ribbon is cut on the building in two years’ time. And for good reason.
“There’s no point us launching programmes and creating activity within the tower which is duplicating work going on elsewhere, such as Techscaler, for example,” says Clyde. “We’re working closely with Glasgow City Innovation District, the city council and other stakeholders to ensure we have as complete an understanding as possible as to who is doing what, and where. And where we see that there is a gap, that is where we can hopefully fill it and really add to the activity in the city.
He adds: “So, we’re really excited about this opportunity, partly because of how excited everybody else has been by the plans we have announced. There is a real buzz about it, and the building itself, which is great. We just have to manage that anticipation for the next two years while we do the construction work. But I think part of that excitement is because we see the resonance between Manchester and Glasgow as similar cities in many respects. And we’ve seen the impact that we’ve had in Manchester, and really feel that we can make a similar impact here in Glasgow.”